Article Mar 10, 2017

Marriage and the mountain

Is a wedding the mountaintop of a romantic relationship? Or is it the base of the mountain, the foundation for all that follows?

In our time, many people see the wedding as the capstone, or the summit. You start out at the bottom of the mountain when you meet someone with similar interests, and then you decide to climb together. Perhaps you live together for a while, to give your relationship a more serious try. Eventually, if you’re lucky, you and your partner arrive at the summit—the wedding day.

Marriage as the mountaintop. That’s why almost every romantic comedy ends with the wedding—the celebration of a relationship that has endured all the trials of dating and romance (that you can fit into two hours!) and has now achieved success.

The Bible flips this picture upside down. The wedding isn’t the summit; it’s the base of the mountain. It’s the starting point, not the goal. And the pinnacle to which we climb is even grander and more beautiful than the wedding reception.

When I lived in Romania, I served in a church in a small village near the Hungarian border. One of the elders in the church was Mihai. He and his wife were in their seventies and had lived next door to the church building for decades. They were so devoted to the church that when the church built a new building in another part of the village, they moved to a new house right next door so they could continue to be the first ones there and the last to leave. They had four children and lots of grandkids.

On their fiftieth wedding anniversary, the two of them (we called them “Bunu’ and Buni”—Romanian for “Grandpa and Grandma”) hosted a celebration feast in their living room. They brought in a long table that extended across the room, along with dozens of chairs for all their guests. And then this farmer with gnarled hands from years of labor put on his suit and tie and took his place at the head of the table next to his wife of five decades.

Fanning out across the living room, scrunched together in chairs so we could all fit at the table, were children and grandchildren. I was included at this feast, and so were a few more young people doing church work in the village, including the girl who would later become my wife. It felt a little weird for those of us outside the immediate family to be included in this celebration, but I now realize that a good marriage always invites people into its sphere of happiness, especially those who are single and in need of family bonds. We started the meal by singing some of their favorite hymns. Then we had a time of prayer, thanking God for the two of them and for their marriage. Bunu’ and Buni said a few things about each other and about their family, and we ate like there was no tomorrow.

I remember that day well, how it seemed the laughter and love and conversation filled the room and soaked into the walls. I was sharing in the blessing of an ordinary husband and wife, whose faithfulness to the Lord and to one another had been fruitful. Filling that room was the flesh-and-blood, living-and-breathing fruit of their union. As the two of them looked out over that table, they saw the fruit of their love—their four children, all those grandchildren, some of which were old enough to begin having children of their own. They also saw their spiritual kids and grandkids—people like me—who were the fruit of their faithfulness to the church. Five decades of faithfulness, four precious families, the pillars of a strong church.

I wonder if, instead of seeing the wedding ceremony as the pinnacle of a relationship, we ought to see the fiftieth anniversary celebration as the summit. Mihai’s kids passed around a couple of old, faded, black-and-white pictures of the happy couple on their wedding day. Everyone made the customary remarks of how good they looked together. But looking over the room that day, I wondered if this wasn’t the better picture of marriage—not the wedding ceremony, as nice as it was, but the anniversary celebration, the faithful witness to God’s design for so many decades, and the joy that overflowed into fruitful family life.

The Eastern myth of marriage (that it is primarily a contract) and the Western myth of marriage (that it is primarily an expression of love) do not get at the heart of marriage. You don’t endure in a marriage for fifty years simply by gritting your teeth; nor do you endure by “feeling” like you’re in love the whole time. There has to be something more. And faithfulness in our time must display the richness of marriage at its finest.

Excerpted from This is Our Time by Trevin Wax. Copyright © 2017 by Trevin Wax. Used by permission of B&H. www.bhpublishinggroup.com.