Constants and Variables

I attended a beautiful wedding two nights ago. It was a celebration over great food of a couple’s new journey initiated by their marital vows to each other. One highlight of the evening has to be the excellent videographing and post-production work in capturing the tradition of gatecrashing by the bridegroom at the bride’s home (I hope to have a link here to that video clip if Kane and Yvette Chua do upload it somewhere). With this customary practice, the husband-to-be has to negotiate through an expected ambush of obstacles contrived usually by the maids-in-waiting before he could be granted entrance into the bride’s home so as to take her away for their new journey together.

In other words, the bridegroom always accepts and adapts to the unpleasant requests made by the bride’s accomplices. It may appear that this is the only time in the marital journey where he needs to be prepared for the variability of these requests that could range from plain silliness to acceptable humiliation. But on further reflection it is only symbolic of the reality of variables that a marriage must ready itself for.

Going to Australia (for 4 years of studies) a week after walking down the matrimonial aisles brought about many challenging variables for Chui and myself. We had to adjust to living Down Under, living with each other, living as students, and living with the spilled over effects of our pre-marriage relationship that was tainted by some unpleasantness. I was 21 years old and these variables were overwhelming at times for us as a young married couple. During the first two years, we literally fought like cats and dogs.

However, we were certain about sticking together. We sorted out our immaturity and the demons of our past. A blissful period of marital constancy followed in the next 11 years. While constancy do portray stability, they blind us from the variables that can spring surprises on a marriage. After living in our two-person world for 13 years, our first child arrived. For others parenting would have been a piece of cake but for us this was a variable that brought us to the edge of the cliff. During this segment of our journey, there were times we resorted to mental and emotional attacks (as physical fights were passe for us), provoking each other to sever the marriage.

Once again, we were certain about sticking together. We made adjustments. These included a realization that with our present circumstances, our dating nights have to be shared with another “couple” – Joseph and Jada. That is, group dating would be the norm for the time being. Importantly, I must also point out that had it not been for these intrusions, our perspectives of life would have remained stifled and stagnated by expectations. For this we are grateful for having them. Although tensions and frictions are often inescapable with adjustments, the experience of knowing what matters most in life emerges with such increased clarity. In truth, the sharing of our journey with these “third parties” has invigorated our lives with a new holistic energy. Paradoxically, journeying in your forties with super-energetic kids can be so exhausting on the physical side.

I had mentioned twice that we were adhesively certain. What was our certainty founded on? While constancy must adjust to variability, there are constants that do not require adjustments. The constants that secure a marriage are the marital vows and they must not conform. This brings me to a situation of a potential marital collapse where a wife asked her husband whether he still meant those special words (not the vows) he confessed some twenty years ago. The husband replied that with all the variables they have endured, how could those special words carry the same meaning? Special words, mushy poems and sentimental songs succumb to the effects of conditions but not the marital vows. Narratively, the vows tell a story of a journey that does not succumb to changing conditions.

Shortly before the passing away of Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, Seth Mydans wrote Days of Reflection for Man Who Defined Singapore in The New York Times that Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew “had been looking at Christian marriage vows and was drawn to the words: ‘To love, to hold and to cherish, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse till death do us part’”. MM Lee, a professed agnostic, in his immense love for his wife, visited the marital vows, and exemplified them for his beloved nation.

Christian couples must not just profess their faith but also exemplify the marital covenant. Adjustments to variables must partner with commitments to constants.

“We do promise and covenant, before God and these witnesses, to be loving and faithful as husband and wife, in plenty and in want, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live. This ring we give to the other, in token and pledge, of our constant faith and abiding love.”

[The above is a post migrated from a previous blog]

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