True story: I completely, utterly failed to organise a car from our wedding and reception venue to Marilyn’s folks’ house, where we were going to open some gifts before heading off to our honeymoon. I was so concerned about someone sabotaging my car that I had a friend drive it to a safe place for our eventual getaway (also a total fail – it was decorated anyway). It was only when it came time for us to leave the reception I realised, then and there, the lapse in my preparation. In the end we climbed into my brother’s Honda Civic (two door!) and one of us – it might’ve been the bride but I honestly cannot remember – basically sat on the spare tyre for the 20-minute drive to her folks’ place. Not a stellar start to married life.
That was thirty years ago. Three, four or five countries (depends when you start counting), eight different houses and three children and countless trips across various oceans later, the adventure continues. It’s been a whole lot of fun, a good deal of hard work and sometimes no fun at all. We’ve confessed to each other that each of us has wanted to give up and walk away on more than one occasion. We realised in our 40s that the people we’d married had morphed into middle-aged parents with responsibilities who bore too little resemblance to the 20-somethings who decided they’d spend the rest of their lives together. Moonlight and roses had turned into daylight and dishes and we had to consider: was this worth it?
At one particularly difficult juncture, we decided we’d memorise Colossians 3.12-13 together:
And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved,
put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience,
bearing with one another and forgiving each other,
whoever has a complaint against anyone.
Just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
This little passage helped us turn a corner during that difficult time, and on many occasions since. The basic instruction is, in my humble opinion, to be quick to forgive and get over it. Living with someone day in and day out for three decades can result in a lot of stuff to get over. If I’m honest most of the offences are petty misdemeanors, but make no mistake: that small stuff can grow arms and legs and turn into something huge in the context of daily life with the same person.
I love that Colossians 3 makes a space for the paltry stuff that gets under the skin of most married couples. It talks of bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone. Complaints: what sort of complaints? The verse doesn’t specify but I think of garden-variety complaints like the sharing of household tasks, interpersonal issues with extended family and in-laws, child-rearing challenges, shortages of time and money – you know, that sort of everyday stuff most people face. There may not be big, ugly sins (well, there may be those too) but trifling complaints can cause trouble if they’re not addressed, and ultimately forgiven. To make the decision to forgive someone for something you consider to be a real offense, something genuinely idiotic or neglectful (I’ve been guilty of both), is tough. Many relationships come apart at the seams over lots of things, but inability/unwillingness to forgive is a surefire show-stopper.
Lucky me: I’ve had plenty of opportunities – I’ve long ago stopped counting them – to ask forgiveness over the years. I probably haven’t done it as often as it was needed, but the words I was wrong and I’m sorry; would you forgive me? are essential to keep any long-term relationship in good working order. It requires some humility, some sort of realisation that I’m wrong and that I’ve done wrong, or have at least done something that caused offense. Then an extra dose of humility to simply ask your spouse would you forgive me?
Was I forgiven for the no-wedding-car incident? Thankfully, yes. Have these thirty years been good? Definitely, yes. Do we love each other? Resounding yes; deeper and wider than ever before. Has God’s refining fire, His knock-off-the-rough-edges transformation been part of the picture? For sure yes.
Thirty more! Bring it on.