Marriage can be amazing. But it is not always the easiest of things. My friend Catherine shares some of her journey with Alastair:
“So how’s married life treating you?”
My husband and I look at each other, shake our heads slightly and smile. It’s everybody’s favourite question but nobody wants the honest answer. We’ve stopped telling our friends the truth and started telling them what they want to hear.
“Yeah, marriage is good. All good, no complaints.”
We used to be more honest but we’d get told so often that we sounded like an “old married couple” that we stopped, and I guess we do sound a bit weather-worn at times. The truth is, marriage is hard, and we wish someone had told us. Sure we heard all the old adages about marriage being tough work. But mostly we heard the following:
“Marriage is fun! It’s an adventure – we’d really highly recommend it!”
Wait, what? My husband and I have been married a year and 3 months – and I know that’s not exactly a Comrades Marathon there – it’s not even a run around the block. But we look back at how far we’ve come and we’re pretty sure it was a sprint through the park. Central Park. In the dark.
We don’t tell people that marriage is hard to sound ominous and dramatic. We say it because it’s the most honest, real guidance that we can give without going into Marriage Advice 101. Marriage can be a lot of fun and it will be the most amazing adventure you’ll ever embark on in your life. But it isn’t easy. No real adventures are, just ask Frodo and Sam.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a map of Central Park? We’ve always dreamed of going to New York one day and we know exactly where that great green strip of urban jungle lies. It looks little on a map but it’s a massive expanse of land: trees, meadows, hills, lakes, lawns, rocks, bridges, wild fauna and flora. It’s so big that it hosts a public theatre, a zoo and carousel, restaurants, sports fields, playgrounds and ice skating rinks. It even has a castle yo. So imagine running the length of that in the dark.
Marriage was hard for us that first year, and it was scary. After the wedding and the honeymoon, when the smiles had started to die off our faces, we realised that we’d started something that was so much bigger than we’d ever contemplated. We had forgotten our handkerchiefs back at home and the adventure had already begun – there was no going back now!
Alastair and I started it out with nothing but each other and God. And we still have nothing but each other and God. We have learnt how to do marriage with nothing but those two things. Having a job, having an income – we’ve done marriage without either of those two things. Good health and emotional stability? We’ve done it without those too. Death, loss and despair have washed over our marriage in large quantities and there have been plenty of times on this journey that we have collapsed together – exhausted – on the side of the road and wept.
We’ve struggled alone as well; we have sat together and still felt lonely. Our differences overcame our similarities and our emotions flooded the tender love in our relationship, turning it into a swollen, hurting thing. The difficulties we experienced together and personally, put a strain on the trust and faith we had in each other, and in God. We felt that we’d been tested past our limits and that maybe this was God’s way of telling us that we had made a mistake somehow and that our love for one another wasn’t good enough or strong enough.
I’d like to say that our relationship with God was solid and that it got us through all the tough times and we made that sprint through the park together. But the truth is that we got so lost and afraid that we wanted to give up and call an end to this adventure that felt more like a nightmare (give the ring to someone else to take to Mordor!)
We stuck with it – not because of our own great faith in God but because of His great faith in us. He called us to this adventure, not the other way around. Luckily marriage is a God thing, and not an US thing. If marriage was actually the stereotyped Disney movie, or Jane Austen novel or Shakespearean sonnet – Alastair and I would have had to have tapped-out ages ago. No path God puts us on is ever plain sailing. We stand before the altar and we promise that we are all in. But I promise you, you will quickly get to the point when you realise that you aren’t all in. HE is all in.
Alastair and I don’t have Marriage Advice 101 for anyone. We can tell you what we’ve been through and all the mistakes we’ve made. We can tell you in detail how marriage won’t just be hard work, it will be your life’s work. We can deconstruct Psalm 91 for you and tell you how much you’ll come to rely on the promises made within it. But I think the most important thing we can tell you is that even after all the difficult bits, we are still doing love and we are still doing marriage.
“How is married life?”
“We carried on sprinting. Except this time we switched the flashlight on and now we can see each other.”