"I'm still trying to understand what marriage is," you say, in the middle of a long conversation negotiating our relationship back to normal after two months apart. You spent the summer working single-mindedly on a PhD in Pennsylvania, training for a marathon in your precious little free time. I spent the summer carting the children to and from swim lessons and playdates, watching Gilmore Girls every night, and gallivanting around the country with a large arsenal of snack food, Adventures in Odyssey playing on the car stereo.
Marriage is a mystery, isn't it, love? And it isn't what most of our cultural mythologies tell us it is. It isn't the wedding: it is the more complicated everything that comes after that happy ending. It isn't a trap you're stuck in during the thick middle years, but it isn't the fulfillment of all your childhood dreams, either. It isn't finding your other half, or never feeling alone. It isn't "you complete me."
Maybe most confusingly for us, it isn't necessarily the most clearly fruitful Christian existence. After all, Paul had a good point when he argued that it was better to be single than to be married. Free from our obligations to spouse, children, house, and property, we have more time, resources, and emotional energy to invest in others and to devote to developing our own gifts and talents. Sometimes the people we love most also feel like hindrances to our work. How many more books would I have written? How many more songs would you have sung? How many more spiritual conversations might we have had or Bible studies might we have led or classes might we have taught or churches might we have started? How many worlds might we have saved if we hadn't been so sleep-deprived because of our children and distracted by each other?
But in choosing marriage and parenting, we have chosen a humble way. (Humble: from the Latin humus -- we have chosen an earthy way, a way dirty with everyday life.) We have sacrificed ideas of our own influence and ability to save the world. We have sacrificed some of our growth in our vocations and as creative people. We both have sacrificed for each other, because you love to see me come alive when I'm making meaningful connections with students, putting new ideas together, or deep in a writing project, and I love to see you enjoying research, gently shepherding lost sheep home, writing songs.
Sometimes it feels like we can accomplish more together, and enjoy life more together, than we ever could apart. But sometimes the opposite feels true, and that's confusing; growing up in church, they always acted like getting married was the key to Christian maturity, adulthood, ministry.
And this is when I remember a lesson that you helped me learn, a long time ago: that life isn't about what I can accomplish, or about what my husband can accomplish. I was never meant to save the world. And I can't understand what, in God's view, is a "big" thing and what is a "small" thing. It doesn't work that way.
My work is part of what it means for me to flourish as fully human, as fully God's, and growth there is something to pursue. But it's not the ultimate. My most important work is the work of believing that I am loved. Deeply, fully loved by God, apart from any thing I accomplish or do not accomplish. And very little on earth has helped me understand that more than you have.
Tim Keller: “When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Happy nine years to us! Here are some songs we've both loved this year: