The Unexpecteds of Marriage
In just over a year, my husband and I will celebrate twenty years of marriage. Twenty years of ups and downs, aches and joys, mountains and depressions. Twenty years of so very many changes in circumstances.
During the first year or so of our relationship, including engagement and the early months of marriage, we walked and talked a lot. We named our future children, planned out the first few years of marriage, and talked about our hopes and dreams. But, life hardly matched those idealistic plans. Welcoming our precious children into the world did not fall neatly into the time frame we had anticipated, and we could never have predicted just how many times God would move and redirect us. It would be an understatement to say that we struggled and grieved as we watched life disrupt our carefully laid plans and shatter several of our dreams.
Strength in Every Season
Fortunately, grief and disruption were not alone. We also experienced joy as we watched God guide us through His plans. We learned that letting go makes it so much easier to receive His beautiful gift of guidance, direction, and a perfect will.
As we wrap up our second decade of marriage and look ahead to our third, we already know that many more changes will come. All three children will probably leave home over the course of the next ten years. We may have grandchildren by the time we celebrate our thirtieth anniversary. My role in life will change dramatically as I explore God’s plan for my post-homeschool life. And my husband and I will have to learn what it means to return to being just the two of us. It will not – cannot – be the same as it was before children, because we will not be the same people.
The whole thought process makes me ponder a very critical question: how can we ensure that our marriage remains strong through the coming seasons of change, no matter what they bring?
Realize Our Identity
We have all heard the advice a million times: keep your priorities straight. God, spouse, children, then whatever else. But, once we get into our rather stubborn heads that identity is different from what we do, suddenly it becomes much easier to keep our priorities straight even as life changes.
If we are believers, we are children of God. If we are obedient to our heavenly Father, our relationship with Him should naturally permeate everything we do. Being a parent is the same. Once you have a child, you cannot undo being a parent. You just are. It’s your identity. It naturally consumes your approach to life.
Guess what? The same is true of marriage. We do not do marriage. We are married.
In order to live out the identity of marriage, we have to realize that if marriage is just one of the many things we do, then it can come and go as our circumstances change. But, if it is who we are, then it must morph and grow just as every other part of our character and personality matures.
Live Our Identity
In order to learn to live our identity as married couples, we have to put every other title in its place.
Over the years, my husband and I have had numerous jobs and titles, both secular and ministerial. In addition to serving as a youth minister and pastor, Doug worked as a substitute teacher, a fast-food manager, and a loader for a shipping company at various times to fill in the necessary income gaps when ministry was only part-time. I have worked as a bank employee, a mother’s day out teacher and administrator, and an editor.
All too often, I tend to say, “I am a pastor’s wife,” or, “I am an editor.” But, in truth, those are not my identities. They are my jobs. They are what I do, not who I am. Yes, it is semantics, but semantics impact our perspective much more than we often admit.
My husband and I have both had to learn to separate our jobs – even the ministry positions – from our identity in order to maintain both the priority and the protection of our marriage as circumstances have changed.
Rest in Our Identity
Marriage is never perfect. We have ups and downs, good days and bad. But when our identity as a married couple is based on and surrendered to our identity as children of God, we enjoy a security that supersedes all circumstances.
How we relate as husband and wife will change over the years as we grow and mature. Where we were once idealistic and full of dreams, we are now more practical. Those walks and talks of the early years have morphed into calendar dates where we do our best to stay on the same page each month. We still contemplate five-year plans, but we do so very differently now than we used to.
But neither of us doubt that we will go through those plans together, no matter how they turn out. We rest in the knowledge that, even as our children grow up and move out, we will still have an identity together. That knowledge gives us great comfort.
Life is going to change. Of that there is no doubt. But I look forward to the change, knowing that I will walk through it hand in hand with the one who is embracing and growing through it all right along with me.