In Praise of Faithfulness
"Fifteen years? Wow. Not many people can say that anymore."
That's what the florist said to me when I picked up an arrangement for my wife today. It was fifteen years ago today that Lindsey and I stood before a congregation of friends and family in Ft. Worth, Texas and pledged our love and loyalty to each other for a lifetime. That's not a small promise. It shapes your entire life. In that moment I vowed that my pathway through life, with whatever twists and turns it would follow, would never take a turn away from her. There would be no season of my life to come that would be walked alone. I would no longer unilaterally "call the shots" for my life, because from now on those decisions would affect not just me, but (at the very least) this other human being who would from that moment be linked to me for as long as we're both alive.
I suspect that it is these implications of such a promise that keep many people from making the commitment of marriage in the first place. And perhaps it is because the pledging of vows is offered as a mindless repetition of words, and not a settled intention of the heart, that many who DO make the commitment of marriage end up bailing on it when things get tough.
True, it's not always easy. Whether the commitment in question is a marriage vow, the bond of friendship, the long-haul grind of work or ministry, or the day-in-day-out rhythms of discipleship, there will be countless challenges, and as many temptations to throw in the towel. To pine, "This isn't what I signed up for. This isn't what I expected." But each temptation to give up is also an opportunity to evaluate your heart, and recommit to the promise made: "For richer or poorer; in sickness and in health; for better or worse." Those contrasts don't just apply to marriage. They apply to life. Any commitment you make, any relationship you enter, any project you begin, will bring highs and lows. Are we only good for our word in the highs? When we're rich, healthy, and better? What happens when we're poor, sick, and worse? At the end of the day, that's what we're really made of: What we do in THOSE seasons. How faithful we remain when we're sick and poor is the true gauge of our hearts.
I'm so glad that in Jesus Christ, we have a "High Priest who is not unable to sympathize with our weakness, but who was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). I'm grateful that he made the commitment to take on humanity for eternity so that he could represent us before God the Father. I'm so thankful that when the pressure was on, the enemy was fierce, and his friends abandoned him, he stuck with it. He endured to the end and overcame the world and the devil (John 16:33).
In the scope of things, fifteen years isn't all that remarkable. I know people who are celebrating 50 or 60 years of marital faithfulness. I know pastors who have labored patiently and diligently for decades in the same local church, without any praise or recognition. But in a culture that values instant gratification, constant entertainment, and personal happiness at virtually any cost, I'm grateful for a wife who's willing to stick in there with me, for better or worse. I'm grateful for another day to share life and faith, and trust God with the future. As time goes by, Eugene Peterson's famous description of discipleship seems increasingly true and precious: "a long obedience in the same direction."
In our marriages, friendships, vocations, and discipleship, may we all keep pursuing a long obedience, trusting God for the strength to carry on, and looking to Jesus Christ, "who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).