“And they lived happily ever after” may be a cliché, but it’s still satisfying. After all the troubles and difficulties of a good story, we love to see the happy couple roll away in their carriage as the credits start rolling. Of course, we also know in the back of our minds that any “ever after” on earth will include more troubles and difficulties in the days and years ahead. But after all they have been through, we wouldn’t want to mention that. It’s the end of the story, leave them alone. But in real life, a wedding is not the end of the story. It’s the beginning of a new chapter, one that could easily be longer and more complex than anything that came before it.
After the happy ending, there will be more work to do. There will be more battles to fight. More trouble to overcome. More friendship to cultivate. More victories to celebrate. Marriage is not some kind of sealed-off self-contained bubble of bliss inside a beautifully cozy little carriage rolling on endlessly without ever being touched by the outside world. My wife and I were married 18 years ago this week, and we left the church in a carriage. It was lovely. But it didn’t take long for us to realise that when the carriage of marriage rolls down the road of life, it hits a lot of bumps. Sometimes it falls into ruts that are hard to pull out of. Sometimes, if you looked in the window, you might catch a moment that doesn’t fit very well with the “happily ever after” caption.
After the happy wedding, there are no credits. What rolls on next is real life. Stepping into the carriage of marriage doesn’t tie up all the loose ends of my story into a neat little bow or instantly fix all of my pride and selfishness. But if it’s done right, it can be a start. This carriage is a gift from God designed to carry us into new ways of experiencing and participating in his own kind of love, a love that delights so much in its beloved that it is ready to give itself freely and continually in sacrifice, forgiveness, and patience—because God knows that love is a long road. He knows that “happily ever after” is not the instant result of a promise or a ceremony. The happiness of love can be choked out in sin and selfishness, or it can grow and thrive and become richer and deeper than anything in the fairy tales by drawing on the never-ending love of God and generously giving that love away. And it really can last into an endless “ever after”, because there is no end to the love of God.
Marriage was never meant to be a happy ending. It is a happy beginning.