This past August, my wife and I celebrated 29 years of marriage. It is still hard to fathom that number and the swiftness with which the years seemed to fly by. I would be lying if I said I have always been the perfect, dutiful husband and father my family has needed. Yet, that is the nature of the sacrament of marriage. It is a journey, often uphill, to the place where we as a couple become a living sign of Christ and his Church to the world.
Our anniversary plans were somewhat subdued this year because our daughter was preparing to leave the country for a 16-month internship in Africa, teaching children and working with the poor. My wife and I took a short weekend trip out to the country and spent a couple of days hiking near Riverton, Connecticut. The trails were not the most challenging but gave us a good climb — and a good opportunity to reflect on the ups and downs of our marriage these many years.
Starting Low, Moving Up, Side By Side
Twenty-nine years ago, when my wife and I took our vows before the altar, we had very little idea what would lie ahead. We had our family histories, we had a lifetime of faith in Christ, we had love, and we had dreams. But I also brought a good deal of emotional baggage from my younger years into our marriage, as well as a restless spirit and a sense of emptiness I hoped my new bride would fill. Looking back, I can see the power and presence of God’s grace took us from that innocent beginning to where we are now.
Like hikers at the start of any trail, we begin our marriages with an enthusiasm and determination that propels us forward, looking ahead to the majestic heights and encounters of beauty we know await us. But once the journey begins, the climb and the trials we experience along the way can overwhelm us. We begin to think that the struggles are a distraction from the goal, when in fact the struggles themselves are a part of what it takes to shape marriage into a sacrament.
My wife and I were not prepared for the struggles in my life that came along over the years: the loss of a job, the death of my parents, the difficulties we experienced in having children, and the illnesses that almost took the life of my bride. Those difficulties took a heavy toll on our marriage. Yet, as we clung to our Savior and continued to walk the journey together in love, we learned to see how God was using each trial to mold us into the image of his Son.
The View is Worth the Climb
As we hiked those “moderate” trails those two days, I found I often had to give my bride a hand up a hill or two. We found our way along the roads and winding paths, up the steep hills to the vistas overlooking rolling hills and valleys below. We talked about love and life, our children and our cherished memories, looking back over the years of our life together and the journey we blazed by the Spirit of God.
As we have walked the journey of marriage, our experiences and God’s grace taught us a more eternal perspective. We have learned to see our circumstances through the lens of the cross, knowing that, just as the Savior endured his suffering for the greater glory, we too have surrendered our trials to the one who makes them complete in his Spirit.
Those early years of diapers and family dinners have given way to teenage trials and young adults leaving the nest — at least for a while. Life and faith have seasoned us. We have learned to handle the stress in better ways. Romance has matured into a deep and abiding bond that carries us through our days.
Salvation is both a goal and a journey, a going forth and a coming home. We cannot separate the race from the prize that awaits, for we run the path looking forward to the vision to come, even as that vision reveals itself in our lives day by precious day.
Getting Away … Coming Home
As much as my wife and I love these little getaways for rest and renewal, we always find ourselves reflecting on the true nature of what it means to be husband and wife. We are part of a greater whole, bound to our children and to the call of Christ to raise up disciples in his name. The memories are a sweet song of love that Jesus has sung into our lives. The struggles have been our teachers, strengthening us to continue the journey all the way until heaven calls us home.
We often forget that Christ designed marriage to reflect his relationship to the Church. We tend to see our lives and our marriages as individual journeys that touch other lives around us. But, if we truly take stock of what it means to be married, we can see that we are living signs of our unity with our fellow believers.
As I love and care for my wife, I am mirroring the way Christ loves and cares for his Bride as he prepares her for the Great Wedding Feast to come. Rather than seeing our relationship as an ”I and thou — together for each other” bond, we can understand that we are a living sign of what it means to grow together as the Body of Christ.
No matter where life takes us, and whatever trials God allows along the way, each day is an act of coming home. Just as we are unable to forget our children and the day to day duties of living while we’re out in the woods walking the trails, our passage from baptism to beatific vision is an ever-unfolding journey that is constantly shaping us into the image of our Savior.
The Big One to Come
I have already begun researching what my wife and I will do for the “big three-oh” next year. It seems appropriate to celebrate big for a milestone in our marriage. And yet, as I look to my wife’s parents who will be celebrating their 60th anniversary next year, I am struck with a sense of awe as how far we still have to go. I can only hope that our marriage will reflect the beauty and the maturity I see in my in-laws. It is a powerful reminder that God calls us to continue the journey of marriage with strength and a living hope each step of the way toward our heavenly home.
As you think about your own journeys — whether you are married or single — may you always remember that the bonds of love that join us together often call us to ascend steep heights and weather difficult storms. But those same bonds will bring us great joy, a more perfect vision, and a deeper connection to the love of the Savior, who redeemed us through the cross and continues to prepare us for the day when he will call his Bride to ascend to the heights of heaven to be with him forever.