Friday, October 25, 2013

A Vow is, After All, a Vow

I have been thinking of something now for several months, and it may not be profound, but not every thought-line has to be, I think, to be worthy of itself, and I think I am going to drum it out, in what will likely be a trailing, meandering tune...

It was birthed in this fashion:

I was sitting next to The Chief  in church one Sunday morning. One of the littler natives was leafing through his Bible in search of some scrap of paper to draw on. He found a piece that was blank on one side and looked up for permission to use it. The Chief shook his head faintly but intensely. My eyes fell to the piece of paper he held, and my heart leaped a little, as it always does when I run across it.

I knew what it said. I had printed the words myself and given them to him to memorize decades before. He memorized them well, and quoted them to me one summer morning while I listened with all my trusting, believing heart. This is what they said:

"I Kent Lamar Strite, in the presence of God and these witnesses, take you, Rhonda Jean Hobbs, to be my wedded wife.
I will love and cherish you, provide and care for you in health and sickness, in prosperity and adversity.
I will exercise patience, kindness and forbearance toward you, and live with you in peace as becometh a faithful Christian husband.
Forsaking all others, I will keep myself only unto you as long as we both shall live." 

He has kept that piece of paper in his Bible ever since.

At home, after that incident at church I thought to myself how exceeding glad I am that I never have to worry about him leaving me. The culture in which we both grew up firmly embraces the belief that divorce is wrong, and if you vow to keep yourself only unto somebody, you are in it for forever. Till you die. Or the other dies. Period.

Vows are for the keeping. It is better not to vow than to vow and not pay. The Bible says that.

We pride ourselves in our staunchness in this regard and look with dismay at the havoc and heartache that the breaking of marriage vows has wrought in our splintered society. We do not go there. We wouldn't even consider it. Vows are vows.

The marriage relationship is a type of Christ and His beloved Bride, the Church, after all. We know our Groom will never abandon His Bride. If we abandon ours, we tamper with that beautiful type.

I was thinking of this as I sorted laundry into piles then, on Monday morning, as there is nothing about doing laundry that would lay claim to any particular mental exertion, and I thought how occasionally we hear protests from people who point out how this belief  at times results in couples being stuck in cold, sad, relationships, just because they vowed to stay together forever, and believe they must keep their vows.

But the fact of the matter is, if we believe in vow keeping as we say we do, we will never be there. Because we vowed more than just to be faithful to each other forever. A lot more.

We also vowed to be patient and kind and forbearing. We vowed to cherish. In health and sickness. In prosperity and adversity.

He promised to provide and care for me. I promised to honor and obey him.

We promised to live with each other in peace.

And peace, though we may be told otherwise on the political front now and then, is not simply the absence of war. It is not a stoic tolerating of one another in taut silence. Peace in a relationship is a palpable warmth and benevolence that underlies our every interaction...even arguments. It's true! You can argue in perfect peace if love and respect and fondness make up the underpinnings of your mutual regard!

I recall after our wedding that The Chief's Aunt Miriam waylaid me and said how much she enjoyed watching my face while he said his vows to me. "I especially liked how you broke into a smile when he said he would live with you in peace." she said.

I still smile to think of it.

I have broken my vows more than once. And he has too. Not because we didn't mean it when we vowed it, but because we are humans...and sometimes the other person is just plain maddening!!


Alright, that's no excuse. And our failures fracture the type of Christ and His bride, the Church, just as surely as divorce does, to anyone who chances to observe it. Our spouse, first and foremost, and our children, and everyone else who senses that we are not exactly as enamored with one another as we once were.

That's why "I'm sorry's" were invented. And repentance.

I am truly grateful and humbled at how The Chief has taken seriously the entirety of his vows... patience and forgiveness, and cherishing, and forbearance, and providing...all of it.

Soon after we were engaged, we were sitting around the table with some of my siblings and my beloved and caring sister said to him, "I might as well tell you right now, Kent...she's sick all the time!"

He did not bat an eyelash, literally or figuratively, either at the time or in the subsequent years.
Better love hath no man than this, than a man who loves a wife who's "sick all the time."

The Chief makes it look easy. I love him for that. I love him for a million things. And when I realize I am not loving him as I ought, I say I'm sorry. He does the same. And we start over,  he and I.

That's the natural and delightful culmination of mutual devotion to the vows we made.

It IS very sad to see the societal landscape littered with the fragments of broken marriage vows, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that those fragments result only from divorcing and remarrying. They also result from impatience and anger. From snide remarks and disrespect and the silent treatment. From presuming on the other. From not pulling our share of the work load....

So let's be friends with the spouses we have chosen. Let's be kind. Let's deluge our marriages with the best of our energies. And whenever necessary, let's forgive.

For Jesus' sake. For our own sakes. For the sake of  the society at which we are wont to sadly shake our heads.

Because vows are, after all, vows.