February 3, 2012

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

In marriage, genuine love is worth all the work

Patti LambMy niece will be married in April. She has been busy dress-shopping, cake-tasting and decision-making about all things wedding related.

She invited me on her quest for the perfect wedding dress. I sat outside the dressing rooms in a large common area where the brides-to-be unveil their dresses and view them in spacious mirrors.

As I waited for my niece to slip into the next dress, I couldn’t help but overhear another shopper as she stood on the platform admiring her gown.

“I feel like a princess,” she said. “And I’m ready for my ‘happily ever after.’ ”

This starry-eyed young woman was clearly relishing the moment. I elbowed my sister sitting next to me and whispered, “I wonder if she’s read the fine print.”

I explained to my sister what I meant.

When we state our wedding vows to our spouse, what we say is this:

“I, name, take you, name, to be my husband or wife. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

Those simple statements come with a bevy of disclaimers. But it is not particularly pleasant to have one of those fast-talking voiceover guys present at the wedding ceremony to disclose the fine print like they do at the end of radio commercials.

So all of the following is implied, and by saying “I do” you consent to it.

When we state our wedding vows, what we mean is this:

“I, name, take you, name, to be my husband or wife.”

“Husband” or “wife” can mean, but is not limited to, the following—best friend, sounding board, prayer partner, trash-taker-outer, cheerleader, plumber, protector, chauffeur, caregiver, carpenter, bug-smasher, housekeeper, back scratcher, cook and/or grill master, teacher, central banker and confidant.

“I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad.”

“Bad” can mean, but is not limited to, the following—when the basement floods, infertility becomes an issue, the bank account is overdrawn, the children are in trouble, one spouse is unemployed or has a year-long case of the blues. For a more comprehensive list, consult your parents. They have been through a lot of this stuff.

“In sickness and in health.”

Again, this one is wide open. You hope never to hear words like cancer, heart attack, Parkinson’s disease, depression or “chronic” anything. You two must remain fervent in prayer, no matter what. God will help you carry your crosses. Cling to him.

“I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

This means from here on out. Even when your partner snores or leaves dirty clothes on the floor. Even when you eat macaroni and cheese, but you really wanted to dine on steak. Whether you live in a tiny apartment or a spacious home. Keep God at the center of your marriage if you want it to work.

At no point in the vows do we hear the words “until it becomes inconvenient” or “until it’s not fun anymore.”

Love takes work. It is rooted in service. It requires forgiveness—daily.

I am not trying to be pessimistic about marriage. It is a gift, and it is beautiful. But you can’t walk into it expecting a fairy-tale ending.

Sometimes the rocky periods strengthen your marriage bond in ways that you wouldn’t expect.

But love—genuine love—is worth all the work.

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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