So, thanks to 800 sheep and the thoughtfulness of my husband, it seems this week my marriage has gone viral. For those that haven’t seen, we were featured on page 3 of The Advertiser, the Daily Mail Australia and the Herald Sun. And it’s wonderful to celebrate these moments and put a positive light on marriage in a society that undervalues the importance of commitment and longevity.
But I feel there are some things that need to be cleared up.
We’ve had an overwhelming response from people across the world. And I’d like to say firstly say that no, my husband doesn’t have a brother and secondly, he’s actually not gay. But I write this mostly in response to the comments that implicated our marriage as perfect, ideal, and something to be envious of, based on this one gesture.
Let me tell you a secret. Like all of you out there, our marriage has often hung by a mere thread. In fact, there are times the thread has worn through, and all we have been left with is a choice. To stay and repair something that has seemed so impossibly broken, or to stop grasping for ways to reconnect the thread when in all honesty, it would have been a relief at times to walk away and sever the tie?
See, it was nearly seventeen years ago when we got married. We were young, hopeful, and impossibly naïve. We knew marriages weren’t always easy. But ours… ours would be different. We were married in a church, before God, with the words of 1 Corinthians 13 spoken before us; a whisper of promises for the ways we would always love each other. And somehow we believed those words would safeguard us; that because of these promises we’d never find ourselves in a position where we would have to fight for a reason to stay together.
We were so, so wrong.
Love is patient... As a married couple, at times we have been anything but patient with each other. We have struggled to give the other grace to make mistakes and to be human. We’ve been impatient with each other’s faults and demanded perfection from each other instead of gently allowing the other one to learn, change and grow in their own time and way.
Love is kind… No, we haven’t always been kind. Not so much in the things we have actively said or done, although I still recall our first fight on our honeymoon where I was having trouble reading the map and my darling husband came out with, “Are you stupid or something?!”(and yes, he’s never really lived that one down!) But more so we show unkindness passively in the things we withhold when we are hurt, angry or believe the other person isn’t deserving of our love on any given day. Our love at times has become based on the conditions we place on one another – “I’ll love you if…” or “I’ll love you when…” – and we forget we once promised “I’ll love you no matter what…”
Love does not envy... Many people associate this verse with jealousy. But jealousy and envy are different. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something. Envy is a reaction to lacking something, or wanting something that someone else has. And if we can’t have what they have, then we seek to destroy it so they may not have it either. There was a time when I struggled to be a good parent. I felt like a failure at the most important job I had to do. And in my weakness, my husband stepped up and became a stronger parent. I should have been grateful and thankful for his support at a time when I needed it most. But I wasn’t. I was angry and resentful at him for doing my job better than I could. I was envious of his ability to parent, and parent well, when I was so wrought with the guilt and failure of letting my children down.
And instead of celebrating my husband’s ability to show such fortitude, I chose to become resentful over his capabilities, which only magnified my lack of. My envy and resentment grew so much that one day I left, because I wanted to destroy him by destroying us. Clearly, I came back. But that is what envy can do to a relationship if we allow it.
It does not boast, it is not proud… Pride. Ego. Vanity. Self-importance. All these things have impacted our marriage. The times one of us has believed we are more deserving than the other. The times we have believed our needs should come first. The times when we have wondered if we are better than the other and should find a partner who is more worthy of our greatness. Oh yes. It’s all there. Every bit of ugliness. As CS Lewis says, “For pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
It does not dishonour others… If dishonour means to bring shame onto another, believe me, we are guilty of this. We have both at times tried to shame each other into feeling that the other isn’t good enough, they don’t meet our expectations, they need to work harder to be who we think they should be. And usually who we think they should be is who we think they need to be in order to best meet our needs. Instead of just choosing to love each other exactly as the other one is. And then …”watch[ing] how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves…” ~ Wes Angelozzi.
It is not self-seeking… See the verse on boasting and pride – I think the same could be said for self-seeking.
It is not easily angered… I don’t think I’ve ever thrown anything more than a tissue box at my husband, but it’d be fair to say I have a fiery temper. Meanwhile, my husband is the calmest guy you’ll meet. So you can imagine. We’ve had our share of fights. We’ve yelled, slammed doors, walked out, driven away. But thankfully in seventeen years we’ve grown and matured and we fight with much more fairness and respect than we used to. I think it’s healthy to argue occasionally. Far healthier than harbouring anger inside where it becomes toxic and we become bitter people no one likes to be around. Get angry. Fight. Say what you need to say. But in your anger, do not hurt one another. Because your tongue is your strongest weapon and it can cause irreversible damage. Once words have been spoken, they can never be taken back.
It keeps no record of wrongs… My husband and I have both hurt each other in ways that have left us wondering if we would make it through the pain. And it’s tempting to hold onto that pain, so damn tempting. It becomes our trump card. When we are wronged by each other, we can pull that card out and use it to better the other one. “I might have hurt you this time, but remember the time when you…” And oh, the satisfaction to win that round. My husband and I have played the game like that. And created so many problems in doing so. Because the truth is, there is no winner when you choose to hold onto past wrongs. Forgiveness is a time to offer the love and grace we hope one day will be returned to us. It’s saying that even though you hurt me, I choose to no longer hurt you because of that. It’s choosing to let go of the ways we have been wronged and move forward with a clean slate.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres… My marriage is so damn far from perfect. I can honestly say I don’t know how we’re still together. And to read so many comments from men that didn’t feel they could live up to my husband’s gesture, and women who longed to have the marriage that I had… in all honesty, it made me feel like a fraud. Because like everyone, we struggle to make it work. We argue. We wonder if we’d be better off on our own. We have days where we feel alone and lonely. Days we don’t like each other, get annoyed by the sound of each other’s voice, and bring out the worst in each other. If we relied on the feeling of being in love to keep us together, we’d have never made it this far. Love changes.
And maybe the reason we have stayed together despite the odds is because we choose to rejoice in the truth of one another. We believe the best in each other even on days we can only see the worst. We protect each other from the storms of life, even when they are storms we have knowingly walked into or brought upon ourselves – even then we still offer each other a place of refuge when the rest of the world seeks to bring us down. We choose to trust, and when trust has been broken we work damn hard to repair trust, and repeat if necessary. When things get rough, we anchor down and wait it out. We believe for better days. And when they come, we embrace them with thanksgiving and joy.
But most of all, we persevere. Even when it’s hard. Even when we don’t want to. Even when we’ve had enough. Even when there are no guarantees this will work out how we want. We persevere because this is our dream, and neither of us is ready to let that go.
And sometimes it just takes 800 sheep in the shape of a love heart to remind each other of that.