On our 21st wedding anniversary, we drove to a neighboring town with all three kids and ate Chick fil A in our car. There were no dressed up fancy dinners or trips to new and fun places. We refereed squabbles between the kids while we ate our (rather unsatisfying) grilled chicken nuggets and drank our diet Cokes. We have reached an age where even God’s own chicken must be consumed in its inferior grilled state. We are growing older, no question. Anyone with eyes can see that. But, there’s a better measure of our years together than whether we’re growing older: are we growing?
Our marriage is now the same age as I was when we walked down the aisle. Chad learned quickly what it was like to finish raising a girl out in the real world with jobs and bills to pay and plenty of conflict to go around. Truth be told, I finished raising him, too. Our marriage has been the single most influential factor in our growth as human beings and as Christians in the past two decades, and I think that is how God designed marriage to operate. We should be doing more than growing old together or even growing up together. We should be growing as Christ followers, and as those who understand what it means to lay down your life for someone. Ideally, our marriages should make us more like Jesus, but growth, like most things that matter, takes time. In 21 years we have changed a lot. Not all of those changes have been easy or welcomed or good. The changes that have made us more Christ-like have been the hardest of all to endure, yet those are the changes that have made us love each other more with each passing year.
We have grown for each other. It only took days of marriage for us to begin to understand that we are much more selfish that we knew. We were five or six months into our marriage when we began promising each other that we would be better, more loving, more selfless, more understanding. Slowly, we trudged through the revelations that we had about ourselves as we failed again and again at loving each other well. All these years later, we are quicker to listen, slower to anger, more likely to let things go without launching into an argument. The Holy Spirit has shaped us through our love for each other and our desire to be a true support to one another. We are still growing for each other.
We have grown toward each other. Very early in our marriage Chad determined that we were going to be faithful servants in a local church. Our interests began to revolve around our church: that was where our friends were, where our spiritual growth was centered, where we were convicted together, moved together, inspired together, and where we worshiped together, week in and week out. Through the years our churches have discipled us and helped us grow in the same direction as we have grown in faith. Everything that has mattered to us in the past twenty-one years has happened in the context of the life of our church. The day we walked into Park Avenue Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, one week married, we thought we were as close as two people could be. We were certainly wrong about that. We have grown toward each other, one flesh, a true union that is anchored in our shared love for Jesus and the church. And we’re still growing toward each other.
We have grown because of each other. I’ve not had a greater spiritual teacher in my life than Chad. He has challenged me when I needed it, wounded me faithfully (Proverbs 27:6), gently reminded me of truth, soothed me when I was guilt-ridden, encouraged me when I felt spiritually defeated, and he has taught me God’s word. I hope that I have helped him grow, too, however imperfectly that I accomplished it.
One friend saw that we have been married for 21 years, and she said, “You’re just getting started.” Knowing that God is faithful to complete His good work in us, I’m thankful that He is just getting started on two not-so-young kids who have spent two decades growing together. This marriage has been a gift like no other. When I stepped through the back doors of the church back in 1999 and saw that precious boy that I loved standing at altar, I had no idea that knowing him was going to make me more like Jesus. We have grown. And we’re just getting started.