Nine years ago I stood in a church, with uncontrollable tears, pouring from my eyes. Tears of nerves and terror and joy and excitement. I cried through my entire wedding ceremony in a way I have never cried before or after. I am not a person who likes commitment or being inextricably tied to something. I need exits and escape routes and the ability to breath. And so, agreeing to marry someone, getting down to the end of the aisle to meet my match, literally and figuratively- the one strong personality who didn’t bore me or infuriate me-was so exhausting and exhilarating that I shook and cried through the entire ceremony.
Saying “I love you” to someone when I knew so little about life seemed incredibly superficial. How did I know I would love him the rest of my life? How did I know this was going to work? How did I know I could keep this covenant vow that was coming out of my mouth?
And nine years later I sometimes wonder how I could say that then. But not because it hasn’t worked, but because I know now what I suspected then. That our love was untried and untested. That I would someday understand what it meant to love, after great challenges had come in life and pounded against the fortress of love, trying to topple and destroy it. When you say “I do” you often don’t know what you are agreeing to. Which is better that you do not, because you make a covenant, a committed promise to want the best for someone else, without knowing really how vulnerable you are going to make yourself with that promise.
But “many waters cannot quench love” and covenants are made to be kept, not dissolved like faulty business deals or superficial friendships. Tim Keller in The Meaning of Marriage says, “When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
And this, in a paragraph, is what makes me grateful for the opportunity to love and be loved. I am humbled to be given the chance to understand God’s love through this channel. And this understanding only comes when challenges and hard times in life come hurling toward us. It is easy to be twenty-four and dressed in diamond white silk and a black tuxedo with pink roses and white candles and say “I love you” and want the best for the other person. It is hard to manage work stress, and life disappointments, and deaths of loved ones, and critical pregnancies, and sickness, and everyday aggravations and boring things like bills and car repairs and schedule juggling and bad moods and hurts and wrongs we feel from each other and to say, “I love you no matter how hard today was and I want to continue loving you and wishing for your best and pointing you to God.”
I never regretted being married young. Because, in reality, love is a covenant, not a whim. A covenant that meant no matter what we encountered, we would look for the best for each other. At times, we fail on that covenant. But, to quote Keller once more,
“In any relationship, there will be frightening spells in which your feelings of love dry up. And when that happens you must remember that the essence of marriage is that it is a covenant, a commitment, a promise of future love. So what do you do? You do the acts of love, despite your lack of feeling. You may not feel tender, sympathetic, and eager to please, but in your actions you must BE tender, understanding, forgiving and helpful. And, if you do that, as time goes on you will not only get through the dry spells, but they will become less frequent and deep, and you will become more constant in your feelings. This is what can happen if you decide to love.”
And that, a covenant, a commitment, and a promise of future love, is the love of Christ for us. And through His love, we know what true love is. Whether there are roses and silk and candles, or everyday aggravation, or deep pain, His love helps us to vow our love and live out our love.
Photo credit: Sabrina Scolari, Scolari Photography