photo by (the always amazing) Annabelle Dando
I get to spend my days dreaming up ways to make wedding planning easier, and I can honestly say I love every second of it. There’s something about marriage – even as I wish that churches and communities would stop defining people by terms like “couples” and “singles” – that is worth celebrating. But whenever I hear people talk about a marriage or wedding as a “happy ending” I don’t really get it. Inside, the wheels start turning.
Hesh and I married two weeks before my 30th birthday and 2 months before his 32nd, and for the life of me I’m still trying to figure out what about marriage looks like an ending.
Our incompleteness now that we’ve found our “better half”?
Our search for love?
Or if we take the “unhappy ending” perspective, our personhood? Our independence? Our freedom?
Or all of the above if we’re to believe anything society has to say about walking down the aisle?
I actually firmly believe in biblical definitions of and mandates for marriage: two becoming one, building a relationship on respect and love, mutual servanthood, and all of that. Even though I’m still learning what it l means and I don’t always get them right. And I’m the first to make jokes about my “better half” when the moment is right. I know at the end of the day marriage is a monumental shift and a bonding of two people together, and I know that this is in and of itself awesome .
But I don’t get the “ending” part of that phrase “happy ending.” Because for the life of me, in the two short years of my marriage I haven’t found a good opportunity for the credits to roll and to call this thing smooth sailing from here.
Marriage is hard. It’s happy, but it’s hard. It’s daily. It’s a new beginning, and it’s also more of the same.
What I’ve come to find is very little ends at the end of the aisle. While we exchange our vows and promise to be together until death do us part, and we begin what will ideally be a lifetime of commitment and getting to know each other more and more, we’re still bringing ourselves into the equation. Whatever personality quirks or hang ups or issues or cultural influences or even traditions and passions and dreams and fears, anxieties, and past experiences, even in the best of marriages and especially in the best of marriages, those things come with us. They don’t end. Some of them will benefit the marriage and some of them are smoothed away with time. Like iron sharpening iron, or even as one of my former pastors put it, sandpaper smoothing down a block, which is probably exactly how it feels.
But marriage isn’t an ending, it’s a beginning. Of whatever crazy new change this union of two people is bringing about.
And it’s not an ending to some perceived incompleteness that comes before the rings have been exchanged. No matter how much our culture tries to tell us so, there is nothing about saying “I do” that makes us a more full person. There is no moment after the wedding night in which one of the two wakes up and says, “everything I’ve ever wanted in life has finally been fulfilled.”
At least not for long. Because if we subscribe to that model of thinking there will always be something next to make us feel incomplete until we’ve checked it off the list: children or a house or getting the job of our dreams. And then living where we want, having that perfect wardrobe, or even wearing the right size jeans. There will always be something telling us we’re incomplete if we’re willing to believe that lie.
Marriage is after all modeled on the gospel. God’s first institution to unite humanity in a relationship so intimate that it hints of God’s love for us (even as it’s not the only form of human relationship that does so – consider parenting or care giving or even the faithfulness that comes with long term friendships and family relationships). And like the gospel, it transforms us into a new creation and it teaches us something about faithfulness and endurance and love that doesn’t give up even when it really, really wants to. It’s about commitment to a person who doesn’t always deserve it and love for someone even when we can’t always feel it.
When we make marriage about a happy ending we forget about the lifetime – literally – of the hard work of loving and surrendering and serving and honoring and cherishing and trying to figure out what all of that means that comes afterward. Marriage is a beginning and a blessed one, but a beginning nonetheless and it usually has nothing to do with getting what we want or tying life up with a pretty bow and everything to do with becoming more like the One who created it in the first place. Because it’s only in Christ that we’re complete and it’s only in Him we stake our personhood.
He’s our alpha and our omega. The beginning and the end. And married or single or something in between, our happiness is really only found in Him.
p.s. I love how Rachel at Our Yellow Door puts it,too!
Linking up with Community Brew at Wetherills Say I Do