I can still see her, that younger version of me, newly engaged and mesmerized by the brilliance of her diamond ring as it reflected the ballroom lights. It’s a wonder I heard anything at all that first FamilyLife conference, so enamored was I with that ring on my finger, as I held the hand of the handsome guy who had dropped to one knee and placed it there. I was young, in love and starry-eyed.
Six months later and we were happily married, setting out to build a godly marriage based on the principles of His Word. We had been blessed with a good foundation, the best possible start. Six years further down the road we attended another FamilyLife conference, this time as parents of young children. We enjoyed “speaking in complete sentences” and calling each other something besides “Mom” and “Dad,” as we were encouraged to continue building our home on those same, unchanging biblical principles.The wise woman builds her house, But the foolish tears it down with her own hands. (Proverbs 14:1, NAS)
And then, somewhere in the course of the 18 years that followed, we slowly began to forget, drift. Hurts and disappointments came to visit. Stubbornness, unforgiveness and bitterness took up residence. I did more than my fair share of the tearing down and less than my fair share of the building up. Our marriage was in need of repair.
It’s bigger than we thought. It’s taller than it ought to be, this pile of rubble and ruins.”*
When the opportunity to attend another FamilyLife conference this past weekend presented itself, we both knew we needed to take it. It seemed to me we were each limping a little as we carried our suitcases into the hotel, this older version of ourselves straining under the weight of the rubble we had allowed to accumulate.
As we nervously took our seats in the ballroom, I didn’t even glance at my wedding ring, self-consciously scanning the room instead. The pre-marrieds were easy enough to pick out, all starry-eyed and hand-holding as they were. But to my relief, there were also some couples who looked a lot like us, a bit weary and weighed down. Many were our age or older. There was even one couple sitting near us who had been married for 43 years. All had come seeking encouragement and support.
We clear away what was, and make room for what will be.”*
Throughout the course of the weekend, we were reminded of the keys to a successful marriage. We were confronted with our individual failures to follow God’s plan and welcomed the opportunities we were given to confess and forgive. It wasn’t always easy. But God blessedly came, like a bulldozer, and cleared away the rubble.“The God of heaven will give us success; therefore we His servants will arise and build…” (Nehemiah 2:20a, NAS)
With fresh but tender hope, we began to rebuild. At the end of the conference, we stood in that hotel ballroom filled with hundreds of couples who struggle just like us, held hands as we faced each other, and in unison tearfully renewed our vows. (We’ve got the certificate to prove it!) It was especially moving and meaningful for us since we will celebrate our 25th anniversary next year.
Our oldest daughter recently got engaged and plans to marry this coming year. At the conference I couldn’t help but think of her and her fiancé, as I remembered Chris and myself as a newly engaged couple and reflected on where we are today, almost 25 years later.
Here’s what I would tell them:
Marriage truly is God’s wonderful design and His beautiful gift. It’s okay to have stars in your eyes right now. But know that when the excitement of a wedding and the novelty of being newlyweds subsides, building a godly home will take hard work, humility and dedication. Build each other up, don’t tear each other down. Keep short accounts and don’t let the rubble pile up. But if it does, invite God to come and help you clear it away. Then you can resume building, with His grace and strength, for His glory.
To my fellow married couples (and myself!) I would say:
Every marriage needs some focused TLC from time to time. View your relationship as a sacred priority. Regularly invest in it. A couples small group or a FamilyLife conference are great places to start. Your marriage is worth it. The marriages of future generations are watching.
And to my husband of nearly 25 years, I offer this:
What I’m trying to say, in some clumsy way, is that it’s you and only you, for always.”*
There is no one else I’d rather keep building with. 18 years from now, if the Lord allows, let’s be that couple, sitting side by side at the FamilyLife conference, who’ve been married for 43 years.
Deal?*Lyrics are from “We Build” by Nichole Nordeman. A great video meditation with this song, on the work and commitment of marriage can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N9vSoefIrR4 For more information on FamilyLife conferences and other marriage and family resources go to: http://www.familylife.com