Married? Fight Like Mad!

I went to a wedding today. It was a good wedding. A stunning dress, beautiful flowers, a moving exchange, a promising kiss, the thunderous pronouncement. A celebration of love and commitment. Yes, a wonder to behold.

There is something therapeutic about going to a wedding. . . one that is not yours, that is. It’s a reminder of what it felt like to be at the beginning of your journey, love in its infancy. Standing there, face to face, for the moment secured from those inevitable circumstances that will most certainly test those sacred vows.

Everything in this fallen universe wages war against marriage. The laws of nature wreak havoc with our appearance; the mirror tells no lies. What physical characteristics he or she fell in love with can still be appreciated; however, gravity makes re-location inevitable. Flawless beauty is replaced with . . . well, flaws. Handsome gives way to distinguished. We are all slaves to time; nobody escapes the second-hand.

More incessant than the ticking of the clock, our inner voice, fueled by our fallen nature, urges us never to be satisfied with the moment, constantly pushing us to look for the next best thing. The pressure cooker of our jobs, the needs of family, the financial strains that stretch our endurance. We grow weary. We entrench ourselves in self-pity. It can change us, and not always for the better. There is very little in our days under the sun that holds up to the type of commitment we are so daring to attempt in marriage. No other immutability. No other ever after. And culture doesn’t help much either. It woos us with promises of sustainable pleasure and self-gratification. And when we are completely spent on the altar of self, only then do we see the world for the broken place it really is. We have trouble keeping our own promises to ourselves, much less to our beloved. No. Marriage is a crazy dream of the eternal. A dream authored by the Everlasting, replete with the sweet aroma of permanence we will most certainly find one day in His arms.

Is it possible then to prepare these young lovers, with rosy cheeks and misty eyes, for this epic battle? Is it prudent? No, we who have come to stand as witnesses to this union hear once again of the symbols of this great endeavor: the ring, the candle, the prayer. We listen with a renewed understanding of our own journey, reflect on our mistakes and marvel at the depth and strength of love, two stunning treasures we could never have imagined on our own wedding day. We smile, and we nod, and we congratulate. We marvel at a story that has not yet been written. We are thankful for our own. We gather our things, and we make our way back to our own realities. And in the words of the wise pastor officiating today’s ceremony, “We fight like mad.” We fight like mad to honor the God who provided us with such an amazing privilege, the one true reflection of the love that Christ has for us. We fight like mad to honor the life of the one who took us on, with all of our weaknesses packed neatly in our suitcase, little unknowns revealed to our spouse under pressure and over time. We fight like mad to stay in love. We fight like mad to drown out the voices of those who would undermine our commitment. And when we find ourselves with our backs against the wall, we ask our Father for the strength to fight some more.

Marriage is a battle, but anything worth having is. So, no matter where you find yourself on your journey, whether you are feasting on the spoils of the mountain top or waging war against the darkness of the valley . . . fight like mad.

I Just Don’t Understand

Yesterday, I taught the Class of 2015 John Donne’s “Meditation 17.” As I read those words, “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main,” I scanned my classroom. Some eyes shone knowingly, reflecting a shared understanding. Life has already been difficult. Others, open to accepting the wisdom written centuries ago, are blissfully unaware of what the road holds ahead. And no matter how much I want to, I can’t shield them from it. Still others, hoping to insulate themselves from any knowledge . . . at all, secretly work on breaking their record in Crossy Roads or check the latest “news” on Twitter. And you know what, all of those responses are appropriate. We’ve all been 17.

“Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

I have tried in my life to understand why pain seems so prevalent. Why people that I care about suffer and hurt and face rejection. I have cursed it, spiritualized it, philosophized it, repressed it, even attempting, at times to ignore it. And yet, life moves forward and people I care about continue to find themselves in dark valleys, facing uphill climbs and wrestling with destiny. And I have come to an amazingly intellectual conclusion. I just don’t understand.

I know all of those things that might be filling your brain in this moment. There is a God. He is good. He works things for the good of those who trust Him with their hearts and their lives. He is close to the broken hearted. He binds up our wounds. He brings beauty from ashes. Pain teaches permanently. “Without contraries, there is no progression.” I got it. I also know the verses that accompany these truths. I have read them. I have memorized them. I have written them in emails, text messages and neatly tucked them inside cards of condolence. I got it. I just don’t understand.

And life carries on. And we do too. We carry on. And when one of those dark places emerges in the path, we simply show up. We sit beside our friends in the hospital, in the counselor’s office, in the church service, in the coffee shop. We put groceries on their doorstep. We hold their hands and we cook them dinner. We cry with them, we stand with them, and when they cannot go on, we go on for them. We stop talking and we start listening. We don’t make things okay. We aren’t in charge of that. The One who does understand, well, He is.

No, I just don’t understand. And that’s okay. Because I don’t have to. Not understanding is not the same thing as not trusting or not hoping. Not understanding is a simple admission that I will embrace my shared humanity and come alongside those who also don’t understand . . . until that day when all dark things will be burned away by the never ending light. We will know as we are fully known. But for now, we don’t. We just don’t understand.