One of the questions I like to ask couples who come to me for pre-marital counseling is “How long do you want to be married?” Its a pretty intriguing question when you think about it. The most popular answer is “forever” or “till we die.” I don’t think I’ve ever been to a wedding in which there was no reference to permanence like this. Its in the vows, the songs, the speeches. I’ve never been able to coax a pre-marital couple into signing up for a discounted counseling deal where I offer to mediate their divorce if they pay up front. We want to be married forever. We expect to be married till we die. But how are we going to do it? The average couple I see spends about 6-10 hours talking about their marriage, and from asking around I’ve discovered we spend a lot more time together than most pre-marital couples and counselors. Think about the numbers. The rehearsal and rehearsal dinner take about two hours. The wedding takes an hour. The reception takes four hours…already there is as much time invested in wedding events themselves as there is in serious talking and preparation for the marriage. The typical wedding in America costs $15K. The typical couple spends less than $500 for pre-marital counseling if they get any counseling at all, and many couples get a check in the box by attending 1-3 meetings with a cleric who spends as much time talking with them about what they can and can’t do in the church building during their service as talking about their relationship. How long do we want to be married? Looking at the allocation of resources, we want to stay “wedding-ed” much more than married. And who can blame us?? Weddings are fun. I work for a catering company so I attend as many as 30 weddings a year. With a few rare exceptions, the worst weddings are better than the best office parties. And the best weddings have a quality that drives catering staff nuts; no one wants to leave!
In many ways, marriage is the exact opposite of a wedding. Its no party. All our friends don’t show up bearing gifts and saying nice things about us on married Saturday nights. Your spouse doesn’t cry when they see you coming down the aisle to dinner. Being married can be a lot of fun, but it is not like party fun. In the navy I got to do and see some amazing things. One day off the coast of Nova Scotia with the fleet pulling into a close formation, a snow squall descended on us just as the fleet carrier commenced flight operations. She catapulted F-14’s off her deck only 500 yards abreast of us, and the jets poured on full throttle with orange flames from their engines as they blasted into the snow sky and disappeared. Grown men cheered and yelled and high-fived. You don’t get to see that every day. Some people, maybe even most people don’t get to see it ever. But that wasn’t what every day was like at all. We spent hours and hours “haze gray and underway” steaming through endless ocean alone. We trained and we maintained our ship and we went to work and ate and slept and worked out. That is what marriage fun is like. Fun to be at sea together. Fun to be going somewhere – an agreed upon destination – doing it together. Fun to fix the things that are broken and keep the machinery running. And sometimes having mind-blowing experiences that would never happen if we hadn’t set sail and done the hard work of keeping the ship seaworthy.
How long do you want to be married? A long time. What is it going to take? More than you think. How should you prepare yourself? With an eye to the journey, not just the launching point. Talk to people who are on the journey already. Get good counsel. Get good charts. Do your due diligence to ask the hard questions of the person you intend to go to sea with; where do they think the ship is going ultimately? do they have things in their past that will present difficulties and costs? what provisions do they bring with them and what liabilities do they carry? Most of all don’t go on this journey alone. Go with real direction and a real captain. Count the cost. Forever is a long time. If you look through that lens you will see how inadequate our provisions are and how much we need help to get there. How we need a captain that never sleeps and never entered a storm he can’t navigate. If you are going to get married with eternity on your lips, it only makes sense to invite the Eternal to your wedding. Jesus is the only Eternity we have ever touched with our hands and beheld with our eyes. Jesus is the Eternity who promises to go with us and never leave us. Jesus is Eternity bent toward us. Jesus knows the way into eternity. And when we have gone to the rim of the earth, where time and eternity meet, and our earthly promises fail, Jesus promises to marry us himself, to take us on into experiences we can’t imagine. How long do you want to be married? Me? forever and Forever.