Seven from Seven (part 1)
Seven is a very cool number. Seven is symbolic; seven is significant. Six days of work plus one day of rest make up God’s ideal week, making seven a number of completeness and fulfilment. Seven pairs of clean animals were required on the Ark compared to just one pair of unclean animals. There are seven stems on the lampstand in the Tabernacle in Exodus, Jericho fell after seven circuits by the Israelites on the seventh day and there are seven qualities of the Messiah in Isaiah ch. 11. There are seven “I AM” statements by Jesus in John, seven fruits of the Spirit in Galatians and Revelation is absolutely obsessed with the number seven: seven churches, seven angels, seven lampstands, seven seals, seven bowls of wrath, seven everything. These are just some of the 735 references to the word ‘seven’ in the Bible. Seven is associated with perfection, forgiveness and Godliness.
What about outside the Bible? The number seven is also significant in other religions and also in secular society. Seven is perceived to be a lucky number, there are seven wonders of the world and seven colours in the spectrum of light. I could go on.
This year Lucy and I celebrated seven years of marriage. More than any other milestone we’ve reached so far, this one felt special. They talk of a ‘seven-year itch’, a point after which marital commitments tend to be sealed and divorce rates drop markedly. You can find divorce rate statistics suggesting all kinds of things, most at variance with the others, but from my own observations the danger point for marriages is within the first few years, when the relationship is still bedding in. I’ve also heard it said in Christian circles that it takes about seven years just to stop thinking like individuals and start thinking like a couple. I’m sure that’s not a hard and fast rule, but again it rings true. I was unmarried for over two-thirds of my life so far, and it takes a long time to counteract the selfish habits built up in those years of childhood and singleness.
So it feels good to reach this point. It’s good to buck the trends where many marriages end early, especially for those who marry as young as we did. It makes me sad to see marriage as an institution diminished by being treated as an experience or a passing phase. For us, it’s the absolute bedrock and foundation of family life, sacred and precious. From the very start we knew it wasn’t just about the big day – we were in it for the long-haul.
So today, seven years in to our marriage, I’d like to share seven things we’ve learned in these seven years. It’s a mixture of the practical and the philosophical, things I feel should be better known and which, had we understood them from the start, would have made the first few years much easier. For ease of reading I’ve broken this up into a 7-part series. Below is the first part, so watch out for parts 2-7 which will publish here once a night over the coming week.
First, we’ve learnt that we’re not perfect and that we shouldn’t expect too much of each other. There are perfectionist tendencies in western culture that put us under a lot of pressure, and not only us, but those around us. Husbands have to be this, that and the other, handyman, counsellor, friend, lover, cheerleader, pathfinder and on and on. Wives are expected to be able to do everything, combining so many different roles that it would take several people to do them justice. The truth is that we’re fallible and we’re limited. Marriage doesn’t suddenly fix all our selfishness or character flaws and doesn’t magically make up for those areas we’re just not good at something. It’s a process and a journey, a slow and gradual transformation into the people God wants us to be. There’s scope within that for helping and spurring each other on, but it should stop short of trying to change the other person. The change will come naturally, it doesn’t need to be forced. Love is accepting our spouse, imperfections and all, just as they are. Love is having the grace to let them be selfish or angry or insensitive and choosing to love them all the same.
Come back tomorrow for part 2…