By Paul Koch –
Last Monday was the eighteenth anniversary of the day my bride walked down the aisle with me, having just exchanged vows before God and a whole congregation of witnesses to begin our life together. Eighteen years after that day, I was boiling water for coffee because we were camping with the kids. We ate a relaxed breakfast cooked by my wife and began to break camp and load up the minivan. After eighteen years of marriage, we piled all five of our kids and our dog into the car to make the trip down the mountain. I leaned over and kissed my bride and said, “Happy Anniversary!” As I drove, I began to wonder how we ended up here. Did we envision this eighteen years ago? Did we plan or prepare for this?
Now, when I wonder about this, I don’t just mean the kids (whom I love) or the minivan (which I hate), I mean this incredible life that we have together. Did we envision a life where strength, support, encouragement, correction, forgiveness, desire, and satisfaction would be found in each other? Did I plan or prepare for a life where my bride’s presence alone would give the courage to engage in my calling with the boldness and recklessness required to do it well?
Perhaps it was included in the statement of intent I spoke on my wedding day:
“Will you have this woman to be your wedded wife, to live together in the holy estate of matrimony as God ordained it? Will you nourish and cherish her as Christ loved His body, the Church, giving Himself up for her? Will you love, honor, and keep her in sickness and in health and, forsaking all others, remain united to her alone, so long as you both shall live? Then say: I will.”
But to be honest, though I know I did, I don’t remember actually saying those words. I don’t think I planned for much of anything beyond embracing the woman standing before me. I don’t know what I envisioned we would be doing eighteen years later, though I’m pretty sure I hoped sex would still be a major part of the routine.
So how did we end up here? How did I go from an instinctual desire to protect and care for this woman, a desire fueled by erotic love and the joy of sex, to a life in which we walk side by side in a deep bond of friendship? How is it that we didn’t become the stereotype of the modern marriage, which views itself as a form of imprisonment rather than freedom? While it is not all sunshine and rainbows, this life together is one I would never exchange for something else.
As far as I can tell, the answer has to do with church—precisely the gifts of Christ, which call, gather, and enlighten the children of God.
You see, unbeknown to us, these gifts did something to our love for each other. They did something to our life that was beyond what we had planned or imagined. Now, you might guess that it somehow strengthened what we already had. Somehow, going to church made marriage that much better because it provided something that was lacking. And there is certainly truth that the proclamation of Law and Gospel to a husband and wife, to mothers and fathers and their children, provides strength and endurance that this world cannot offer on its own. But it’s not just that church helped us get through tough times. No, the gifts of Christ changed the very structure of our relationship.
The gifts of Christ turned us from facing toward one another to walking beside each other.
Because of church, because of the impact of a Word outside of ourselves, we grew into a habit of conversation and consolation in our relationship. When God’s Law and His Gospel invaded our life over and again, we were left to make confession, repent, wonder, and question. Time and again, we found that His gifts called us into a life where we lived along a common endeavor instead of just satisfying our own needs. The gifts found at church freed us to care for one another in radical ways we never planned for or imagined. They called us to both ask for and speak the language of forgiveness.
Eighteen years later, we find that we’ve been on an incredible journey shaped by the blessings of our Lord. And so through it all, through the ups and the down, through the tears and the laughter, there has been an insane amount of joy—joy in adventure, joy in sex, joy in children, joy in questioning, joy in confession, joy in absolution, joy in dreams, and joy in surprises. For the joy of Christ’s gifts have turned my wife and lover into my friend and companion along the way.