Only If, Even If

Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband and to live together in marriage; do you promise to love, comfort, honor and keep him, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him, so long as you both shall live?”

I do. (…but only if he does.)

I remember my dad saying, “Honey, if I only loved your mother today as much as I loved her the day we got married, we wouldn’t still be married.” Not being a married woman at the time, his cautionary words fell on deaf ears. But then, once I was an engaged woman, I realized how wrong my dad was. Who was he kidding? I mean, really…is there any possible way you stand at the altar in a white dress and imagine loving anyone more than you loved that guy right there at that moment?

Of course not.

And now I reflect on my wedding day and I realize how pathetically little I knew about being married. No one knows anything about marriage until you’ve lived through it. My dad was right. If I only loved my husband today as much as I loved him the day we got married, we wouldn’t still be married.

When I said those vows, I put a conditional clause at the end that was never intended to be there. I will do these things…only if he also does these other things. I will ignore the dent you put in our van…but only if you admit to being hot-headed and immature and promised to get it fixed without inconveniencing me or spending very much money. I will overlook you hitting the snooze button for an hour this morning…but only if you don’t do it again tomorrow. I will make dinner again tonight even though I’m tired…but only if you promise to clean up the dishes, help with the homework, fold all the laundry, help with bedtime and put all the bikes back in the garage before you grade that pile of mid-terms. I’m careful to make sure that my fairness scales are always in balance.

Our pastor said something a few weeks ago regarding his marriage. “I get to choose to love my wife even if she no longer chooses to love me.” Hold it. He said even if. I operate by the only if method. Get to choose…even if? I’ve been turning it over and over in my mind. How can I possibly make sure things are fair if I’m not keeping track of every infraction and the appropriate and meaningful method of payback? How do I maintain my rights to not be forgotten or taken advantage of under that get to choose plan? And how will I possibly manage the self-preservation and self-promotion required for a modern, sophisticated, educated woman to be successful if I buy into a mindset where I don’t always come out ahead…where sacrifice is the gold standard?

Even if kinda changes things.

I will overlook the dent in the van even if you don’t make any effort to get it fixed.

I will not resent the fact that you snoozed for an hour this morning even if you do it again tomorrow.

I will make dinner tonight even if I’m exhausted and even if you don’t say thank you.

Or maybe let’s take it deeper than dents and snooze buttons and dinner.

I will love you even if it feels like you spend just as much time and money on your hobby as you do with our family.

I will love you even if you don’t look like you did when I fell in love with you.

I will love you even if her husband is more (successful, handsome, handy, in shape, attentive, funny, fill in the blank) than you.

Even though we talk about nullifying the effect comparisons have in our marriages, the temptation to compare is present. And even if we aren’t actively comparing ourselves to other couples, the trap remains to compare our current reality to what we thought marriage might be. Gaining the upper hand in our mental battles is a continuous fight.

God made five covenants in the Old Testament: one with Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Christ. These covenants facilitate the unfolding of His great plan of salvation and are infinitely more significant historically and Biblically than any promise I’ve ever made to anyone. God knew that man would never be able to hold up his end of the covenant. Covenants were God’s even if language with his children. I will choose to love you even if you do not choose to love me.

I am not recommending that men or women stay in abusive marriages. Anyone in that situation should feel the freedom, regardless of what they’ll think of you at church, to seek help and get out. I’m not talking about abusive marriages because I’ve never been in an abusive marriage and therefore cannot advise with prudence. I’m talking about the day in and day out, ying and yang, give and take, push and pull, you and me, Thursday afternoon at 4:48 pm, today and forever stuff that occupies life’s white noise.

Throwing the scales out of balance might be a very good thing for my marriage. Throwing the scales out completely might be the best thing for my marriage. How do I change a pattern I’ve reinforced for years? How do I move past the idea that every infraction needs to be righted for me to feel loved?

No effort I can give toward this goal will work. It will be Christ working through me. It will be me sitting down every morning and praying, “Lord, help me to love him well. I need your help.” God’s covenants were not backed up with conditional clauses. Christ chooses to display his love to us through our spouse. He is loving you through that other person! And for me to experience the fullness of that love, I will have to reshape my approach from only if to even if.

“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves, they find their own order…the continuous thread of revelation.” — Eudora Welty (American writer)

“Relish life with the spouse you love.” Ecclesiastes 9:9

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