Waiting and a ‘space between us’ is familiar ground in our relationship. When I left England for Berlin to start my gap year in August 2018, we had a year of major milestones ahead of us. With a total of 8 months apart, it ended with our engagement in September last year.
To put it into perspective, I spent time in Germany and Bolivia, whilst he did the placement year of his degree. My initial two months spent in Berlin were almost like the trial run, the preparation for the big stint ahead. Not being able to physically support and see each other face-to-face was hugely challenging, and I felt helpless at times. Video call didn’t always cut it- and yes, I did not have an iPhone then, so Whatsapp it was.
After a 2-month period in England in between (admittedly still in different cities), new years eve of 2018 was fun, but full of anticipation. I was due to leave for South America a couple of days later. Seeing in the new year, whilst knowing the exciting and scary adventure ahead was conflicting.
Time apart allowed breathing space for personal growth, and to reflect on the intricacies of our relationship. I particularly found the 6 months that I worked in the ‘El Alfarero’ organisation in Santa Cruz to be one where I learnt much about myself and the way I manoeuvred relationships. We ended up doing a couples course that ‘El Alfarero’ offered, which was interesting considering we held more than 5000 miles between us, and it was in Spanish! Admittedly there were probably a few sketchy translations on my part.
When I reflect on why I decided to embark on these adventures, and willingly put more distance between us, I realise it wasn’t just my longing to escape the ‘bubble’ of my life in England. From the privileged cosmopolitan life in Berlin to the dirty streets of Santa Cruz, I met with people who shared their world view, experiences, lives and led me to ponder, and evaluate my own. And no, this didn’t weaken the way I saw my (then) boyfriend but confirmed that I wanted to journey through life together with him. The make or break nature of that season was real, but I guess distance did make our hearts grow fonder.
That is partly why that year culminated in our engagement. I was proposed to shortly before Michaelmas last year on Clare bridge. Romantic, I know. The ring on my left hand does not weigh me down, nor is it restricting or burdensome. It occasionally catches peoples' eyes, leaving them wondering.
When he picked me up at Heathrow nearly a year ago now, we knew that marriage was on the agenda for us. After the dull ache of being apart, we were ready more than ever to throw out an anchor. My ring isn’t just beautiful in its physical appearance though, but beautiful in what it represents. To us, the promise of marriage is to say ‘I do’, not just to one fanciful day, but to step across every major crossroads in life at each other’s side. The circular shape of an engagement or wedding ring is a reminder of eternal, never ending love. But who sets the standard, or embodies what this perfect love is?
To begin to express who this vision of love might be, I have to point to Jesus. His relationship to his church is sometimes compared to that of a husband and wife, where the church is his ‘bride’. It may seem strange to use Jesus in an analogy of a married relationship, but he stands to represent a dedicated and committed bridegroom.
The unconditional love he has for His bride, the church, is laid bare in His ultimate sacrifice. The restoration that Jesus enabled through the cross brought about a right and loving relationship with the people He created. If this is the kind of perfect love that we stand in, and if He is the one providing the example for our future marriage, then we seek to try and emulate, and hold onto His unchanging nature all the more.
Rather than seeing this time as debilitating, it can be strengthening, because we are reminded of who our relationship is ultimately from, and for. Yet Covid-19 has turned our plans upside down. Although my pre-Covid time of being engaged was not without its ups and downs, I never anticipated having to wade through the waters of a worldwide pandemic leading up to my wedding day.
Now would otherwise be the time of organising flower arrangements, bridesmaid dresses, transport for the wedding party. Instead, notices of marriage are currently non-existent, and our guest list is on the brink of a radical cut down. All the while biding our time for a government announcement that might bring some break-through.
One of the most significant days in my life is currently up in the air, and I have been through cycles of sadness and frustration. This waiting game is ultimately beyond my control, and I have come to realise that my hope is not in having a perfect ‘big day’. The roots of our relationship go deeper than the surface level aspects of a wedding celebration.
Ecclesiastes 4:12 New International Version (NIV)
12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
The mix of emotions in this uncertain time has no weight when faced with what we as a couple are building our foundations on, for we are not just bound or defined by the circumstances that the Coronavirus has pushed us into. Jesus, whose ways and thoughts are higher than ours is the third strand, the Rock we cling to when the still-present anxieties of the unknown creep up again. And so I go back to his love.
Marriage is associated with so many things for so many people. It might be part of the canvas you have begun to paint of your future, a treasure to look forward to and discover. Or oppositely it might be something broken, misused or abused, something restricting.
I am learning about marriage too. Funnily enough, I did not set out to marry young, or what I used to think of as ‘be tied down’. When I found faith for myself, my view on married relationships slowly changed. I discovered that for followers of Jesus, the two married partners are not the sum of its parts.
This article was written shortly before the latest easing of lockdown measures, where 30 attendees will be allowed in weddings from 4th July. This is a great relief and answer to prayer.