We were young and deeply in love. Making big promises we had no idea what it would take to keep. Maybe that is part of God's grace. We don't know what we don't know. But before long we began to get an idea.
Jack and I share so much. We are both strong personalities. ("This will not be a boring marriage," said our pre-marriage counselor-pastor.) We are both thinkers. I love discussing books, movies and ideas, talking theology and politics with him. We both enjoy travel adventures together, and back when I could ski we delighted in riding the lifts and swooshing down the mountains together.
But in other ways we were so very different.
I am a people-person extrovert. Almost off-the-chart sanguine. Jack recharges being alone. I like to work a room. Jack most enjoys a one-on-one or two-on-two conversation. I could go out several nights a week to be with people. Jack needs far more down time.
This deeply affected the way we lived our lives together, and we only gradually discovered how much.
I wanted to Go and Do far more than Jack did. Visit family. Get together with friends. Volunteer in Young Life club. Attend games and events in the school where I taught. After Zach was born I would need to stay home with him while Jack attended evening studies and activities in his job as assistant pastor.
One reason we are celebrating the big Four-O is because we learned to sacrifice. To lay aside our natural bent for the sake of the other. Jack would go out much more than he wanted to. I would stay home far more than I wanted to. It. Was. Hard. We both needed to lean in to the Lord Jesus for the strength to do it with grace and without resentment. I had to learn to be ok with doing some things without him and give him the alone time he needed.
We both had to give ourselves permission to be different and not think of the other as somehow "less than." We, especially I, had to learn that different is just…different. Without judging. Without guilting the other.
Another reason we are celebrating 40 years together–we learned to see how our differences can manifest as great strengths, supplying what the other lacks. For example, I am very spontaneous and flexible. Except in breakfast food, I love variety. I love room in my calendar to add or switch things around. The prospect of grocery shopping every Wednesday or doing laundry every Monday makes my eyes glaze over. I don't like being hemmed in by duty or routine. I like to mix things up, create new plans, new ways of doing things.
Jack is very steady and deliberate. He rotates methodically through his slacks, intentionally distributing the wear. He loves organizing data into spreadsheets and crunching numbers. He delights in doing his duties, a mentality he celebrated with a sign on his desk: "Do what needs to be done. When it needs to be done. Whether you like it or not." While he is strong-willed, he tends to not challenge proper authority or routines or the existing plan.
Instead of being frustrated that he wouldn't flex or create or spontane with me (or make words up), I have learned to focus on the strengths of those personality traits. How it’s like having a thoroughbred racehorse for a husband—one light touch on the reins of Scripture or reason, and he changes out of the wrong lane into the right lane. With me the Holy Spirit has often had to saw on the reins until I'm frothing at the bit, and sometimes he still has to get off and threaten me with a big stick. Which is why just “doing your duty” never completely did it for me. I am way too passionate about my own creative ideas.
When we have decisions or purchases to make, Jack digs up reams of data, stacks it in a spreadsheet, and identifies our best alternatives, making our final decisions together so much easier. He crunches the family budget numbers and takes care of myriads of maintenance details. (Freedom for me!)
Most meaningful to me, he has been a solid rock of support through thirty-seven years of rheumatoid arthritis. Delighting in doing his duty has meant helping with dishes and laundry after a full day of work. Sometimes cooking too. It's meant picking up thousands of things for me that have fallen on the floor. Giving the gift of his presence in my hospital room after surgeries. Emptying my bedside potty. (How romantic…)
These are the real kinds of challenges that every marriage faces at some point. And the personality differences that can threaten to tear us apart, when empowered by God's Spirit, can be the very strengths that help us persevere in the hard times. We can choose to focus on the expressions of those differences that bring us together. The older we get, the smaller the differences seem.
I am so deeply grateful for our marriage, for our son, for the privilege of walking with Christ together and loving his people in ministry. I've told Jack he can't die before me because I can't fathom living without him. He has loved me so faithfully. With such humor and energy. And remarkable sparks of creativity. He took the picture of my bridesmaids and their bouquets to the florist this week and had them make a similar anniversary arrangement.
By God's grace, as he has answered our prayers and poured his love into our hearts, we have learned to love each other much more deeply than on our wedding day, even celebrate our differences. He has been such a good and gentle teacher and source of strength to lay down our own desires. We still struggle. But we've received from Him far more than we've given. "What a man [or woman] needs is steadfast love." He has lavished us with his and enabled us to give it to one another. I thank God for each day behind us and, God willing, many days ahead.
What are some of the differences you've been able to navigate in your marriage? Any help you'd like to offer to others? Please comment in the section below…