The Vows We Made & Why We Stay

Originally published Thursday, 13 February 2014.

“With this ring I thee wed. I give myself to you as your wife and joyfully proclaim it to all the world. As long as we live, I promise to listen to you, encourage you, honor you, and respect you. I will be understanding and forgiving. I promise to learn and embrace your needs. I will hold you when times are good and I will hold you when times are bad. I promise to love you as Christ loves me. Today, I celebrate you as my husband, my beloved, and my friend.”  -My promise to my husband on our wedding day.

When we stood at that altar and made vows, I knew those promises mattered, but I don’t think I realized that there would be days when those promises would be the thing that kept me here. I’m not sure if my passionate 22-year-old heart could imagine a time when I would decide to sleep next to my husband only because of those words, because I had promised to never walk out.

Those vows now remind me that staying isn’t just about being physically present. It means that I choose to be emotionally present. I choose to stay engaged and willing. This ring on my finger reminds me that I promised to remain open and honest. I promised to choose to love in a way that reflects Christ’s love for me, especially when I don’t want to.

A couple weeks ago marked seven years since BJ took me on our first date. I noted the occasion with a small comment on Facebook: “7 years ago tonight, BJ took me on a date for the first time. I’d say that worked out pretty well for what has now become 4 of us. I’m so grateful.”

Here’s the thing though – nothing about our marriage just “worked out”. We didn’t wake up everyday more in love and better able to communicate. We didn’t naturally forgive and forget every time we were wounded. We promised to “learn and embrace each other’s needs”  - that didn’t just happen. We don’t hold each other in bad times because it’s easy or because we want to. We hold each other in bad times because that’s what we promised to do. We forgive because we have been forgiven and we promised to show each other unending measures of grace.

Please note – I’m not trying to make a statement about anyone else’s relationship. This is the truth of our marriage and that’s all I can speak to. That’s the only reason I write tonight. Also note – if you are in an abusive relationship, please go someplace safe and receive the help and care you deserve. There is no excusable reason for abuse. Take care of yourself dear friends!

As for our relationship, this is what I can say. Marriages don’t just “work”. They actually don’t work. Left to their own devices, they fall apart quickly. What else could happen when two independent people are brought together? Without significant sacrifice, we are bound to break. And that sacrifice takes intentional, focused work.

We didn’t get married because of passion. Those promises weren’t made out of desire and attraction. Somewhere over the course of dating, we examined ourselves and the dynamics of our relationship and we made a decision to be in it together. And with that decision, we made vows.

If we could go back and add a line, maybe we would have also said, “and on those days when you forget or ignore these marriage vows, I will not. I will stand by them and I will stand by you.” Because friends, let me assure you, there are days when we both let go of our end.

We both try and we both fail. We hurt each other. We forgive. We sacrifice. We grow.

We show up when we want to skip out – physically, emotionally, mentally. We stay open when we want to shut off. We hold each other when we want to run. We put it all on the table and we sort through the mess, not because we feel like it, but because that’s what we agreed to when we decided this was it. We refuse to engage in a passive aggressive battle and instead we hash out the difficult conversations that move us forward. We adopt a “whatever it takes” mentality to heal, restore and grow. Because the success of our marriage won’t just happen if we don’t devote ourselves and lay down our lives to make it happen.

So when I say things have “worked out pretty well”, this is what I mean. I’m so grateful to be married to a man that stays with me in my ugliest moments, who willingly embraces painful discussions in the name of healing, and who fights for us above all else.

I don’t think I knew what those vows were really going to mean on that hot June afternoon. It turns out that they mean fierce commitment….especially on the days it would be easier to forget we said them. Perhaps that’s why we spoke those words in front of our family, friends and God – so that everyone would know what we agreed to. Those vows bind us together and remind us of why we set out down this road with each other. These are the promises we made – to love each other fully, to forgive quickly and to never stop trying.