On the High Seas of Marriage

We’ve never made it a secret that our marriage is far from perfect. In fact we quite openly talk about it when opportunities present themselves, especially through our music. (Yes, we create more than just babies. Insert shameless plug: www.wisdomandfollymusic.com , www.soundcloud.com/wisdomandfolly) We know that our struggles have to have purpose, and so we share our truth in hopes that others may find grace amidst their own turmoil.

From day one we were clinging to rocky cliffs, fighting the undertow that threatened to pull us out into the wide open choppy waves. Fast forward nine years later and we are still gasping for air. We’ve had seasons of relative peace while clinging to anchored buoys- friends, financial stability, counseling, family, God- allowing us a chance to recover our senses and regain strength, only to be tossed back into the chaos of swirling madness with the development of yet another storm.

It’s exhausting to feel like you’re always on the verge of drowning, the weight of all of life’s responsibility- your marriage, your children’s wellbeing, finances, the state of humanity and the world, perhaps your own inability to make sense of yourself- constantly pushing you under… when all you want to do is just live, to feel alive and hopeful. And yet the water continues to rise ever higher every time you come close to the surface.

There is no “easy” button in marriage. There is no sprinkling of fairytale magic that suddenly turns your rags into beautiful gowns and pumpkins into carriages. Love isn’t magical. I wish the English language had more options than just the all-encompassing word “love.” We use it for everything, and by doing so have stripped it of its depth of meaning. Love is a complex, layered concept. It’s both feeling and action.

“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” -1 Corinthians 13:4-8

The most perfect love does all of these things consistently without fail. Jesus was the only living human proof of this. And since the rest of humanity is fallible and prone to weakness and imperfections, we are incapable of doing all of these things consistently. And those imperfect parts are where the cracks begin to emerge and the water starts trickling in.

When a relationship falls apart because two people say they have “fallen out of love,” this is the neatly packaged way of saying that one or both were unwilling to put in the work to create a sustainable love. Sustainable love is constructed, not felt, into existence. Some floors and stairs are easily and flawlessly built, but the ones that crack are the ones that require focused attention- and they are often stubborn and resistant to fixing. Because aren’t we, though? And so the water continues to accumulate and rise the longer these places are ignored.

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My husband and I do well in some of these areas and terribly in others. We’ve got the persevering part figured out, no doubt. But when you are exhausted from the hard work of wading through mazes of misunderstandings, miscommunication, and hurt feelings, envisioning the future is nearly impossible. Both people are left staring at each other in silent agony wondering if it’s ever going to get better- or at the very least a little easier. But it never feels easier, even after all these years. We have big cracks- wide, and deep, and stretching long into the very foundation we built for our marriage. But the repair work is costly, and when you are very near bankrupt already, how do you still find a way to fix it all while also treading water?

Every time you choose each other, you make a deposit. Every time you choose to forgive, you make a deposit. Every time you allow grace to cover a mistake, you make a deposit. Every time you speak truth instead of lies, you make a deposit. Every time you strike out against your self-serving pride and ego and choose humility instead, you make a deposit. If you do this often enough, it will very quickly add up.

When you give up choosing the absurd ways of love, ways altogether counterintuitive to our broken human nature, and instead give in to the vengeful ideology of “eye for an eye,” you deplete all possible resources that would aid in patching the cracks and cut ties with any life-saving apparatuses thrown your way.

Two people can very quickly and easily drown each other trying to save themselves. When we choose selfishness over selflessness in marriage we are essentially pushing our spouse under the water in an attempt to keep ourselves above it. But eventually both people will tire from fighting the waves and each other and drown. This is the tragedy of those who have “fallen out of love.”

I don’t want this to be our story. But I keep pushing my husband under the water in desperate attempts to save myself from… myself. And out of fear. Because I still can’t see dry land and I’m feeling desperate. But flailing around is not the answer. Reacting selfishly in fear is not the answer. Using him to try and stay afloat is only killing us both. Our hope for survival cannot be dependent upon each other. We are not each other’s savior. Because we are both very imperfect people with a love for each other that is also very imperfect.

