Last week: “the wedding.” This week: marriage. Few couples will ever experience a wedding like Prince William and Kate Middleton. A few very wealthy celebrities might approach or exceed the expense. But they will not achieve the global attention created by the tradition and ceremony surrounding a prince marrying his princess. This week, regardless of the ceremony and publicity, William and Kate, like everyone else, must turn their attention to the more difficult challenge of building a marriage.
Prince William and Kate’s fairytale wedding struggled to escape the shadow of his father’s marriage to Princess Diana. We all hope the young couple will succeed where his parents failed. We all want marriage to work. We all wish every marriage would live up to the thrill of the weddings in which they were formed.
Weddings are events. They can be planned, staged and bought. Marriages, on the other hand, are lifelong relationships that take time, effort, struggle, sacrifice, love and forgiveness, things that money cannot buy. No one really knows what goes on in a marriage except the husband and wife who share the marriage bond. Some marriages appear strong and stable to the public eye, but are inwardly crumbling. We were stunned when Al and Tipper Gore called it quits.
Last year my wife and I celebrated our forty-second anniversary. I remember how she appeared beneath her wedding veil at the altar, the tear that formed in her eye when we exchanged our vows. She was nineteen. Some images in the brain never fade. Even though the years have aged us both, her nineteen-year-old beauty remains whenever I look at her.
We were naïve. We had far more to learn than either of us knew. I think it took the first ten years to begin to understand who she really is, and I am still learning. Along the way, she helped me discover who I am.
Our marriage has had its celebrations and its sorrows. We have celebrated the birth of three children and four grandchildren and we have wept at the graves of our parents. We have known exhilaration and depression, achievement and disappointment. We have traveled the world together and built a home. She nursed me to health after my motorcycle wreck. This week she will undergo cancer surgery, and I will be by her side.
Throughout the years we have discovered building blocks that make marriage work. The first is faith. It was our faith in God and His son Jesus that brought us together and kept us together. But faith that merely professes to believe in Jesus would not have been enough. Marriage, more than any other relationship, taught us the importance of living out the things Jesus taught: honesty, trust, respect, humility, confession and forgiveness. Without these elements faith is empty, especially in marriage.
We are still learning the meaning of love and our love is still growing, as I hope William and Kate will learn and grow. We are still striving to live out the Bible’s definition: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13).