A cute couple was staring at me one evening as I crawled under my covers. They surprised me at first but after a longer look, I recognized them.
The two love birds were actually Chris and me 10 years younger - frozen in time. This photograph of the two of us sits on Chris’ nightstand. It’s always been there, but I guess I just stopped noticing it.
This particular evening, I was caught off guard by how young and adorably in love we were when that picture was taken. We were engaged at the time, our wedding was just a few months away, and we were glowing! Probably because we were also very tan, well rested, and wrinkle free.
Then I set my gaze on the two 30-somethings sitting in our bed. In my bedroom mirror, I recognized this couple’s reflection immediately. They were much more rumpled than the other ones. These two people were tired and older... A lot of life has happened over the past decade.
And, it shows!
It’s not just our wrinkles, grey hairs, and looser fitting clothing either. The years that have passed between these two couples have brought storms, mountains, valleys, and just damn hard life circumstances.
Not only have we changed esthetically, we have been spiritually and emotionally weathered as well. You could even say we have been banged up a bit, bearing scars left by some of life’s waves that have crashed against us.
As a result of trials, conflict and struggles in our marriage, our love has been stretched, banged up, and pulled apart.
I imagine our marriage over the years as a rubber band being spread thin almost to the point of breaking. Yet we remain unbroken, because our marriage is what wraps our family together.
Like a rubber band, our hearts have the capacity to be stretched, our faith to be pulled apart, and our marriage to be spread thin. Our marital and spiritual elasticity is what makes us strong(er)!
The suffering, the conflict, the hard places in our married life are part of it. God exposes us to these valleys within marriage such as disillusionment, addiction, financial strain, job loss, infertility, child rearing, illness, infidelity… for our benefit.
In our Christian journey here on earth, love does not exist without suffering.* If Christ Himself, the very Cornerstone of our faith, suffered horrific pains and carried the weight our sin upon his shoulders only to be crucified upon the cross - we too will be called to suffer.
Rather, we get to enter into this suffering.
This is why after 10 years of marriage, I have embraced that suffering is part of marriage - It’s a part of life!
In fact, Christ promised us we will experience suffering and persecution in this world. This is also His invitation for us to draw closer to Him and to God the Father.
For me, times of suffering within marriage has also brought me closer to Chris. Every single valley Chris and I have sat in, every argument, painful and lonely season were actually opportunities for us to draw closer in to each other.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith
Let perseverance finish its work
so that you may be mature and complete,
not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4 NIV
Sometimes in the moment I feel like recoiling, thinking to myself, I’d rather be anywhere else but here. But still I choose to stay.
And so does Chris.
Like a rubber band, we endure the opposing force and the tension. We are pressed and pulled against, but once it’s released the rubber band returns to its initial state.
Our rubber band marriage remains unbroken.
Even when the world would tell us to run, to snap, we remain steady. We hold on tight. We do the hard work necessary to forgive and heal. And at the end of all of this, we have a story, an experience, only we can fully know, a story only we can tell.
My marriage, and yours, is stronger than our human feelings tell us it is. In other words, our feelings do not get to dictate our actions. I choose to stay when my feelings of anger tell me to run.
And during the hard and the hurt, when my marriage doesn’t feel like I want it to, that’s exactly how it’s meant to be - outstretched.
“We cannot love without suffering, and we cannot suffer without love.”
Saint Gianna Beretta Molla
During this Lenten season, I invite you to reflect on both your spiritual and your marital relationship. I encourage you to revisit moments in your lifetime of both trial and triumph. And give thanks for the crosses you have bore.
And today, give thanks for the marriage you have and the elasticity of your bond.
*No marriage is meant to suffer physical, verbal or emotional abuse. If you or someone you love is experiencing fear, shame, guilt or threats in their marriage please seek help. Reach out to a pastor, a counselor or a trusted friend. By reaching out, you are holding the union to its intended standard and can lead to healthy change and healing.