Sunday, April 15, 2007


I often speak and write about the three key moral principles of the Sanctity of Life, the Sanctity of Marriage and the Public Acknowledgment of God. This past week I spent a lot of time reflecting on the second principle about marriage.

Cheryl and I celebrated our 30th anniversary April 9. Hard to believe it’s been three decades. I know it doesn’t sound like much to couples marking their 50th and 60th or longer, but 30 years means Cheryl and I have spent twice as long with each other than we did alone. (Counting our courtship years, that is!)

Cheryl and I met at 15 in a church prayer group. My brother Paul and I had only begun exploring Christianity. Part of that search included attending a Friday night gathering of young people at a nearby Methodist church. Cheryl Smith was one of them.

I knew of Cheryl because her family made big news a year earlier when their house burned. In our little community of 25,000, a house fire was headline material. We began a conversation one night and it continued for three more years—until we graduated high school. By then, we were convinced God meant for us to be together permanently. In our minds, there was no use in waiting. So, while today neither of us would recommend it to others (not even our own kids!), we got married—right out of high school! We did everything married and later with kids: college, graduate school, world travel, ministry, everything. In fact, Cheryl and I have few memories of what it was to be single.

Getting married as kids ourselves and taking on all those challenges as a young family certainly had its downside. (I think it was a lot harder on Cheryl because she was running the house and taking care of our kids while I was consumed by other, more “exciting” things.) Still, we don’t regret it. Now, if you know Cheryl, she speaks very effectively for herself, so I’ll make this my statement: I wouldn’t have had it any other way. And, as testimony thereof, I’m more in love with Cheryl these 30 years later, than I was when I proposed!

I say I’m more in love now because I know a little more what it means to love. When I first “fell in love” it was pure rapture. Cheryl could do no wrong; she was perfect! To me, she was (and remains) beautiful, interesting and smart. I knew she wanted terribly to be a mom, and that she would be a wonderful one. (And she is—ask my kids!) I also knew I felt more secure when I was with her. I knew I wasn’t meant to be alone and that Cheryl was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be with always. Somehow I knew even at such an early age that I would be “complete” in sharing my life with her.

But, after 30 years you learn, of course, no one is perfect—not even the love of your life. (And, for Cheryl, that insight about me runs ditto times ten!) Still, it’s precisely this revelation that allows you to truly love and be loved. Nobody can have a true relationship with a fantasy.

In thinking about our 30 years together, the two children we raised, the countless good and bad experiences we’ve shared, I’ve realized anew just how “sacred” this relationship has been and remains. For me, our marriage is second only to my relationship to Christ. In fact, in my estimation, there is no better earthly instructor than holy matrimony in what a relationship to God is to be.

In a marriage—and throughout a marriage—we learn what it means to give ourselves to another. We learn how dependent we really are. We learn transparency, vulnerability, fidelity, complimentarity. We also learn how to fess up to our mistakes, our shortcomings and failures. And, I’ve learned just how necessary it is to say, “I’m sorry.” (It’s hard to remain married if you won’t accept responsibility for your offenses against your mate.)

If I could say there are any surprises at 30 years into marriage, it’s this: how much I don’t know about marriage after 30 years! In many ways, those first 29 years were easy because they were dominated by so many distractions—both positive and negative. But our lives now require Cheryl and me to face each other without the convenient deflections of raising and educating kids, buying and selling houses and cars for the first time, figuring out how we’re going to pay for things, etc., etc.

Instead, Cheryl and I must face each other and each other’s needs and desires. In some ways it’s a bit like dating again, only without the buffer of idealistic fantasies! We now know who we really are and what life really brings with it. So, 30 years into this, we’re just getting to truly know each other. Maybe in another 30 years we can move on to the next phase of our relationship!

Here’s to the Sanctity of Marriage—and to God who gave me such a wonderful gift in the woman I married 30 years ago!

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