Relationships

Marrying a Warrior: an Adventure

I married my warrior on June 26, 2017. Justin was 21, I was 22, and we had both just graduated college. We embarked together on a journey through our twenties. Before I talk about my marriage, I want to be clear that I am of the firm conviction that marriage can only be fully understood in the context of singleness. I say this because I don’t want to commit the sister mistakes of making my marriage appear to be the end goal of a Christian life, or of making my marriage appear less important than it is. I truly believe that marriage is no holier than singleness, but like singleness it has its own peculiar tools of sanctification. I’d like to spend some time describing what this sanctification has been like for both Justin and me in our first two years of marriage. Then, I’ll explain a lesson I’ve learned about stability and adventure.

Sanctification

Sanctification is a fancy word with a simple meaning: getting better. As a Christian, getting better means becoming holier, or to put it another way, allowing Christ to take us up into communion with the Father and the Holy Spirit and becoming changed to be like Him in the process, in all his sharp fierceness, gentleness, grace, justice, love, and total preoccupation with the Father. Both marriage and singleness are vehicles through which we can be sanctified.

I’ve always admired monastic– my aunt is a nun– because of what I saw as their superior holiness. And many monastics I’ve met are, for lack of a better term, holy people. But I’ve since learned that holiness is found in anything given to God as an offering, just as C.S. Lewis told Oxford students during World War II in his lecture “Learning in War Time” : “The work of a Beethoven, and the work of a charwoman, become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God, of being one humbly as to the Lord.” I assert that the marriage of one and the singleness of another become spiritual on that same condition.

Oddly enough, at the small Christian college Justin and I attended, I found the pendulum to have swung to the opposite of my own mindset. I noticed this during my engagement and my first year of marriage, as I navigated the tricky place marriage puts some friendships. Many friends expressed a kind of sacred admiration of marriage, as if they aspired to marriage as a route to holiness, instead of aspiring to holiness in any situation. Comments such as, “you must be so excited to really start adulting once you get married,” and “I wish I could get married. I’m tired of all the ambiguity and complexity of being single” flashed around conversations. At first, I tried to enlighten them with stories of marriage’s hardships: arguments, frustrations, and loneliness. But this, too, was misguided. What I was trying to express to my friends was that marriage does not provide holiness or stability. I had inadvertently expressed this instability as a negative, but recently I’ve been learning how marriage’s instability is a blessing.

Two Years Into Marriage

Our first two years of marriage have not been stable. In fact, they’ve been unstable in practically every single way. What’s more, our lives were not unstable in spite of being married. Our lives were unstable because we got married! We got married at 22 and 21, just out of college. We didn’t know where we were going to live just two weeks before our wedding, but we knew it had to be in a place where I could teach and he could work as a medical scribe while he applied to medical school. We chose between living in Atlanta, GA, and Arvada, CO weeks before we moved. During our first year, he applied to medical school and I started preparing to apply to graduate school. We had another move in front of us as his application results came rolling back, and we had to decide in a window of about two weeks where we were going to move, again. Once we decided on Kansas City, I had to look for work and a place for us to live. Even now, after we’ve landed in the place we’re going to live for the next four years, marriage has not simplified my life. I can’t move wherever I get into graduate school. I can’t move wherever I want for work. Doors closed and things got more complex, but other doors opened, too. Every choice now has to be made by two people. Life’s variables doubled when I married my warrior.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this complexity has been a sanctifying fire for Justin and I. As iron sharpens iron, the challenging parts of marriage have already shown themselves to be the most fruitful when it comes to the fruits of the spirit, such as patience, kindness, and self control. Life is not more simplified, safe, or secure after getting married, at least not right now. And I’m so thankful for that.

There is some evidence that marriage does bring some long-term stability. Married people tend to live longer, and married men have fewer strokes. Marriage often increases long-term financial stability, and it increases feelings of well-being, especially the older the couple gets. What marriage doesn’t do is increase joy or stability right away. In fact, in 11 out of the 18 longitudinal studies about the long-term effects of marriage, “relationship satisfaction decreased from just before the wedding to just after,” and life satisfaction didn’t start going up until years, sometimes decades, passed. I say all this not to scare anyone away from marriage or to comment on my own marriage. In fact, I believe my life satisfaction has gone up in our second year of marriage compared to our first. We love our life together, and I often am at a loss when I need to explain how good marriage is, because it’s just so good. I bring these studies up to show that marrying a warrior is not easy. You, as the partner of the warrior, are a part of the grand adventure, and adventures are not meant to be easy.

Wild Wood, Mountains and Running

Marrying in our young twenties is a true adventure. It’s the wild wood, the mountain to climb, and the race to run. Getting married was not the safe option, but it has turned out terribly exciting. We are both laying the foundation for our careers and our marriage. Getting married has created more questions than answers at this point. But how boring would life be if I had all the answers at 25? This brings me back to the beginning: both singleness and marriage are grand adventures. The poet Rilke claimed loneliness to be good, “for being alone is not easy. The fact that something is difficult is one more reason to do it.” I like to add my version: it is difficult to be married, for being married is not easy. The fact that something is difficult is one more reason to do it.

Annaleta Nichols-Riffel

Annaleta is a secondary English teacher from Fort Collins, CO. She, Justin, and their greyhound Jane live in Kansas City while he goes to medical school. When she’s not convincing middle schoolers to read, she is practicing yoga, watching nature documentaries, or researching the intersection of theology, politics, and literature.

Comments are closed.