On the day Chad and I were married over seventeen years ago, we stood, shaky, at the front of a church and vowed to stay close, to be committed, to love with all we had for the rest of our lives. Was it the crowd of people or the lifelong promises we were making that caused our hands to sweat and tremble so at the altar that day? We were clueless. Our marriage was just a tiny sapling, roots barely set beneath the ground, and one good wind might have toppled the whole thing.
First fights, first apologies, first holidays, first oh-I guess-we-all-have-baggage conversations, and through each of the beginning phases of life together, we tried. We learned how to talk and how to shut up. We listened. And, our roots ran just a little deeper. The branches of our tiny sapling marriage started spreading just a little.
Yet, we had periods of slow growth. We had times when we were being too stubborn, too selfish, too anxious and obnoxious and paranoid. We cried angry tears together, and we refused to see things from each others’ viewpoint.
Always, always, eventually, one of us would bend a little. We would reach out across cold, empty space and hold onto each other again, remembering the promises that were made on that altar years before. And, our marriage would grow again. Each new branch was a reminder of things that God had taught us, ways that we had invited His love in when our own love was too imperfect to do the job. And, He began to make our roots dig deeper. Our marriage was taller and stronger than before.
When I was just a girl I watched an old black and white movie about a woman who kept taking in children who needed her help. When people would tell her she couldn’t handle so many responsibilities, she responded, “I’m a strong tree with branches for many birds.”
That thought has often come back to me through the years: are we growing that kind of marriage? Is our relationship, God-given and God-sustained, the kind of strong tree that has branches for many birds? For those who need us? For those who depend on us? For those who need a place to fall, to cry, to crumble?
When we’re in phases of discontent and grumbling and selfishness (mostly on my part), I can sense our lack of growth as a couple. Our parenting, our ministry, our friendships with others are all weakened when our marriage isn’t strong, flourishing, and growing.
But, I think after seventeen years I have finally begun to learn that no marriage will grow deep and strong unless we are both firmly planted in God’s word, letting the words of life sustain us as individuals and as a couple. I am not a “good” wife. But, when I turn to Jesus and ask Him to make me the kind of wife He wants me to be, when I ask Him to give us a marriage that is a brilliant picture of His love, then I start seeing that our roots can grow deeper that I ever thought possible. Our little marriage sapling can grow as tall and as wide as God’s will allows, if only we rely on Him in our weakness and let Him be the good and faithful gardener that He has proven Himself to be.
Your marriage is either growing or it isn’t. It takes work. It takes reliance on God. It takes humility and lots and lots of I’m sorry. When I watch our kids, giggling and silly, I have to smile. I remember that Chad and I, this marriage, this little thing that started seventeen years ago and has grown considerably since then, we are a strong tree with branches for many birds. And, we pray that God will use our growing marriage for His glory.