there’s been a death in our marriage

This past weekend, Ryan and I were fortunate enough to celebrate our anniversary on a little get-away to Callaway Gardens.

We love these three little blessings more than life itself, but boy did we need this weekend alone. Thankfully, Ryan’s parents offered to meet us in Atlanta and treated the kids to a very fun weekend visiting the Georgia Aquarium, swimming and fine dining.

For the past three years, Ryan and I have been separated on our anniversary. In 2011 he was finishing his chaplain officer training in South Carolina. In 2012, he was at Fort Irwin, California doing a grueling training for pre-deployment and last year, in 2013, he was winding down his time in Afghanistan.

For the past year, we have been adamant about planning *something* for our anniversary. With the Army, you never know if you’ll get to be together and this year in 2014, while we are together, a trip was going to happen!

*****

What follows may be the most dispiriting anniversary message ever and a whole slew of terrible phone selfies. So there, you’ve been warned!

I know 13 years isn’t a world record or anything, but among couples our age, I do think a thirteen year investment in a relationship is something to celebrate. All the time, we are hearing about someone else we know whose marriage is over, extra-marital affairs and broken promises. It is heart-breaking and I can’t begin to fathom the pain that must follow when a marriage is dissolved, a family unit is forever changed and a covenant is no longer being honored.

And yet, I can see how it happens. Life is hard. Being married to another person, living with them, sharing in life’s responsibilities, putting your needs behind someone else’s does come with its challenges.

Marriage takes constant work and attention and nurturing. Add in some big life events like death, moving, job changes, health problems, difficulties with children or financial turmoil and you’ve added a whole other level to making marriage successful.

Over the summer I have been digging into C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity a little deeper and a few weeks ago, I came across a passage that I just couldn’t get off my mind. As our anniversary of 13 years of marriage approached, I knew that I wanted to include a portion of that passage in a card/letter to Ryan. (It’s lengthy, but please read it below.)

{C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity}

“What we call ‘being in love’ is a glorious state, and, in several ways, good for us. It helps to make us generous and courageous, it opens our eyes not only to the beauty of the beloved but to all beauty, and its subordinates (especially at first) our merely animal sexuality; in that sense, love is the great conqueror of lust. No one in his senses would deny that being in love is far better than either common sensuality or cold self-centeredness. But, as I said before, ‘the most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of our own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs.’ Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy tale ending ‘They lived happily every after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense–love as distinct from ‘being in love’ –is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, to be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it. {…} The sort of thrill a boy has at the first idea of flying will not go on when he has joined the R.A.F. and is really learning to fly. The thrill you feel on first seeing some delightful place dies away when you really go live there. Does this mean it would be better not to learn to fly and not to live in the beautiful place? By no means. In both cases, if you go through with it, the dying away of the first thrill will be compensated by a quieter and more lasting kind of interest. What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction. The man who has learned to fly and become a good pilot will suddenly discover music; the man who has settled down to live in the beauty spot will discover gardening. This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill: that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.”

Ryan and I have joked all weekend about how (not) uplifting that message of Lewis’s sounds upon first thought. But after you really digest the message, I think it’s simply beautiful.

Being in love does not last. Feelings come and go. “Love is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by grace which both partners ask, and receive from God.”

Isn’t that just the truth of it? Romantic get-aways are great. Nice dinners out are wonderful. Date nights are a must. Keeping the flame alive, totally worth it!

But the day-to-day living, the habits, the will and the grace is where the rubber meets the road.

It’s Ryan setting the coffee pot every night before bed and me making his lunch for work. It’s Ryan filling my vehicle with gas before he gets back to the house and me keeping him stocked in his favorite toilet paper. It’s Ryan spending hours shopping for antiques and me spending hours on a jon-boat hoping that he catches a few fish.

“What is more (and I can hardly find words to tell you how important I think this), it is just the people who are ready to submit to the loss of the thrill and settle down to the sober interest, who are then most likely to meet new thrills in some quite different direction.”



And it is this, where we find ourselves now. After thirteen years, we both know the meaning and the liturgy and litany of submission. We both know the benefit of settling down to common and individual sober interests. And most beautifully, we are meeting new thrills in many, varied directions. (Two cross-country moves in three years, anyone?)

Marriage is tricky. It is human nature to want to seek and serve yourself. It’s natural to look out for our own best interests. Score-keeping, grudge-holding, and line-drawing in the sand is commonplace. In doing so, we keep self at the center of our universe.

That’s why there must be a certain death to self; a dying off of what I want, what I need, what I feel, what I choose in order to elevate the wants, needs, feelings and choices of the other. And it isn’t just me dying to myself on Ryan’s behalf. It’s a mutual death, and includes him squelching out his “self” on my behalf as well.

Let me be clear, we have not achieved this. This dying must be daily. Life’s ebbs and flows (and dare I say pre-menopausal hormones) make this an act of the will and a daily choice among us. We have NOT arrived, but after 13 years, I am happy to say that we have at least recognized the importance of laying aside self for the other.

“This is, I think, one little part of what Christ meant by saying that a thing will not really live unless it first dies. It is simply no good trying to keep any thrill; that is the very worst thing you can do. Let the thrill go—let it die away—go on through that period of death into the quieter interest and happiness that follow—and you will find you are living in a world of new thrills all the time.” 

The world says, chase the thrill. The world says, live for number one. The world says, trust your feelings and do what feels good.

The world says, if my husband or wife isn’t giving me what I need or want, it’s okay to look somewhere else. The world says, if my husband or wife isn’t satisfying me, I can look for that satisfaction elsewhere. The world says, chase what you want…where you want…when you want.

I needed the reminder from C.S. Lewis that even when we feel that our marriage may look different from what we see around us, knowing that “a thing will not really live unless it first dies” is really what we are chasing after when we’re seeking to live a life kneeling toward the cross of Christ.

I am so grateful that we have had the opportunity and years and experiences to know that letting some of the thrill go means that we are on our way to the “quieter interest and happiness that follows.”

And that through our mutual submission (not just to each other, but to the life Christ has called us to) that we are really and truly “living in a world of new thrills all the time.”

It was such a blessing to Ryan and me to have this weekend to reflect on all of the living that we have done in the past 13 years. It was equally exciting to look ahead to the next 13 years and dream about all of the possibilities; both known and unknown.

We say so often that we really didn’t know each other at all, those many years ago at the altar, making a vow and covenant before God and 300 witnesses. We couldn’t have known. We were simply “in love…generous and courageous.” We were high on each other, high on life and full of an overwhelming desire to start a new thing together with the hope and promise of happiness.

Ryan, over a decade later, I am still full of hope and happiness and I am now looking forward to many, many more years of “settling down into sober interests,” and “meeting [many] new thrills in quite different direction[s].”

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