This years’ National Marriage Week theme is ‘The Forever Conversation’. Forever. Just think about that word for a moment.
Forever is a long time. It gives me goose bumps to think about it. I can’t think of much in this world that might last forever – lots of things that might promise to be, but which of these things actually transpire to be forever.
As a twenty-something millennial, I fall into the category of generation Y, in which I am apparently accustomed to having everything at the touch of a button, questions answered quickly, and feedback on demand. And when I think about the relationship statuses of me and my peers it makes me wonder how this sense of instant gratification plays out in our relationships.
When you think about it, we can have most things at the touch of a button. Anything can be ordered and delivered: food, flowers, furniture, clean laundry, groceries, and instant answers on Google. Even people – if you count internet dating apps like Tinder, there are 50 million romantic candidates right at your fingertips. In a world where we can accumulate everything with ease and yet move on at pace it’s no wonder that the forever conversation of marriage doesn’t seem to appeal to a lot of my generation. A close friend of mine was engaged when she arrived at university, her wedding was planned for the summer between first and second year. When introducing herself to a new flatmate, who then ‘friended’ her on Facebook, they saw her relationship status and immediately asked the question: ‘You’re engaged? Is that like a Facebook thing, or are you really engaged?’. The idea of a forever relationship stood out as unusual.
On top of that, we are living in the time of Mari Kondo and her desire to see people live lives that spark joy. If something is not bringing you joy, she urges you to remove it from your life. If this is the message our world is hearing, then it’s not surprising that marriage isn’t as appealing to my generation. So, how can we frame this ‘forever conversation’ around marriage in an appealing way, of one that can spark joy in the long term?
This is why I think the vows made between a husband and wife are so powerful. Two years ago, my husband and I promised, in front of friends, family, and God, to commit to one another forever. A commitment always to be loving and faithful regardless of how our feelings might change internally, or when our circumstances might change externally. Tim Keller says it best in the Meaning of Marriage, ‘Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.’ This may seem restrictive to our flaky generation but in reality this promise brings so much freedom and security to a marriage. It acts as a foundation to our relationships that mean we can give space to the forever conversation without fear of rejection. It gives freedom for deeper growth in our character and helps us to cultivate our relationship in many ways. Lewis Smedes, a Christian ethicist, explains that ‘we are largely who we become through making wise promises and keeping them.’ Our promises are key to our identity, both as individuals and in our relationships.
As I write, we are seven weeks into a country-wide lockdown because of Covid-19. Living through a pandemic certainly wasn’t top of any of our agendas but, in the spirit of thick and thin, my husband and I have embraced this time as an opportunity to practice this promise that we made to each other, and to reflect on how our marriage has developed. We have all experienced the unpredictable lockdown moods of feeling full of gratitude and patience one moment, and worry and pressure the next. In the same way, our moods and feelings change as relationships develop. When I think back to our first dates, the proposal, even our wedding day, and then look to today, my feelings have changed each time. The foundation of our promise to each other has given space for our love to grow richer and deeper, heightened by our experiences – both good and bad. Even as our internal feelings and external circumstances change, we have that security from our vows to play out this forever conversation.
Forever. It still gives me goose bumps thinking about it. But they’re the good kind of goose bumps, because our forever promises have been and will continue to be the foundation of joy, security and freedom in our marriage.