Two nights ago my husband and I were debating whether or not to make plans for Valentine’s Day. This year, Valentine’s is 4 days before my due date, so you can imagine our predicament. I could have a baby by then, or I could be in labor, or I could be eating insane amounts of spicy Mexican food trying to kick start the darn process. Who really knows!
Ike and I aren’t huge Valentine’s Day people, but Valentine’s marks the anniversary of our first date (this year being number seven!). That first year, Ike asked me out NOT KNOWING it was Valentine’s Day (he blames that oversight on “being a guy”). We dined at an expensive restaurant with a fixed price menu. He wore a tie. We ate by candlelight. He set the romance bar extremely high.
But this year will be different.
If the baby hasn’t come, I imagine we’ll make plans the day of. That probably means we’ll end up at the only place still available (Panera?) which seems symbolic of how our lives have changed in the last seven years.
Change has been on my mind a lot these days, especially as my due date nears. One of the only pictures hanging in our house right now is my bridal portrait, and the woman in that photo feels a million miles away. Her life was so different–her body, her priorities, her days–and while she knew what was ahead of her, she also didn’t. How could she? You can’t understand the marital journeys of having children, enduring illnesses, stressing over finances, moving, growing, changing, aging, until you’ve actually done it, together.
That’s why I can’t help but laugh at shows like The Bachelor. Having a make-out session on a Venetian gondola doesn’t tell you a whole lot. You might have flown over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter, but will he clean up your puke when you’ve got morning sickness? Will he get up with you at 3am when the baby is crying?
(By the way, for a BEAUTIFUL reflection on this, check out Sarah Bessey’s recent post [Love Looks Like] 2:07 a.m.)
In fairness to The Bachelor, we all enjoy those early stages of romance, even if they don’t tell us much. When a relationship is just beginning, you can’t really know where life will take you, or the unique ways it will affect your marriage. You can only choose your spouse wisely with the information you have.
And yet, this unknown-ness is exactly why marriage is such a wonderful picture of Christ and the church. For many of us, we were just as naive in our commitment to follow Jesus as we were on our wedding day. Maybe we were sitting in church or at a conference, enveloped in the rising music, or entranced by the preacher’s words. Maybe we were just kids.
In that moment, when we said “yes” to God, many of us were in an ideal setting. We didn’t know how hard the commitment would be. We didn’t know we would fail. We didn’t know we would be unfaithful. And we didn’t know just how much it would require of us.
But here’s what else we didn’t know. We didn’t know how God, like a good husband, would surprise us with His unconditional love, His constancy, and His ability to love us at our ugliest. We didn’t know the failures that awaited us, but we also didn’t know the grace.
Most of us don’t know what we’re saying with the words “I do”–not in marriage and not in faith–but that’s ok. What defines our marriages, and our relationships with God, is not so much that single moment as the totality of the moments that follow. That day of commitment is important, yes, but it is only a first step.
In both marriage and in the Christian life, we spend our entire lives living into our vows.
That’s a comfort I cling to when marriage is tedious or hard, or when discipleship is challenging and my passion for God grows stale. I remember that the story isn’t over, and I am still living into my vows. This moment is just one chapter of our love story–with our spouses and with our God–and there are many more to follow.
So it’s ok that I didn’t know what I was saying. Especially since these vows I’m living into, they aren’t one-sided. I made a promise, but a promise was also made to me. Even when I change, even when I falter or fail, my husband holds onto me.
And ever more perfectly, so does my God. I may not have known what I was committing to, but He did.
That’s what I’ll be celebrating this Valentine’s Day, even if it’s not as glamorous as our first. We are two people living into our vows, through the many twists and turns and changes of life. And as we do, we reflect the one who vowed to love us forever, even when we didn’t know what we were saying.