This is an excerpt and expansion from a toast given with Abouna at a wedding in 2015.
Several of my close friends have gotten married or engaged in the last few years, and sometimes they come ask me how Abouna and I do it.
Now I’ve heard a lot of analogies for marriage. There’s one about a box you don’t take stuff out of, you put stuff in… Something like that. What does that even mean?
But I think of marriage as bicycle building–a marriage built for two.
Through the engagement period and through the early years, you’ll be working on this two-seat bicycle together.
A Marriage Built for Two
You will build this bike out of some new parts (your new apartment, new bank account, new jobs) and some sourced parts (the emotional baggage and habits you each bring with you). You’ll use all these parts to build a new married life together–the bicycle–that you’ll use to ride up steep mountains and down into dark valleys.
To survive the journey, it has to be a quality machine.
Follow the manual carefully. Make corrections as needed.
What manual you ask? There is a Manual for building an incredible life: the Word of God.
When Abouna and I were first married, we would pray the Prime Hour of the Agpeya together every morning. And in the Prime Hour, I was always struck by the Pauline Epistle. I took it entirely to heart and felt that God was speaking to us through it every day. I think it’s the perfect piece of advice for newlyweds:
“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6 (NIV)
Stage 1: Building the Bike
You, as a faithful believer, have been called to marriage. Live your life worthy of that calling–to care for and love another human being entirely and to the end of your days. In every interaction with each other, be completely humble. Put your pride aside and submit to one another. Be gentle with each other, careful with your words. Be patient with each other, put up with each other, because that’s what love is called to do. It’s what God does with you every day.
Different couples take different lengths of time to get the bicycle in good working order. The length of time it takes is less important than your commitment to get it built to the highest standards. This chain might need to be greased, that gear might need to be replaced altogether: the preconceived notions you have about marriage, about your relationship, about yourself, and about your spouse; the habits you have picked up from your parents or from society.
You will have to find a way to put it all in good functioning order–with humility, with gentleness, with patience.
Mark my words–you WILL ride what you build. So don’t slack as you’re building it. Every single day in your marriage counts–especially in the early years. The morning kiss, the dinner time ritual, the evening Netflix and chill… It can all build your marriage or tear it down.
If you don’t slack, if you build diligently to the highest standards every day, it won’t be long before you’re zipping around some country roads. If you try to ride the bike through muddy puddles before it’s ready, you will break it apart.
Stage 2: Maintenance and Repair
Remember that on the day of your marriage, before the altar of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit, two became one. This is the unity of the Spirit. God has united you, and you must do every thing in your power to maintain it. You are now one body, you are now one in the Holy Spirit. Be united as Christ would have His Church united with Himself.
Life is hard. The journey is difficult and wearisome on your marriage.
Sometimes when we are single, we hear a lot about the problems in marriages and we become afraid, hesitant to jump in.
Guess what? Successful marriages aren’t problem-free.
You might need to shift gears–or replace a tire altogether. Stop and work on the bike together. Dive headlong into problem solving together–in unity.
Can you imagine if one person is trying to replace the tire while the other is trying to use the bike to ride the next hill? Ouch! Slow down and get it back in just right order.
If there’s one thing I have learned in life, it’s that the relationships you avoid conflict in are the relationships you don’t actually care about. Just because the bike works today doesn’t mean you won’t need to stop for repairs tomorrow. Keep your eyes wide open and the bike maintained.
Be honest–express your needs–put pride aside–communicate–laugh at yourself!! Do not–do not–do not run away from each other or your problems. Help her laugh at herself. Make him feel like king of the world.
Baby, it’s worth it. Let me tell you it’s worth it. The journey may be hard, but with God at the center of your marriage the view is so beautiful.
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