Come to a wedding with me. Flowered archways and candles adorn the church. Music plays softly. Friends and family fill every seat. The wedding party enters. Expectation rises with the music as the bridegroom, and all present, await the arrival of the woman who will join him in marriage.
Down the aisle she comes, a picture of beauty touched with hope, and a just a trace of anxiety. She joins her husband-to-be at the altar, there to make their vows of commitment in the presence of their friends, their family, and God.
With solemn words, the bride and groom make a mutual, lifelong commitment to their marriage and to each other. If they live another fifty years, they will have more than 18,250 days to prove their commitment. 18,250 days! That’s a life sentence!
Each day will have its joys, but also many commitment testers. Building a successful, intimate marriage always means facing challenges to our mutual commitment. Furthermore, our responses to those commitment testers will determine the stability of our marriage.
Let’s take a look at some of the common commitment testers
Complexity Tests Our Commitment
Life does get complicated. So many people demanding our time and attention. Soon we are thinking, “We’re just too busy to take any time for each other. I have a thousand things to do before tomorrow. I have other commitments besides my marriage, you know! The kids, my work, my church activities, not to mention our extended family. There is just no time!”
Instead of letting your marriage become another draining demand, why not make your marriage an oasis? Then it becomes a resting and refreshing relationship that helps you cope with the complex demands of life.
I once talked with a man who described, in detail, the breakdown of his marriage. The first year and a half were super. Then, in one bad relationship moment, all changed. For the past two and half years, he and his wife had been living in constant tension. In that condition they have no refreshment, no oasis, only more strain. It didn’t have to be that way. With forgiveness, a little adjustment of attitudes, and some positive attention, their marriage could provide refreshment and renewal for two overtaxed people.
Adversity Will Test Our Commitment
Robertson McQuilken served as president of a well-respected college and was a recognized scholar in his field. He and his wife had built a wonderful life together. Then she developed Alzheimer’s disease, that cruel degeneration of the mind. McQuilken could have placed her in a nursing home. Few would have criticized him if he did. But he didn’t. He resigned from his college presidency, cancelled his speaking engagements, and gave all his time to caring for his wife.
Observe what one writer said about his decision:
“He had made her a promise, made God a promise, too, that he would love her in sickness and in health. For Robertson McQuilken that meant caring for her when she didn’t even recognize him. Forty years earlier, he had promised to care for her both in sickness and in health. ‘She is such a delight to me,’ he said. ‘I don’t have to care for her. I get to care for her.’”
Take a moment to reflect on your commitment to your spouse. Is it the kind of commitment that will enable you to make necessary sacrifices for him or her? We may never have to do what Robertson McQuilken did, but we still have many opportunities to lay down our lives for each other five minutes at a time.
Prosperity Will Test Our Commitment
When we have all we think we need, or when we are spending all our time trying to get it, we can forget how much we need each other.
A Wall Street Journal reporter once did a survey of young, prosperous married couples. In these families both husband and wife worked. He asked the couples this question: “What is more important to you, building your marriage or making money?”
If I remember correctly, more than 80 percent said that making money was the higher priority. Some mentioned that they planned to make their fortune, then later, when they were financially comfortable, they would enjoy their marriage. Perhaps they didn’t realize that when later finally arrives it is too late to recover what was lost.
As former president Calvin Coolidge said, “Prosperity is only an instrument to be used, not a deity to be worshiped.” It is no coincidence that many people who worship prosperity also have dying marriages.
Focusing Our Commitment
General, unspecific commitment has little meaning or effectiveness. Focused commitment gains potency, like sun shining through a magnifying glass.
How can we focus our commitment? Make it personal. Demonstrate commitment to the person you married, not just to the institution of marriage.
A self-righteous spouse can be committed to keeping a promise, in a very legalistic way, yet live in ignorance of the needs and desires of his or her partner. In fact, a self-righteous spouse could even treat the husband or wife like dirt, and still claim to be committed to the marriage. Then, when their partner threatens to leave, the self-righteous spouse claims, proudly, that he or she isn’t the quitter. “I’m still committed!” he trumpets.
In Charles Dickens book, Martin Chuzzlewit, we meet a character who personifies self-righteousness. His name is Pecksniff. Believe me: you would not want him, or one of his daughters, as your spouse. You see, Mr. Pecksniff will do anything, anything that serves his interests and his conceptions about himself. Yet he does it so that he appears, at least to himself, to be the most humble of men. And that is really all that matters to him. When seeing his reflection in a mirror, he wants to save face. So deceived is this man that he cannot allow himself to believe that he, good as he is, could ever have a wrong motive. In truth, he has no good ones.
The less Pecksniff the better. That is the rule that will keep us honest and focused about our marriage commitment.
To avoid that self-righteous attitude, focus your commitment on the person, not the marriage. When we do that, we show humility. Why? Because proving commitment to a person means giving that person preference. You will need to make decisions that cost something, personally. You cannot have everything your way, and that is good, both for you, and for your marriage. Genuine humility is, without a doubt, one of the healthiest attitudes for a sound marriage.
Think, Act, Pray
True commitment in marriage is both personal and practical. Think of some specific ways you could demonstrate each of these practical expressions of commitment:
I am committed to your best interests.
I am committed to your personal development.
I am committed to growing in understanding you.
I am committed to giving you every advantage I would give myself.
I am committed to living a shared life with you.
I am committed to building and maintaining our unity.