Vivien and I celebrated our ten year wedding anniversary this week. It was a classic “Jon and Viv” trip, full of surprises, hanger, feasting, too much coffee, and the rush of exploring a new city together. Then we took a day to try to organize our garage. This is not a classic “Jon and Viv” move. But as we pass our ten year mark, we are starting to be more eager to change when we need to.
If I had to characterize the struggles and joys of the last few years of our marriage in a single Wendell Berry poem, this would be it.
In the bright-eyed early years of our marriage, it was easy to say yes to each other’s endeavors, to sing the praises of our mate. Most of our new ideas were met with encouragement, at least on the surface. I wanted to plant a church (but shouldn’t have) and Viv was right there to support me. Viv wanted to pursue design, and then eventually leave her work to pursue design, and I was right there to support her. We moved apartments and churches. I changed careers and started seminary. We paid off debt. We traveled. (Not enough, if you ask Viv. Too much, if you ask me!) We had kids. No matter what we were doing, the other one was there to sing our praises. It was wonderful.
But it didn’t last. Somewhere along the way the cost of supporting one another in all our endeavors caught up. Having children, owning a house, advancing in our careers, and our inability to say no all surely had a role to play in this shift. We still said yes to each other most of the time, but we didn’t always mean it. We secretly, and not so secretly, wanted to say no. Those who know us best can fill in most of the details, but we were far from singing praises of our mate. While we still loved each other deeply, and liked each other deeply, we were finding it difficult to find joy in what the other person was doing.
But fortunately that didn’t last, either. We were both too bothered by this reality to stay quiet about it. Through tears, silence, talks with mentors, and at least one awkward conversation at Pei Wei, we have turned a bit of a corner, I think. We aren’t where we want to be, but I think we both recognize that. Which is where you have to start. (So they say.)
I think at ten years we are still learning (or re-learning) to sign the praises of our mate. It came naturally when life was more carefree. It doesn’t now. It will mean taking seriously what we ask of each other, and how we answer. But I have found, much to my surprise, that there is a real joy in confronting things like this, and being willing to work together to fix them.
That Pei Wei conversation looked, from the outside, like I was breaking up with Vivien. She was crying, and I wasn’t happy. But part way through the conversation she revealed that she was crying happy tears. For (maybe) the first time, I was completely honest with her about how her lack of excitement felt. She has felt this same hurt many times from me. But over some brown rice and caramel chicken, we finally felt it together. (And then I left her for a month in Wisconsin. Husband of the year!) That moment was surprisingly healing.
But it shouldn’t surprise us, since we serve a God who tends to bring dead things to life and turn sorrow into joy. As we look to the next ten years of our marriage, God is continuing to bind us together as we learn again how to live out our wedding vows.
He is teaching us to fail to know whose song it is, hers or his.