This past Sunday, June 26, 2016, Karen and I celebrated 17 years of marriage. Our time together has been glorious, with God growing us together more and more with each passing year. Together, we recently reflected on God’s goodness to us and compiled this list of 17 reflections. Some are observations; others are exhortations; but all are reflections on what we’ve experienced and are learning together. Perhaps you’ll find them instructive and encouraging as well.
1 . Marriage matters. This ought to go without saying, but we must not leave it unsaid. Ordained by God, marriage was the first human institution, and is intended as a covenantal, conjugal union between one man and one woman for life. Marriage is indispensable for human flourishing, and is God’s best for couples, their children, and society. As goes marriage, so goes any and every society.
2 . Marriage is good. God ordained marriage for his glory as a living depiction of the relationship between Christ and his church, and it is intended for human prospering. Marriage is the preferred conduit of God’s blessing, especially for his people. Through marriage, we’ve doubled our joys and halved our sorrows, received the unmatched blessing of children, had the longings of our hearts satisfied, and our lives fulfilled.
3 . Marriage is sanctifying. A good Christian marriage is simply two Christian people growing together. Marriage, when rightly lived out, is a sanctifying union. Though we are not perfect—in God’s kind providence—we are perfect for one another with matrimony drawing us closer together and closer to Christ.
4 . Die to self. Marriage is not 50-50, with both giving something. Marriage is 100-100, with both giving everything. Humility, deference, and genuine self-sacrifice goes a long way in marriage, and it returns 10-fold in love, harmony, and joy.
5 . Marry young. We realize that marriage comes in God’s timing, but humanly speaking, we wish we could’ve married even younger. We wed a month after I graduated from college and with Karen still a junior in college. We were just kids, but this afforded us the opportunity to grow up together. If we could do it over, we would’ve married even sooner.
6 . Practice family worship. For us, most every evening we’ve punctuated our day with a time of family devotion, including, Bible reading and prayer with our kids. We’ve not been legalistic about it, but family worship is integral to our family life. We simply can’t conceptualize our family without it.
7 . Never stop dating. To this day, we look forward to times together to talk, have fun, and just reconnect. We aren’t too rigid about this. Sometimes it’s a night out; other times, it’s lunch; still others, it’s grabbing frozen yogurt after a seminary event. The point is not the venue, the point is the time together.
8 . Dream together. As you do, you will realize you are living for things much bigger than yourself, most especially God’s call on your life. Dreaming together about personal, family, and vocational goals has a magnetic pull to it, pulling you into the future together.
9 . Build trust. We could not imagine being married to one another without absolute trust. Never lie to or deceive your spouse. In marriage, trust leaves town on horseback and returns on foot. Simply put, if you don’t have trust in marriage, you have nothing.
10 . Be affectionate in front of your kids. Our children know that each one of us is first place in the eyes of the other. As children sense their parents’ love for one another, it brings added joy and stability to the home. Argument should be rare and talk of divorce foreign to your home. Love your spouse passionately, and don’t be afraid for your kids to catch glimpses of it.
11 . Keep secrets with each other, not from each other. Whether it is inside jokes, burdens of heart, dreams about the future, life struggles, or any other sensitive matter, your spouse should be the first to know, and, often, the only one to know.
12 . Have kids—lots of them. While under God every couple should seek his will for their lives, we encourage large families. God gave us five children, and we wish we could’ve had more. Foolishly, before we had children I thought I had a fixed amount of love, which would be divided kid-by-kid. I learned love for children isn’t a commodity that is divided and parceled out; rather, it is like an artesian well that God expands in your heart with each added child.
13 . Pick your roses along the way. Too many couples romanticize retirement or some other future stage of life as though that’s when life really happens. That is foolish thinking. We do not know what tomorrow holds. Pause to make those memories, enjoy family outings, and celebrate God’s favor now. We aren’t “bucket list” people because we truly believe our best life is the next life, but we have been intentional to stop and pick some roses along the way.
14 . Pray together. Even if it seems routine, or inconsequentially brief, still pray together. Though we’ve not been as consistent over the years as we’d like, we’ve purposed to pray together every morning and evening, bookending the day together with Christ.
15 . Budget your money. Studies reveal one of the leading causes of marital conflict is money. As one wit observed, a budget is simply telling your money where to go before it’s gone and went. Over the years, as we’ve budgeted our income, it has ensured more faithful stewardship, facilitated family goals and dreams, and served as a unifying instrument for our marriage.
16 . Share your calendars. This small step has been a big one for our marriage. Having one another’s calendar on our phones enables us to know how best to support and serve one another, what is before us each day, and how and when it’s best to reach one another. Not to mention, it brings added accountability into our lives.
17 . Ask for forgiveness. We are sinners, after all. Be quick to ask for forgiveness and be quicker still to grant it. Holding grudges will ruin any relationship, including a marriage. The happiest marriage is the forgiving one.
While we are far, far from perfect, God has given us a wonderful marriage, filled with joy, laughter, and fulfillment. We can’t believe we’ve now been married 17 years. We can honestly say we feel closer, happier, and more blessed than ever before. These 17 reflections are the conduit and overflow of that blessing, and perhaps they’ll be to you as well.