When most people picture late December days they envision lights, and parties and presents. Those things dance through my mind, too, but they’re intermingled with wedding dresses, for I was married just four days before Christmas eighteen years ago.
Thus, not only do I have to come up with a Christmas gift for my husband, I have to come up with an anniversary gift, too. And buying for him is infinitely harder than for anyone else, because all of his hobbies are so obscure.
Nevertheless, it’s a rather minor challenge, and one I’m sure that with enough panic and some desperate phone calls to friends, as well as some strategic snooping by my daughters, I’ll be able to rise above.
The greater challenge to me is that annual reminder that my marriage is not something that automatically grows better; it is something that I need to cultivate. And this year, how do I intend to do that?
I must start, I think, with a realistic picture of my life. And part of wisdom is recognizing when you’ve got it good. Unfortunately, humans aren’t very good at admitting we’ve got it good. There’s always something more that would make us just a little bit happier. I need a bigger house. I want a better job. My wife could be a little more affectionate. My husband is a good guy, but I wish he’d communicate more. We always see what we don’t have.
What happens, though, when we focus on those things that we think we’re missing? We believe that life would be better if only we changed some of the variables. That’s why people have affairs! They think that someone else will make them feel more powerful, more desirable, more loved, instead of realizing that the problem is not always with our spouse; more often than not it’s because we can’t see what’s in front of our faces because we’re scanning the horizon to try to nab something better.
Some of us do have difficult lives, and if you have the power to improve things, then go for it. But let me issue a bit of warning: change for the better usually involves work. Change for the worse seems fun at first, but it soon bowls you over. Getting out of an abusive situation is emotionally agonizing, but necessary. Going back to school is difficult, but it often leads to a much better life. Working on your marriage means acknowledging things about yourself you may not want to see, but it usually results in a stronger family. Chucking your values just to have fun, though, usually lands you in a world of hurt.
I’ve gone through periods of hard work, slogging through university degrees, picking up the pieces after my son’s death, working on major trust issues I had when we first were married. Those weren’t easy days, and yet I am grateful for them because they brought me where I am now. I can now happily proclaim that I have a husband I adore who loves me back. He never notices if I’ve gained an extra ten pounds. He never bugs me about snoring (though I sure bug him). He kisses me as soon as he steps into the house, before he hugs the girls or checks his email or raids the fridge.
I’ve got it good.
Sometimes I yearn to hold my breath and bottle up this moment, because it almost seems too happy. And so my prayer this anniversary is both one of gratitude and supplication. “God, I’ve got so much. Please don’t ever let me mess it up.” And if all goes according to plan, I hope to keep praying that prayer for at least another fifty years.