by Dorothy Littell Greco
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One of the most vital midlife-lessons my husband and I have learned is that it’s hard to love when one—or both of us—are not our best selves. And yet, that’s exactly what we promised to do on our wedding day.
There we stood, brimming with optimism and joy—blissfully clueless about what we were promising to do. We imagined the peaks but had no grid for what the valleys might look like.
Thirty years in, we’ve camped out in the valleys. We know the contours of doubt. We’ve felt our way around each other’s edges. Our naive optimism has been replaced by grounded reality. This is a mercy because reality holds fast when we try to push away. It doesn’t collapse under pressure the way that optimism does.
Over the last three decades, we’ve raised three sons and watched one of them turn away from the Lord. We’ve said goodbye to three of our parents. We’ve midwifed church plants and provided triage during church splits. We’ve been lied to and betrayed. Misunderstood and maligned.
Perhaps our deepest valley has been my chronic health issues. Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with multiple auto-immune diseases that continue to limit my body and our life together. While I refuse to let ongoing pain, fatigue, and insomnia become the whole of who I am, I cannot deny or ignore their effects (including reduced earning capacity and occasional bouts of despair).
And yet, my husband assures me that he would choose me again. His declaration eases my guilt and dismantles the lie that being married to me is burdensome.
Navigating these challenges has deepened our understanding of love and softened our hearts toward each other.
We’ve done enough pastoral counseling to know that not all couples land where we have. I assure you, our marriage has worked not because we’re special or come from relationally and spiritually healthy backgrounds.
One distinguishing characteristic is our reliance on Scripture. This might be curious to some because after all, the Bible doesn’t exactly offer a comprehensive marriage manual.
Or does it?
Self-awareness and humility must be present for any relationship to thrive. Again and again as I read through both the Old and New Testament, I am confronted by my impatience and pride. There’s nothing quite like Scripture to mirror back how self-centered I am.
Thankfully, it also reminds me that God’s saving grace and empowering love are always available.
There are two short sections of Scripture that have helped me to fine-tune my love. (Curiously, both were written by Paul who never married.)
Be patient with one another, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace. (Eph. 4: 2-3)
Agree wholeheartedly with each other, love one another, and work together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Phil 2:1-4)
What the Bible might lack in detailed instruction about marriage, it makes up for in razor-sharp clarity about the human heart.
Because we believe that following Jesus Christ means applying what we read to our daily lives, my husband and I have translated these sections of Scripture into specific habits. Despite our many differences, we forgive quickly and thoroughly. He encourages me when I am weak and sleep deprived and I comfort him when he is anxious. We have mastered the art of overlooking each other’s faults and discerned how, together, we are uniquely poised to serve the greater good.
Our marriage has endured and become increasingly beautiful because we’ve worked at it every single year and because God has sustained and accompanied us through the peaks and valleys—and all the mundane moments in between. Of this we are certain: He will provide everything that we need to have a love that lasts.
Dorothy Littell Greco is the author of Marriage in the Middle: Embracing Midlife Surprises, Challenges, and Joys. When she’s not re-arranging words or making photos, Dorothy and her husband love to walk, kayak, and feed their friends. You can find more of her work on her website.