This month, my husband and I celebrated fifteen years of marriage. Now I know fifteen may not seem like a big deal to some – it is certainly not 25, 50, or even the 64 years that one of the couples at church is celebrating this month. But having worked with couples in premarital counseling for several years now, having worked with couples who were struggling with the strains marriage can bring, and having talked with couples who have had failed marriages, I know that marriage is not simply a gift. Marriage is not just something that happens. Marriage is something you work at, that you choose everyday (even on the days you would rather not), that is constantly tested, and that needs tending and loving care. While wedding days are lovely, they are only the first day of many days that you will have to return to the commitment you made to make it work.
That being said, marriage is also a tremendous blessing. It can be the place where you learn about the depths of love; your capacity for forgiveness (in part, because you are forgiven so often); where you can find the most honest, if not brutal, truth; where you can laugh more deeply than you ever have because that person knows what really produces a belly laugh; where you experience affirming, life-giving sexual pleasure; and where you find abiding companionship. When we got married fifteen years ago, I was not entirely sure how things would go. My own parents had gotten divorced just three years before our marriage began, and part of me wondered whether marriage could be done successfully. I am so glad I made the leap anyway because marriage has brought joys (and challenges) that I never could have imagined.
I do not often talk about marriage because I work with a variety of people in all walks of life: people who want to be married but have not found a partner, people who have lost their spouse to death, people who are divorced or who feel like the marriage is on the brink of failure, people who had abusive spouses, and people, who until very recently, were not allowed to be legally married. At times, I have considered having a Valentine’s Day reaffirmation of vows celebration, as I have seen in other parishes, but shied away because I did not want anyone to think I was being insensitive to those for whom marriage is difficult.
All of that being said, my hope today is not to highlight how blissfully easy and wonderful marriage is. Simply put, my hope is to honor how each day of marriage can be both a blessing and a challenge – and to thank God for the strength, wisdom, humility, and grace my husband and I have been given to get this far. I pray for continued strength, wisdom, humility, and grace, as I pray for each of you on your various journeys in partnered, single, and dating life. In the marriage liturgy of the Episcopal Church, we offer this petition at weddings. Today, I leave it for my husband and I and all of you doing the work of marriage: Grant that all married persons who have witnessed these vows may find their lives strengthened and their loyalties confirmed. Amen. (BCP, 430)