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People put more energy into fearing the potential struggles and running from them than the actual work of fighting through them. We create these false notions of a fairytale love, shaped by a culture that prefers to romanticize the feelings of lust and ignore the sweaty, manual labor required to develop genuine, lasting love. But then we can’t figure out where it all went wrong and become disillusioned by every subsequent relationship because no one is able to fit the Cinderella or Prince Charming mold. Such ugly lies that attempt to cheapen the immeasurable value and worth of true, hard-earned, battle-scarred love.

Love’s authenticity is tested on the sinking ships, the ones set ablaze in furious fire. Do you cut your losses and jump ship alone, fearful of being singed and hopeful that the choppy seas will somehow still themselves and a life boat suddenly appear while you tread in the open water? Or do you instead task yourself with the life and well-being of your other half while holding hands, braving the flames and burning embers together, risking yourselves as one to salvage a few broken bits of wreckage in order that you both can remain afloat until help arrives?

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My husband and I often find ourselves standing at the helm of a sinking ship, fighting against the truth of our situation, ignoring the growing tilt of the bow, believing our gradual slide backwards will be righted with the quick fix of a sail. Most often it isn’t until we feel ourselves flipping over the railing, eyes wide staring down into the water, that we desperately stretch out our hands and grab hold of each other. We can’t seem to stop choosing the hard way. Okay, let me rephrase that: more often than not it is I who am unable to stop choosing the hard way. He’s the one who never fails to find my hand…if I’m being completely honest.

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The open waters of marriage can be endlessly deep and wide and overwhelming. But the love of God is infinitely greater and more powerful than the strongest pull of any undertow. The life line that He offers us is anchored to an empty, blood-stained cross- an unwavering, immovable, unshakable strength of two wooden beams stretching up to the glory of heaven. Our weaknesses are made strong by the hope and grace that Jesus brought to this earth when He sacrificed His life to save ours. It is through His love for us that we are made able to endure, to choose each other when it doesn’t make sense, to know that we are stronger together than apart, and to cling to the wreckage and trust that help is coming.

“18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 19 We love because he first loved us.” -1 John 4:18-19

Let us release the fear of potential struggle and pain and hardship. There is nothing safe about embracing love, this is true. It makes us so very vulnerable. But what of the other side- the “safe” place of rejecting love in order to remain unbroken?

“There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.” –C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The price you must pay to safeguard your heart against brokenness is steep. Where there is no love, there is no God, no joy, no compassion, no hope, no life. You risk nothing so you gain nothing. You forfeit the wealth of love’s offering and so become the poorest kind of person, fully missing the point of our grand design and purpose.

On the high seas of marriage, the risks are great: waves are towering, storms seethe, and driving winds blow fiercely.  But if you continue to choose each other, to choose the absurd ways of love despite the potential mess or awkwardness or heartache, you will eventually learn to navigate the tumultuous times using a new kind of sense, honed and refined by learned, skillful use. It’s a unified sense of grace and hope, that together as one you can endure and persevere because you have grabbed hold of the life line anchored to the cross of Christ and refuse to let go.

We can’t save each other, but the love of Jesus can. And sometimes that can look a whole lot like Captain Jack Sparrow stepping off the masthead of his sunken boat onto the dock as it barely glides in under the current.

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Sometimes we barely make it out alive. But we do. And there is so much beautiful, redemptive grace in receiving another chance to try again.

I choose to believe my marriage and my family are worth all the piles of ash and splintered wood. Because a restored vessel is far more respectable and trustworthy than an untested one.

Peace & Love, Amy

Note: This piece is not meant for those in abusive relationships- physical, emotional, or otherwise. If you are in such a relationship, please seek help to remove yourself (and any children) from it immediately. Abuse of any kind is never okay under any circumstances.

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