On Friday, June 7th, I will renew my vows to my wife of five years. In the shadow of my affair, I can hardly believe that I’m getting to once again extend my word as a symbol of my deeper commitment to our union. As this occasion nears, I am left to ponder on the purposes of vows and their place in modern life.
Our culture recoils in horror at the thought of lifelong obligation; society insists that contractual marriage is not required to demonstrate love. This may be true to some extent, but I would propose that marital faithfulness is more indicative of one’s inward character than their outward affections. We do not stand at an altar to merely profess fleeting desire towards another person, no matter how strongly it stirs within us. It must be something deeper.
After all, each person on this earth is a constantly-changing creature, and when we make vows of faithfulness and devotion, we are pledging ourselves to a future shrouded in uncertainty. We have no absolute knowledge of what our partner will become. I find it both amusing and somewhat tragic when spouses split under the pretenses that “they’ve changed”. There’s no doubt about that – change is a given. It is the only guaranteed occurrence in a host of variables.
When two bright-eyed lovers walk down an aisle, there is something so much more profound than romance taking place. Shortly after my failures came to light, I went to a men’s gathering at church, and the focal point of the message was one simple phrase: “A man is only as good as his word.”
Hearing this was like ingesting broken glass to my spirit. After all, my word had been eviscerated. In the fallout of my affair, I watched my words and actions become devalued to almost nothingness as they fell victim to my own dishonesty. It was like watching the economy of my self-worth plummet into calamity. I was powerless and worthless, and yet I believed this simple phrase as it was preached to me.
A man’s word runs deep within him, like a vein pulsing strong with the lifeblood of his innermost character. If his word is severed from his honor, he is weakened. If his honor is wounded, his word loses gravity. With this in mind, it seems our vows say more about ourselves than they do about our spouses, and when we betray those vows, something withers inside of us like a tree limb removed from its trunk. Our word is a direct representation of our integrity itself.
This makes cheating all the more excruciating for the one who’s been wronged. Not only must they sort through the manifold implications of sex, intimacy, romance and memory, but the betrayed spouse must come to terms with the greater underlying message about their partner’s very nature. I have witnessed this, and I can say that there is no more chilling moment than when you realize your spouse’s belief in your character has been profoundly shaken.
I realize that this is all very grave. However, let this be an encouragement, or even a warning to you. Do not manipulate your word for selfish gains, or pollute the power of your words with dishonesty. Hold firm to the promises you make, as they reverberate into the world with the deafening loudness of who we truly are.