A wise friend once told me, “No one should write a book about marriage until they’ve been married for twenty years.” Then he reached his twentieth anniversary and amended his rule: “No one should write a book about marriage until they’ve been married for thirty years.” The point is, none of us ever master marriage, because marriage, like the people involved in it, is constantly changing. Yet even though we never master it, there is much we can learn from those who have the wisdom and experience we lack. Dave Harvey’s I Still Do, a follow-up to his popular When Sinners Say “I Do,” is a kind of guide to the second half of marriage, to the years that come long after the initial exchange of vows, the honeymoon, and the baby years. Harvey says to “consider this a ten-year checkup.”
His book is framed around a number of life-defining moments that come a few years or a few decades into marriage. These are “experiences, events, and decisions that determine (and sometimes alter) your whole direction.” It’s not just that marriage as an institution is ordained by God, or even that each individual marriage has been ordained by God. It’s more than that. “All the defining moments throughout marriage are God things as well; an experience or season in life when God presents a decision for truth, requires a cost, offers a Christ-exalting opportunity, grows the soul, or determines our destination.” Each “marks a time that is crucial and defining—moments that ultimately give voice to our fear, frustration, and desperation. Each of these moments becomes an invitation from God to transform the core of our being and to deepen our intimacy with our spouse.”
So what are these all-important defining moments? Some are related to starting out together: When you discover that brokenness is broader than sin; when you come to the moment of blame—whether you are the one blaming or being blamed; and when you come to the moment of weakness, where you are forced to acknowledge the inabilities of both spouses. Some are related to sticking together through difficulties, like the moment you realize family cannot replace church; the moment you watch helplessly (or perhaps helpfully) while your spouse suffers; or the moment you discover that sex inevitably changes with age. Some are related to ending together, or at least preparing to end together, like when you understand that your dreams disappoint or when the kids begin to leave. These are moments that in some ways are bigger than themselves, moments in which so much hangs in the balance, even if you do not realize it at the time.
Harvey says, “God presents such moments in the life of every couple. They become doorways to new insights or trailheads that redirect our paths. Some of these invitations will be self-evident; others will be downright astonishing. But one thing remains certain. How we respond to these moments in marriage determines whether we stumble along separately or move forward together toward maturity. As Charles Spurgeon once soberly observed, ‘Failure at a crucial moment may mar the entire outcome of a life.’”
I Still Do is a useful book that is well-suited to its purpose. It helpfully mixes biblical wisdom, personal stories, practical tips, and wry humor. It calls couples to accept life’s defining moments as opportunities to grow closer and stronger rather than excuses to grow apart or fall apart. As someone who is closing in on a quarter century of marriage, I can say that at this stage it’s exactly the book I wanted to read, and perhaps even the book I needed to read.