Written By Aliyah Lauren Jacobs, South Africa
They sit across from us at our dining room table, their fingers laced together. She plays with her engagement ring, excited to be talking about their big day and their upcoming plans. This young bride and her adoring groom.
We see them often. As religious leaders, we teach young adults and my husband is a marriage officiator. It’s a blessed privilege to see a couple committing to one another and to the life to follow.
They often turn to us and ask us about our own marriage and the connection we so evidently share, and we answer honestly, we weren’t always this happy. It’s something I struggle with—how to tell them to be prepared, for both the best and the worst.
My husband and I were both full of hope, commitment and love, on the day of our wedding. We were innocent and somewhat unprepared for marriage. My husband came into the marriage as a wounded soul—this was something we were both unaware of. But when a church split happened in our congregation where we were leaders, the pain of betrayal shattered him.
Memories of past hurts from people he trusted in his younger years all flooded back and neither of us was equipped to deal with betrayal from the people we had trusted and shepherded. The roof and walls of our marriage vows felt the weight first and the structure of our promises began to crumble. My husband pushed everyone away, including me; it was the only form of survival he knew.
During that chaotic time of isolation, I began to look at the vows we had each written, differently. Ours are painted in watercolour and sit in our lounge in a gold frame. Every night we see them, and when visitors come in they are greeted first by the vows that lie sketched between two candlesticks with the bride and groom on them. We had promised not to put the ministry before one another, to tell each other the truth, and to create a home of love, but I wondered how we could still do that when we were falling apart.
One morning, I took the frame, grabbed a jar of anointing oil and emptied the bottle over the glass. My sorrowful tears mixed with the oil and together they slid across the glass. I cried out to God for those vows, and to save my marriage. As the oil slid down, my eyes caught the words we had written. They weren’t unrealistic or abnormal, but what we needed was somewhat different now.
We needed promises that reflected the gritty realities of life; we needed to be willing to break open when we were hurting. We didn’t just need to create a home of love, but we needed to create a sanctuary for healing. We didn’t just need the promises for or about the good things; we needed the promise of one another. We needed accountability, and the hope that we were fighting together against all the odds.
In that moment, I knew I did not need someone who promised a roof over my head or money in the bank. I didn’t need him to always be my comfort; I needed him to be real with his pain, instead of drawing away to protect both him and myself. If he had promised that to me as I stood in that white pants suit on that rainy day in August, he was promising me the deepest part of himself. True, there were parts of our marriage vows we had upheld but for the most part, we had had little support and even less training for the hard times which came.
As I stood grasping that frame, I closed my eyes and heard God whisper, “I am working hard on your behalf.” My heart stilled and I felt a deep peace enter my soul.
And God did just that. He worked on us, in us and within our marriage. My husband felt God’s love cleanse his soul from the broken relationships of the past. Slowly, he was able to forgive, and receive love from another. Not only did our souls receive redemption through Jesus’ blood, but our marriage did also.
I turn to that couple at our dining table and counsel them to find the strength to be real, to be messy. To still be holding hands way into the grey-haired days with scars that tell a story of the fight. Marriage is a fight, against the broken within and without. But good fighters never give up, they never throw in the towel, and they keep going for the sake of the cause. Sure, let’s find the words that come only from our own heartbeats, but more importantly, let’s find words that will hold weight when the hard times come.