When my oldest daughter, Katie, and her boyfriend, Tom, announced their engagement last April, our entire family celebrated. It wasn’t long, however, before I began to wake in the middle of the night thinking about planning a wedding. The words “mother of the bride” took on an ominous tone.
To relieve some anxiety, I asked friends who’ve planned weddings to give me advice. I searched the Internet for suggestions. I discovered that lots of people are eager to share their wedding suggestions. Indeed, when it comes to planning a wedding, we are never alone. From friends and neighbors to florists and caterers, everyone has an opinion.
Yet, the wedding itself is just one shining detail in the mosaic of married life — the first piece of colored glass in what will prove to be an elaborate and beautiful design. So I asked myself: would I be as inclined to ask marital advice as readily as I asked about planning a wedding? Would couples be as comfortable sharing their marriage stories as they are their wedding stories? Do we value and celebrate a couple’s years of commitment as highly as we celebrate their wedding day vows? It often seems that once the glamour of the special day is behind them, couples are on their own, creating their mosaic with little guidance from those who have gone before.
Perhaps some of the reluctance to ask for and offer marital advice stems from our awareness that even long-married couples grapple with the changes and challenges of daily living. While we may earn credentials and kudos for a long-standing commitment, a decades-long marriage doesn’t necessarily mean a couple has it all down, that they are living and loving in an exemplary way.
Yet in our failed and flawed way, long-time married couples do have something to offer newlyweds. If nothing else, we offer a witness of fidelity. The fact that we remain married, even after the varnish of being in love has worn away, even through pain and disappointment, suggests that we have chosen to be a part of something greater than ourselves. We have chosen unity over individuality.
In contemplating a metaphor for a married couple, I thought of an arch — that architectural wonder defined as “typically curved, spanning an opening and serving as a support.”
Expanding the metaphor, I see the two members of the couple as being the two sides of the arch, separate on each side, yet joined at the top by a curved span — marriage; thus offering support to something greater than themselves — children, a community. The archway between them remains open so that the love of God and the love of the couple flow freely, opening a path to holiness.
Besides serving as a metaphor, the word “arch” lends itself to an acronym that I believe represents the most important qualities of married life.
• The “A” in arch stands for acceptance. Married couples must accept each other as they truly are. To be accepted and loved for who we are, flaws and all, is true intimacy. If we can be our authentic selves and find love and acceptance from our partner, we become free to share ourselves fully, without reservation. Out of that acceptance and love, we grow into the person God intends us to be. In loving acceptance of our partner, even when he or she fails to meet our expectations, we reflect God’s unconditional love for us all.
• The “R” stands for respect. Committed partners respect one another and are willing to work out their differences by recognizing the inherent dignity of the other. Out of respect, they are willing to compromise and adapt. It is through respect that consideration for another is born. We do not manipulate, exploit or intentionally harm those whom we respect.
• The “C” in arch stands for compassion. The root of the word compassion means “to suffer with.” Without compassion, the trials of married life would drive a couple apart. Compassion is required of any companionship, but it is the heart of marriage. We bear with one another through good times and bad times, enduring together the inevitable disappointments, illnesses, failures, losses. We remain faithful in those dark times because we have made a promise to endure them side by side.
• Finally, the “H” stands for humility and holiness. These two qualities are inseparable. Humility is essential for marriage because it puts the partners in right relationship with God and one another. When we recognize that we are not God, when we recognize that our partner is not God, then we acknowledge our mutual dependence on God. No longer do we seek to follow our own individual wills, but we seek to follow God’s will in all things.
By following God’s will, we embark on a path to holiness.
Hart and her husband, Jim, live in Ocean Isle, N.C. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.