Marriage is like two lines that rarely run parallel but squiggle this way and that, occasionally intersecting or running close together. Those times remind us of why we chose each other. People grow at different rates and in directions and if a marriage is to survive one learns to accept the serendipitous bursts of compatibility as sufficient reason to keep one going.
Most days I assume that things will go well. That the bills will be paid. That there's money in the bank. That the kids are making a go of their lives. That my basic needs will be met. And that happens. Too often I take my husband and our relationship for granted which is tragic as I have been much blessed. Gratitude is everything, especially in the face of life's challenges. Gratitude provides the hope, faith, and love needed to keep going.
In spite of illness, addictions, death, and other bumps in the road I wouldn't trade the life we've shared for that proverbial happily ever after. Each of us in our family has been enriched by the difficulties we've faced together, the hurdles we've cleared, and the very real decision we made over and over to stay together in spite of conflict, disappointment, illness, and pain. Not that it's been easy. It hasn't. But we are all so much better for the mountains we've climbed and the rivers we've forded.
My going to seminary and pastoring a church was a big adjustment for a man who grew up believing that women should stay quietly in the background. But in spite of his reservations, he was my protector and defender when attacked by church leaders who saw women as inferior beings. More than once his sense of humor saved the day as when he'd introduce himself as “the pastors wife.” He frequently stepped back so I could do my thing, In so doing he modeled for our kids that strength is not about being in charge but in providing the framework in which others might grow and thrive.
Ours is a culture where we are taught we need to be the biggest and the best, but when we become obsessed with self importance instead of greatness we leave behind ugly scars and deep wounds. Someone once said that we are like a bunch of dogs squirting on fire hydrants, trying to mark everything as “mine.” My spouse is a truly great man. He walks lightly, demonstrating through his actions that since we inevitably hurt the ones we love and the universe we live in, the most important goal we can have is “to do no harm.”
The real heroes are not the rich and famous but those who notice and affirm others, who pay attention even at a cost to themselves. Relationships, especially the marriage relationship, teaches us that we don't get to choose if we get hurt in this world, but we can sometimes choose who hurts and heals us. We've had some really bad times over the years, but by and large I like the choice I made, and given he's stayed with me for 56 years, I trust he does too.
Joyce Shutt is the pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.