There’s a moment in many of our lives when you realize you probably may not celebrate your 50th wedding anniversary.
I’m 43 years old. Granted, I could live to 95 or 100. But that is banking on both people in the couple living to 95 or 100. The average life expectancy is 79.68 here in the United States. My oldest grandparents were nearly 86 when they died. I would be ecstatic to live until 86, but that would mean I would “only” have a 35- or 40- year marriage, for which I would be blessed.
And still – not a 50-year marriage.
Our society as well as our churches get excited when we see couples celebrating their 50th, 60th and even 70th anniversaries. We herald it as the way to live, as the optimal lifestyle.
But what about the people whose lives were turned over by one spouse’s death? What happens to the wife who needs to leave her husband because the marriage is abusive? What happens when the husband and wife grow apart, or when one spouse wakes up one morning and discovers their spouse is gone? What happens to our LGBTQ friends who were only able to officially get married when they were 50, 60 or 70? What happens to those of us who decide to take our time finding the right significant other because we want quality of years over quantity of years?
When I think of short marriages, Anna the prophetess comes to mind. Luke 2 says that she “lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.” After the passing of Anna’s spouse, she dedicates her life to worshipping God in the temple. Anna’s is a life worth celebrating. Her seven year marriage was worth celebrating. The decades of unmarried life is worth celebrating because they were spent answering God’s call.
We should still ABSOLUTELY celebrate anniversaries – like we merrily recognize birthdays and other life milestones and everything happy in life. But we should not necessarily place quantity of years married at the top of life’s ideal. Instead, we should place happy and healthy marriages – even short ones – as the goal of marriage (for those who feel called to get married). We should place our own physical, mental and spiritual health and safety above what society thinks about the length of marriage. We should place our own calls – whether to be single or married – over one particular ideal marital status. We should marry when we feel ready to marry, not fitting ourselves into our world’s expectations.
Guess what? This means many people will never celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary. And that’s ok.
Churches: It’s our job to make sure that everyone is celebrated whatever they’ve achieved or milestones they have reached. But we shouldn’t just value long marriages. We should value relationships that are healthy. We are called to value people of all marital statuses. Let us celebrate all of our congregants wherever they are at in their lives and whatever they desire to celebrate.