Meaning our Vows
With my 2 year wedding anniversary last week, I've been reflecting on what I've learned since saying "I do". My mind whirls as I try to recapture how it felt to stand in my wedding dress and stare into my (almost) husband's eyes with a larger than life smile plastered on my face. I love how much I loved that day and how I had no idea what the future would hold. I assume every year will hold more lessons, but this year, my greatest takeaway has been the concept of meaning my vows. Ross and I wrote our own vows, in addition to saying the traditional promises. Though the ceremony was a blur, I remember speaking the "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health" with such confidence. Honestly, I'm not even sure if our vows used that exact wording, but you get the gist. Wedding vows are commonly known text in our culture. We've heard them in a thousand movies, looped together with 1 Corinthians 13 and a pastor's exuberant, "You may now kiss the bride!" with fanfare in the background. Honestly, I thought I understood what I was saying, but I didn't.
Vows are, in a nutshell, a promise to commit. Silly as it may sound, I thought I had that down pat. Ross and I endured plenty of trials in the 8-ish years that we were together before our wedding, and we both knew that we were in it for the long haul. Commitment was a given, divorce was (and is) the enemy. Truthfully, I'm sure that all newlyweds say divorce isn't in their vocabulary, and their marriage will be one to beat the 50%.
In my opinion, most newlyweds misinterpret and underestimate the meaning of commitment. Commitment isn't just staying with someone. That's only part of the battle. I've seen countless marriages where the couple is together but unhappy: physical proximity with emotional vacancy. Loving someone for better or for worse means treating them with the same level of respect, tenderness, and accountability, no matter the circumstance. It's easy to love my husband when we're in our best friends' wedding, surrounded by a loving community on a joyful day. It's easy to love my husband when we do nice things for each other and go on vacations and dates. It's easy to love my husband when life is easy.
It's hard to love my husband when I'm too busy looking at my phone to thank him for making dinner. It's hard to love my husband when we aren't experiencing the same thing in our careers. I can feel resentment build when I roll my eyes over the fancy latte he just had to buy with the last few dollars in our bank account. On the days I choose not to commit my love to him, I find myself feeling like the couch cushions we sit on at night aren't the only thing separating us. I feel myself build an emotional wall that says, "This isn't what I signed up for."
Loving your spouse in the hard times is not just tolerating them. In fact, this pattern of commitment is dangerous. It teaches us to cope with each other's bad habits instead of addressing them. It's not about "sucking it up" and turning a blind eye to the things that bother you. It's also not about calling out every thing the other person does that annoys you. These strategies will leave you both bitter and hollow.
Committing to someone every day is embracing them, flaws and all, taking a deep breath, and moving forward. If I've learned anything in the last two years, it's that I know very little about making my love new each morning. I may have said my vows once, but I have to mean them every day.
More than that, it has to be your decision. You can't wait for your spouse to start loving you better to love better; you have to take ownership of your own actions. As Shauna Niequist said, "It's easy to be liked by strangers. It's hard to be loved and connected to the people in your home when you're always bringing them your most exhausted self and resenting the fact that the scraps you're giving them aren't cutting it," (Present Over Perfect). If you're giving the best bits of yourself to every other person and circumstance in your life, you can't leave the bad bits for your spouse and expect to be able to love. If both of you are standing on weak foundations, tired and overwhelmed, you won't fare well when trials hit. You can barely hold yourself up, let alone another human.
Going into year three, I know that one of the best things I can do for my marriage is renew my commitment, today, tomorrow, and every day after that. Life looks very different than it did two years ago, but the one thing that hasn't changed is my confidence in the man to whom I gave my commitment. The wedding was the easy part - meaning the vows is a lifetime.