T his week-end, my youngest son asked his girlfriend to marry him. As a parent, this is one of the biggest decisions I cannot make and evokes a complex mix of fear and joy. For this young couple, their decision to marry each other is the biggest decision they will ever make.
Choices are the hinges of destiny.Edwin Markham
Consider the implications of marriage:
- Financial – marriage sets you on a path that mixes your financial future with that of another human being.
- Children – regardless of your view of marriage and it’s permanence, the children you create together will be a permanent part of your life.
- Career – your spouse will influence what you do, where you do it, and how well you do it for the duration of your marriage.
- Family – with marriage comes an entire extended family along with all of the benefits and challenges that human relations can muster.
- Friends – when you marry, your friends become her friends and vice versa or your couple friends become the new norm for your life.
- Mistakes – with that “I do,” your individual mistakes become your collective mistakes as each must live with the choices made by the other.
- Identity – to a very large degree, marriage requires that you subordinate your individual identify to your identify as a couple and then a family.
- Faith – though religion is generally under assault by our society’s extreme secularism, marriage brings you face-to-face with the spiritual beliefs of your spouse and often requires a choice on your part in how you participate as well as believe.
Suffice it to say that the marital union holds massive significance in the lives of its participants regardless of their level of preparedness or depth of commitment. For those of us participating in the lives of our children, their decision to marry has similar implications for our own lives as we too must live with their decisions no matter how we try to let them live in their own way. Sounds a bit overwhelming, doesn’t it?
In our house, we are huge fans of marriage and its massive significance. Since their birth, we’ve instilled our belief in this institution into our children through the life we’ve chosen to build together. In words and actions my wife and I have worked to affirm our belief in marriage and the family we’ve built as our most important vocation – no matter the difficulties. For 28 years, we’ve tried to center every decision around our family – and that has made all the difference.
Today, Kellen and Victoria take the next steps toward their own life together. They have made the first part of their great decision in choosing one another but their choice doesn’t stop there. From here on out, they must continue to choose each other, every single day. For their relationship to survive and their family to thrive, they must keep that choice at the center of everything else in their lives. Marriage demands it and the ramifications of not complying can be devastating.
Fortunately, we are made for this commitment. At least most of us. Sure, we all falter and fall down. We all make most of the same mistakes because, though we are made for the marital relationship, we have to give up a large degree of self before that relationship can thrive. And walking into it, we’ve spent a lifetime serving self.
in spite of the natural fears I hold as a parent (after-all, what do you really know at 22 years old?), I have total confidence in the choice of this young couple. They are young but that gives them the opportunity to build it together. It gives them the chance to make the mistakes and learn together. Let’s face it, sometimes experience doesn’t ensure we make better decisions the next time. However, it often makes us more aware of what can go wrong and thereby fear it.
My confidence in them is not born from my belief that they’ve got it all figured out but from my certainty that they have everything they need to figure it out. From there, everything else is simply a choice. Every day.
Nearly 30 years ago, my wife and I made a similar decision. We were just as green, just as naive, just as unprepared, just as innocent, and just as well equipped to make the choices that needed to be made as this young couple is today (perhaps even a bit less so). I find their hopefulness endearing, inspiring, and quite joyful.
So often in our lives, we wait for the “right moment,” resting on the sidelines hoping to get the call to enter the game. We tell ourselves that our time will come and someone will choose us – whether it’s a job, a relationship, a friendship, or a chance. We wait for the moon and the stars to align and the booming voice from they sky to call us forth to our destiny.
In truth, those moments are thrown in front of us all of the time and we often miss them in the noise and distraction of our lives. The choices sit there waiting to be made and we blow past them looking for the opportune moment. We analyze, plot, and plan knowing that we’ll recognize it when we see it, never realizing that it was right in front of us all along.
Sure, you’ll occasionally run across major inflection points and feel a sense of destiny in a moment or decision. But more often than not, it will show up unannounced, in stealth mode, hiding in plain site – wrapped in a camouflaging blanket of normalcy. Daring you to make a choice as you look in the other direction.
Marriage is a choice. A very big choice. Unlike many choices, it has to be made time and again. The very best of these unions last a lifetime and its because the two partners chose each other every day. In a world that storms the walls of our senses daily, the need for that choice is easily lost. In a society that seems to value commitments quite lightly, choosing each other every day might seem difficult. It doesn’t have to be.
Once we let go of self long enough to realize that there are more important things than our own gratification, fleeting “happiness,” or “actualization,” we find something more. We find the power of choosing something more than self, serving something bigger than our own desires, and being a part of a life beyond anything we could have done alone. That is a successful marriage. That is your biggest decision. Make it. Every day.
To Kellen and Victoria: my love and blessing. Everything is waiting for you.