The title is tongue in cheek – obviously, reaching the three year point in a marriage is an achievement if you are a celebrity, but otherwise you ought to have made it at least this far. But as I only have three years of marriage experience to draw on, I humbly offer my very basic and incomplete thoughts on the subject.
A Picture of Christ & The Church
Being married has given me a little bit of insight into one metaphor the Bible has for the relationship between Christ and His Church: marriage. (Ephesians 5:25) It has made me wonder at the patience and mercy of God. I have such an amazing spouse, that, while we have difficult moments, she is so easy to love. But very often human beings are not easy to love. I do a poor job of loving my wife sometimes despite how wonderful she is. I am also continually amazed by the fact that she loves me, in spite of all my many faults. Above all, Jesus loves better than I love my wife or she loves me. We serve a God with amazing, awe inspiring love.
Secular marriage is distinct from Christian marriage. Not just because it now includes same sex unions, but because of its frailty. Some authors now speak of ‘starter wives’ as if one ought to expect a second, better marriage to follow a first. When more money comes along, it will be time for an upgrade. Yahoo! once printed an article where the author was writing about her experience being a ‘homewrecker’ and how she’d discovered the beauty in her illicit relationship and learned not to judge others. One might look at advice on ‘pre-nuptial agreements’ made with the end of the wedding ‘merger’ in mind. Swingers’ clubs and websites like Ashley Madison turn adultery into a game. All these things and more pre-date same sex unions, but show that for society, marriage had already lost one of its most important Christian distinctives: its irrevocable and exclusive permanence.
That’s a shame, because a great part of the joy of our three year marriage is the security that comes from knowing it cannot be undone. It makes reconciliation possible; I can’t stay mad at my wife because if I choose to do so, it will not be for a season, but for a lifetime. We must forgive, and work to fix what went wrong. It makes trust possible; all that we share, our secrets and closeness, is for us alone. No one else will share in it. It makes it possible to speak of a future; not as speaking of a possibility, but a certainty, for if we are living on earth we shall be together. I can’t imagine not having that, or having it in a lesser degree than we do now.
This is why we must continue to protest the ‘new marriage;’ traditional marriage is an exclusive, lifelong commitment between a man and a woman that desire to be fruitful. It’s far more fulfilling, and the real shame about it is not how exclusive it is but just how few people will get to experience its joy in the coming years.
Hope For the Future
Marriage is intrinsically structured to look outside of itself. God has revealed our life with him as a marriage, and marriages are called to reflect that image. When they fail to do so, they hurt those who experience the broken results by failing to reflect the image of God or even by appearing to reflect a distorted image of God.
But when marriages do faithfully image the loving relationship Christ has with us (and I’m not claiming ours to be a particularly good example to anyone, but I am thinking of ones that are great examples) they reflect something of the glory and greatness of the Gospel. That’s something hopeful that this cynical world needs to see.
The Secret to a Three Year Marriage
So what, if any wisdom, have I gained at this stage? Three years of marriage is awfully short for me to use as a basis to presume to be giving marital advice. But weigh my words by their merit, not my years. I think the real secret is not the collective tips and tricks that have taken you this far (whether it’s been three or thirty years) but laying a foundation for the rest of your lives together. After all, an anniversary is a checkpoint, not the destination.