Love and marriage are like a horse and carriage, amiright? I think what they’re saying in that song is that one follows the other: man and woman fall in love, ergo, they get married. But it’s not that straightforward. I propose that they’re cyclical. Not only does love lead into marriage, but being married creates a situation for love to grow deeper, fuller and more complex. Here’s a story to illustrate:
My husband and I, we met at 18, fell in love at 23, and married at 24. In between there, we lived a whole lot of life separate from each other. That’s not a bad thing – we brought a lot of variety in movies, music, experiences, food, etcetera to the lives we created together. But there were also things that, once we were together, still made us feel separated from each other.
Some of those things were still sneaking into our marriage, even though they were deeds long and dead. (Sin can outlive its sinfulness, morphing instead into guilt or blame, other sinful beasts in themselves.) But we were married. We both knew those lives were behind us, and only our lives together in front of us.
Then that “together” grew to include three. We found out we were pregnant on our six month anniversary, and welcomed Copper shortly after our year anniversary. Ladies… childbirth is rough! (Married men, pay attention, too.) I asked and asked those who had gone before what it was like, and they were all vague. I’m not here to be graphic, but in the hospital a day or two after our son’s birthday, I wondered how in the world single women do this. I needed help for everything. And at first, there were nurses. But very soon, it was just my husband, our tiny baby, and me at our house, and I still needed help. I strained too much during labor and couldn’t raise above absolutely flat or a stress headache would take me over. I had to check on stitches. I had to do Sitz baths three times daily for 20 minutes each, during which time I couldn’t do anything to help myself, let alone the poor newborn. All in all, I was pitiful and helpless.
And my husband was there, through it all. He helped me get to, from, and off the toilet. He got my Sitz baths ready and emptied them out. He made sure I ate, that dishes didn’t organize to overthrow us, that the household downstairs continued on. He drove me to and from endless checkups while I was prostrate in the passenger seat, or he let me lay in his lap in the waiting room. Ok, here’s a good one – he was there for the whole inglorious act of labor, wherein I was reduced to pure muscle and inhuman sounds, incapable of anything remotely resembling a lady – and thought it all glorious.
He loved me, through it all, by very clear actions.
While we were planning our wedding, my brother was overseas. He returned a few weeks before the ceremony, but I wanted his input, and it would have been too late by then. I emailed him, and he replied with a suggestion from his comrades at Capenwray where he was studying: a feet-washing ceremony. It visually represents the servant-like attitude Jesus taught and himself took on his last night.
We did it to illustrate what we would, with God’s help, make our marriage, and we did it to remind ourselves of that if it got tough later on. And that was what Cody was living and breathing in that time after our baby was born. He was bending low, serving his wife and son, stooping lower than even I, constantly on my back.
It’s this what marriage is made of. It’s consistently bending low, not just for the big stuff like childbirth, but for the little things – cleaning the cat litter without fail since the day you let your wife get them. Making sure he goes to work with lunch, even if that means you get fruit and cottage cheese again. Getting up and going to your crying child in the middle of the gripping paragraph in your book so you can kiss it and make it better.
(My brother also pointed out the opportunity to practice servant-like love at its best when Copper was born: there is nothing that old-man looking infant can do for you for quite a long time, even if we count “make you feel loved” as a goal. They can’t even see you, folks. But meantime your entire life – and income – are poured into them. Do they recognize it? … do you remember thanking your parents?)
I realized over a year later that, when we were first married, I felt much more like two people who were married. Now, we are much more clearly one. When Genesis 2:24 says “they become one flesh,” maybe it’s not meant to be read as an instantaneous change. In some senses, of course, it is. But in others, it happens over time, through trials and tribulations that you face together, as one being and of one mind.
(And, as I’m saying this, it’s works both ways. I’m emphasizing the effect that serving has on the overall marriage, but when I talked to my husband about this, he thought he saw the most growth and change in himself. I was served and felt its effect, but he served and through that, changed as a man and a husband and grew to love me more through serving me. Fiddler fans, what does Golde reply when Tevye asks if she loves him? … )
What I’m saying is that love grows so deep through selfless service, which is perfected in marriage. You don’t have to have kids to experience this (though I clearly think it accelerates it). But I really believe you have to be married. Without that dive, you’re holding back and waiting to make sure you’re not missing out on anyone else. It allows for an escape route in case cleaning up the other person’s mess gets too messy. But right here, in the midst of the wild abandon that marriage is, it lets us see how God was wild in his abandon for his love for us. We’re the bride Jesus came to serve. We’re the huddled masses, unable to help ourselves out of bed, and he comes and carries us. That’s what marriage it, and that’s what love is.
Whenever possible, I’ll be recommending Tim Keller on all things Gospel-related. So here’s one for the topic at hand: The Meaning of Marriage.