One Year Down…

I don’t think I was properly prepared for just how much of marriage manifests itself in the absolute and complete ordinary.
Wedding Rings
 (Zoriana Stakhniv)

I knew that anniversary season was upon us when my wife came waltzing into my office last week decked out in her wedding dress (and still looking quite radiant, I might add). And so, after spending the past weekend at a cozy bed and breakfast in Yankton, South Dakota, here are a few observations after a first year of marriage. (And I’ll ask you “old pros” out there to please stifle your laughter at any naiveté in the ensuing words, and just trust that I know we haven’t got it all figured out, but that we’ve got plenty of time in which to do so, Lord willing).

Back when I was still a swinging bachelor hanging out at the church college group, I envisioned marriage as something extrinsic to my life. I thought it would be something that would exist outside my own life, affecting me from without. Essentially, it would be some sort of glorified business relationship that would allow me to keep all of my assets intact (and would throw in a lot of hot, steamy, Biblically-sanctioned sex as an added bonus).

Rather than being some external force that is shaping me from without, marriage slowly bubbles up from within, knitting together with my existence until it’s virtually indistinguishable from who I am. This is, of course, what the Good Book refers to when it says that a husband and a wife become “one flesh.” But because I had no frame of reference, I chalked it up as another one of those cryptic references that the Bible likes to throw out time and again and that sounded really nice and poetic when said during wedding ceremonies.

Now that I’m married, however, I’m at least somewhat clued in to what’s going on. Of course, that’s where the tension comes from. To be quite honest, there are times when I don’t want to be “one flesh”; I want to remain “my flesh.” There are times when I’d like to “call in sick” to marriage, like I do with my job.

Unfortunately, the various ways that one “calls in sick” to being married are difficult at best, and downright disastrous at worst. So much so that it’s not really an option. But that tension is there, and it manifests in all manner of ways, but usually in selfishness. Which needs to be confessed and forgiven many times a day, until the end of all days.

Furthermore, it’s also surprising how incredibly mundane much of marriage is. It’s not that I necessarily thought that marriage would be this wild, crazy, semi-exotic experience (though there would be lots of sex). In fact, I was looking forward to the ordinary, day in, day out existence. But even so, I don’t think I was properly prepared for just how much of marriage manifests itself in the absolute and complete ordinary.

All of the great romantic movies end with the couple finally getting together, walking down the aisle, or catching each other up in a passionate embrace, not with them returning from the honeymoon to bills and laundry, or trying to paint a bathroom together for the first time. We’re inundated with lofty ideas of romance, be it in movies, songs, magazines at the checkout counter, or trashy little novels full of heaving bosoms and quivering lips.

It’s impossible to not be disappointed in any relationship because it never lives up to the ideal created in our heads by the books we read, the movies we watch, and the songs we hear, as good and important as those things may be. But any notions that marriage (or any relationship, for that matter) is “romantic” go out the window the first time you realize someone has left the bathroom in much worse shape than they found it, you trip over some dirty underwear lying on the bedroom floor, or the two of you have to rescue your foodstuffs from a malfunctioning refrigerator.

Being married is most certainly not about romance or being “in love” (whatever that means). Rather, it’s much more about accepting all of the above, about not leaving the graphic novels and issues of National Geographic lying around, about picking up all of the Dr. Pepper cans littering my desk, about loading the dishwasher when Renae is swamped, about carrying down the laundry basket, about kissing her that one extra time before leaving for work, about calling once or twice during the day, about throwing the occasional Dutch Blitz match, about becoming a fan of Friends even at the risk of losing any credibility — the list goes on and becomes increasingly more mundane and less romantic.

C.S. Lewis remarked that one of the biggest surprises of his conversion to Christianity was that the vast majority of his life remained unchanged. His daily activities, intellectual pursuits, and interests and passions — all of these things remained as they were. What changed, however, was the spirit in which all of these things took place.

So far, marriage seems to functioning along similar lines. The things that I listed above are things that, more or less, I would naturally do (with the possible exception of watching Friends). But somehow, these things are meant to, and have, become deeper and more meaningful within the context of our marriage. There are certainly obvious benefits, like scoring a few brownie points for loading the dishwasher. But during the past weekend, as we reflected over the last 365 days, I think that, for maybe the first time, I caught a glimpse of a truer significance for these things — even though I’d be hard-pressed to put it into words if you were to ask me.

I often tend to chalk up “special days” such as holidays or my birthday as just regular days much like all of the others. Part of me was fearful that might be the case with our anniversary; that it would feel like “just another day” even as we traveled together through picturesque Yankton, South Dakota. But one night, lying there in bed and looking back, I glimpsed that Renae and I actually are accomplishing something good and solid as we live together, wear each other’s rings, and watch award-winning sitcoms (which turn out to be much more enjoyable than you want them to be).

And again, if you were to ask me what this “good” looks like, I don’t think I could tell you, exactly. It’s something that I was certainly unprepared for pre-marriage, even after reading the books and going through the counseling. And it’s something that, due to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, I’m often blind to and even willfully ignore, even as it continues to work within and change me. Into what, exactly, I have no idea, but I like where it’s taken me so far, and I’ve got another 60 years to explain it.

So, one year down, many more to go. Thanks for marrying me, Renae.