So often though, that does not occur and those words of departure take place not at one’s death bed half a century after their vows were first professed but rather much too soon, in a courthouse at the side of a lawyer rather than the one who might have once been their best friend, lover and spouse…true spouse.
The dictionary defines one’s spouse as “either member of a married pair in relation to the other…a person’s partner in marriage.” It defines the spouse as a Being. However, there is another definition—one the dictionary has categorized as “obsolete”—and that definition uses the word spouse as a verb. To spouse is “to join, to give, or to take in marriage.” Funny isn’t it? Who thinks of one’s spouse in terms of an action? In terms of me having to give something to you or take something from you? And yet, if you really consider it carefully, to spouse one’s self most closely mirrors the true meaning of love and that is the love that one is committing to on the altar. That is the love that will sustain the marriage in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer…through bankruptcy, death, cancer and disaster.
When Christ walked upon this earth He taught us many things…and most of them through modeling them—through His actions, not just His words. Quite possibly the number one most important lesson He taught us—daily—was “to love another.” Fast forward two thousand years and the word love just like the word spouse has seemingly lost its verbness and morphed into a noun—something that connotes unchangeability as if love is just something one has or one loses but has little to no control of. This definition appeals to the concept that love is simply a feeling…and can be lost or found. But consider this, Christ would not—could not—command us to have a feeling. He commanded us to do something…to act lovingly. Love, my friend, is not something that arrives on our doorstep or leaves us indiscriminately but something that we are fully capable of doing and something that we must choose to do.
So, we get married, we promise our spouse that we will “love them forever” and then somewhere down the line we forget that promise. We forget that promise when we’re attending college courses and are too tired to make time for our spouse, to make or share dinner with them, to make love to them, to play with them. We forget that promise when we fall in love with our children and make them priorities in our lives thus relegating our spouses to second position for our love…or third, fourth or fifth. We forget that promise when our spouse (who is also a perfectly made but wholly fallible and flawed individual with his or her own marital needs and expectations) unintentionally says or does something that hurts us and makes us want to respond in kind or defensively.
You see when we commit to love forever we need to be aware that sometimes loving won’t be easy and that it will often take work. We will have to be patient when we want things changed NOW. We will need to be kind when we’d rather scream in their faces about how they are irritating us or should be hanging up their clothes rather than throw them on the floor. We need to forgive and allow them to grow and move on rather than keep a record of their wrongs to throw in their face each and every time they slip up and make the same old irritating mistake you’ve been hurt by for the past several years. We will have to hold our tongues when we are angry or upset rather than being quick tempered. You see the pattern…we need to be 1 Corinthians: 13 to our spouses when we’d rather be an “in-your-face-say what I want to say whenever I want to say it despite its self-centered hurtful consequences to our spouses’ feelings, psyche, and most importantly our marriage” spouse. We need to love our spouses.
So I guess to spouse someone is not so obsolete after all. Love is giving to them when we don’t want to give anymore and love therefore is also humbly taking from them when our arrogance, stubbornness or pride doesn’t want us to rely on anyone but ourselves. Love is saying to ourselves in times of strife or pain that “I would never ever want to do or to say anything that would hurt my spouse!” If we do that, they might still be hurt but our loving actions are much more certain to draw us nearer to our spouses than to pull us apart.
When I sit in that pew tomorrow watching yet another beautiful young couple pledge to love one another for the rest of their lives I will pray they know exactly what it is they are committing to. I will pray for their patience, their kindness, their lack of jealousy, rudeness, and inflatedness. I will pray they are slow to anger, keep no records of wrongs and do not seek their own interests but rather the interests of the other. My prayer is that they will love one another just as Christ first loved us—completely, totally and unendingly…’til death do they part. After that, I will so be looking forward to having me a ginormous piece of wedding cake! Have I mentioned how much I love weddings?!