The date was 1990. I was a newly engaged seminary student. Just a few weeks earlier, I’d proposed to Char, and she’d accepted. We were planning our wedding which was going to take place just a few months later.
I sat in the seminary classroom near the back. The subject: marriage counselling. The professor: a Christian counsellor. Notebook open, pen in hand, I couldn’t wait to learn about the journey I was about to begin.
I wasn’t prepared for what he said.
“Marriage is a steel trap,” he said.
I looked up, not sure if I was hearing him correctly.
The professor continued to explain. He’d enjoyed a good first marriage that ended with his wife’s death. Since then, he’d remarried, and found that his second marriage was a lot harder. In the first year of his second marriage, he found himself thinking that he’d made a terrible mistake. He knew divorce was not an option, but he found himself thinking of ways to escape.
But he couldn’t. Marriage was a steel trap. You can get into it, but it doesn’t easily let you go.
They stayed together and struggled. As they did, he found that marriage got easier. He learned to love his new wife. He began to enjoy their marriage. It was still hard and still required work, but being trapped together taught them to love each other, and they began to grow their relationship.
“Marriage is the hardest, most challenging relationship you’ll ever have,” he explained. “It will demand everything from you and more. No relationship will frustrate you and challenge you as much as your marriage.”
I gulped as he continued.
“But marriage is also the most joyful and rewarding relationship you’ll ever enjoy,” he said. “You will find a depth of relationship in your marriage that you won’t find anywhere else.”
I was young. Like most young couples, I saw the upside of marriage. On one level, I knew that marriage would be challenging, but I didn’t really think it would be that hard.
The professor’s words that day were harsh, probably a little harsher than the words that I’d use to describe marriage. But they were helpful. Marriage sometimes does feel like a trap. Every couple will go through periods in which the only thing that binds them together are the vows they made to each other, vows which can’t be easily broken.
Couples who keep those vows, even when those vows feel like a trap, often find that something beautiful happens as they endure the hardship. Things get better. They learn to love each other. God grows beautiful things in what looks like a garden of clay if we stick with it long enough and keep our promises even when we don’t feel like it.
I was scared as I heard that professor talk that day. But his words helped me prepare for the part of the marriage vows I hadn’t taken quite as seriously: not just the better but the worse, not just for richer but also in poorer, not just in health but also in sickness. I’m grateful for his words.
Marriage is costly, but part of the beauty of marriage is what can happen when we pay that price. I almost wish that every starry-eyed couple could sit in that class and hear how hard marriage can be, and yet what happens when we persist in that hardship and see God grow something beautiful.