Yesterday at lunch, a dear friend asked me what I had learned in the last ten years in my exploration of Father’s affection. I first started thinking of lessons or truths I had gained, but then my mind quickly went to how differently this journey allows me to live. I am less worried about achievements, more present with the people I’m with at any moment and have far less angst to convince people of anything. That allows me to live with a lighter hand, with the freedom to not be so worried about how I’m being perceived that I can’t respond more simply and freely to others around me.
Nowhere has that produced fruit I enjoy more than in my relationship with this woman. Today Sara and I celebrate forty-four years together—forty-four incredible years! For us, this is not an endurance project, staying together because we said we would. Every year of the last twenty has been better than the year before. We find ourselves today celebrating our love, our partnership in negotiating life together, and our presence with each other as we endure the challenges and pain of growing older together. This woman makes my heart beat faster when I see her, adds so much beauty and texture to my life and models a self-sacrificing love for our family that makes life so precious.
No, it has not all been puppy dogs and rainbows. Over those forty-four years, we’ve also had the days-long, painful, and frustrating conversations that have helped us learn to love more deeply. We’ve hurt the other by selfish actions and miscommunicated in ways that have challenged that love. We’ve acted selfishly and lived to regret it. We’ve disagreed over critical decisions to great frustration. But through it all, we’ve learned that a heartfelt apology can heal anything. We have found our way to solutions we could both embrace wholeheartedly. We’ve endeavored to live in a way that the other is never our victim, but always our valued partner. We’ve made room for God’s work in the other, allowing them to change by changing along with them. We have been with each other in our worst moments and seen the darkest recesses of the other’s soul and become the other’s primary cheerleader for more freedom in the love of Jesus.
Truthfully, he’s the real hero in this marriage, giving us insight and courage to keep doing what love led us to do. We don’t see these forty-four years as an achievement of our discipline and commitment. That could have won us a life-long marriage, but it also could have been lifeless endurance. We see these years as a triumph of grace. Somehow, Jesus has held us in this relationship and taught us to love the other like the other needed to be loved. We’ve confronted the relationship-sabotaging weaknesses of our flesh and found his strength to embrace the healing. Neither of us is the same person that we were on the day we stood before family and friends and pledged our lives to the other, but I love the woman Sara is becoming even more, and I’m sure Sara loves the current me more, too.
I can’t imagine this relationship getting any better, but I know it will. No doubt, there’s still more freedom ahead for both of us, and our relationship is the first place we get to celebrate it. There is no one I’d rather be with than this woman, no one whose wisdom I regard more highly or whose presence sets my heart at rest more completely.
Those who think longevity can lead to boredom have not tasted a relationship like this. I feel bad for those whose marriages don’t endure the painful bits, where selfishness rules instead of where love serves. My heart breaks when I hear of abuse or neglect that has shredded a couple’s affection for each other. No one deserves to be victimized by another, especially the person closest to them. We were created to be loved and though we can only find that first in the Father himself, seeing it reflected in another human being who knows all your secrets and still adores and admires us, is a gift for the ages.
I am grateful for Sara and the courage she has shown to keep growing as a person and to always make room for me in her life. I’m grateful to God for holding us through the darkest storms and giving us his wisdom to resolve our conflicts and embrace the other more wholeheartedly. It’s the delightful fruit of learning to live inside of love, and I want that for everyone.
Don’t just endure life with your spouse; let Jesus keep teaching you how to love more freely, and thus more lightly. It will take you through some dark and challenging waters, but doing so is its own reward.