Before I got married, a pastor friend sat me down and shared with me about how beautifully challenging marriage can be. With a smirk on his face, he shared, “One subtle indication that marriage is going to be a challenge: it starts with you taking a vow, in front of a crowd of people, that you will not quit!” I remember thinking, thanks for the encouragement! Yet now, after being married, I know what he shared is true: marriage is a commitment to a beautiful struggle.
When Liz and I decided to get married, we didn’t fully know what we were doing (who really does?). But we did have a general understanding that we were cutting off other options, including the option of pursuing other romantic interests and the option of living the single life. But that’s the thing with marriage: yes, we gave up other options and a tremendous amount of freedom, but we gained so much more! We’ve now been married more than sixteen years, and most days Liz still wants to be around me. It’s breathtaking to me. It’s something I wouldn’t be free to experience if I hadn’t cut off other options.
This past weekend, my family drove up to Kansas City to surprise my parents for their 50th wedding anniversary. Fifty years is a long time! During the anniversary party I didn’t sit there and think about everything my parents gave up when they got married. Instead I thought about all the fruit and joy they have experienced because fifty years ago they made the decision to let go of other options and to commit to one another and the beautiful struggle that marriage can be.
By giving away some of their “freedoms,” they were free to celebrate and remember singing bedtime songs to my brother and me as we grew up. They were free to remember the adventures of moving from one city to another. They were free to remember family vacations that went horribly wrong and family vacations that we all want to repeat. They also were free to remember stories about their grandkids that they seem to endlessly talk about. Did they give up some of their freedoms when they got married? Yes. However, they gained great freedom too!
Marriage is just an example of this principle. There are so many things we yearn for but are not free to experience without surrendering our freedom in the first place. If we never commit — be it to people, or to God, or to a beautiful cause-we will miss so much that is profound. We find freedom by losing it.
I love how Richard Foster put it: “Absolute freedom is absolute nonsense! We gain freedom in anything through commitment, discipline, and fixed habit.”
And, like Jesus said, “whoever loses their life for me will find it.”