By Hilary Bernstein, Contributing Writer
This summer, my parents celebrated their 40th anniversary. To celebrate the milestone, I surprised them with a party – yet in many ways, I felt like I was the one who was surprised.
Their anniversary amazed me partially because they made it 40 years. Not only have they faced a lot of health issues together, but also because I considered their marriage anything but happy while I was growing up. As two stubborn, opinionated firstborns, there was a lot of conflict – and it wasn’t resolved peacefully.
I can assure you that if and when parents repeatedly deal with conflict by screaming and arguing, children observe and remember. I remember how upsetting it was to hear nit-picking and yelling. I remember being scared to see my mommy cry and think she might leave my daddy. I remember feeling quite certain there would be a divorce before my parents could celebrate their 15-year anniversary.
Even though my memories aren’t pleasant ones, God has used my parents’ marriage to teach me 2 important life lessons:
1) God alone has the power and ability to change a person.
In my early childhood, my father was not a believer – and his life definitely showed it. I loved him because he was my daddy, but he was so far from God. Once he accepted Jesus as his Lord, things began to change. He began to transform, bit by bit, into a more lovable, understanding man the longer he walked with Christ. It’s taken a good 25 years, but the transformation has been amazing.
While my mom was a believer, she was pretty entrenched in thoughts from the women’s liberation movement. Whenever my dad tried to lead our family, she bucked against his efforts. I remember my mom’s frequent frustration and my grandmother’s gentle advice – to not be afraid to let my dad have his way some of the time. Tempered throughout her own decades of marriage, my grandma advised that not every issue needed to turn into a fight. While it took my mom years to take her mother’s advice – and see that it really does prevent much agony – I listened and have tried to implement her wisdom in my own marriage.
2) Even troubled marriages can make it.
For all of the signs that an impending divorce was looming, my parents decided to stay true to their marriage vows. It wasn’t always fun. And it wasn’t always easy. But it was possible. Even when they wanted to run, they didn’t. Even when they drove each other batty, they stuck it out.
I’m guessing that every couple celebrating at least 40 years of marriage can attest to this. Maybe not every marriage is as tumultuous as my parents’ had been, but I can assure you that no marriage is easy. Ease is absolutely impossible when two sinners are involved.
I’ve shared my family’s story only to encourage you that marriage is a commitment. And faithfully keeping the commitment through easy and difficult times brings much blessing.
Since I’ve witnessed the majority of my parents’ marriage, I know they have radically changed. Over time, the Lord has helped them grow and mature into godly individuals. Their rough edges have finally smoothed out. They’re good together, in their own quirky ways. I’m thankful I’ve been able to watch their marriage improve – and I’m most thankful I’ve been able to watch a marriage survive and finally thrive.