Beautiful Mess

I grew up in a typical dysfunctional family, not unlike the majority of my fellow product-of-baby-boomers. Our family was not without conflict or disappointments, but we were generally happy, we knew we were loved, and through our struggles as a family, I learned that getting along with people is never about being right and always about compromise and humility.

A marriage counselor once told me that it was important for spouses to allow their disagreements to happen in the presence of their children. Many couples refuse to argue in front of their kids, but this counselor pointed out that it’s important for kids to see their parents disagree and then work things out. It brings security and teaches them lessons about resolving conflict, forgiveness, and repentance. Looking back, I remember many occasions when my parents’ disputes taught me that love is not and will not be perfect. Arguments, disagreements, and blame are inevitable. But the secret to a successful marriage is finding the way to resolve those feelings and get back to the foundation of love that brought you together.

You see, this is the root of the problem with the institution of marriage in our world today. Our society has made it all too easy to walk away from the bonds of marriage at the first sign of distress and we lose that sense of blissful love. Instead of persevering through the trials of marriage, we are taught how easy it is to jump ship when things become too challenging or hurtful. This is an outward sign that we have not been taught how to cope with these let-downs, nor do we have any idea about how to overcome them.

I saw my parents disagree and then discuss an issue until they were able to come to a reasonable compromise that both of them could live with. I watched them slay one another with hurtful words that they did not mean, and to later come back and apologize. I saw times when an apology was due but not given, and saw the offer of forgiveness anyway; my first lessons about grace.

I witnessed extended periods of silence, and I learned the value of giving each other space to work things out individually. I saw a great many injustices committed, but always, always, I watched my parents somehow find their way back.  I heard about their doubts and fears that they would not survive, yet they always did and they always have. This is the secret to a happy marriage. It is not in a lack of disputes. Looking for someone you will always get along with is futile and unrealistic. No, the secret is in accepting that there will be disputes but being mutually committed to face each challenge and to see them through, together.

“We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character hope.” Romans 5:3-4

Today is my parents’ 47th anniversary, and I want to just thank them for the beautiful, messy example they have set in their marriage. As I face challenges in my own marriage of almost 20 years, I am grateful for the lessons I learned from growing up and watching their imperfections. To be fair – and because I know they will likely read this – I have to point out that I have many memories of good times too. Through all the ups and downs of being married and raising three daughters, I saw my parents take time for each other, commit random acts of kindness towards one another, take trips and go on dates, dance together senselessly in the living room, hold hands, laugh, cry, and grieve together, and simply enjoy being in the presence of the one they chose. As recent retirees, I see that manifested even more as they take extended camping trips and share more uninterrupted time with one another at home. The trials aren’t over, as they never really will be, but my parents have learned that they can get through just about anything together and they are still together, after all these years.