A few months into my husband’s deployment, I stopped wearing my wedding ring.
I sat on the edge of our bed with tears in my eyes and slipped it off my finger. The diamonds tossed lamplight around on the walls, and the gold felt heavy in my hand the way my heart felt heavy in my chest.
I plunked my wedding ring into the ceramic ring holder, the one that looks like a bird on a stump, the one he hates, and turned off the light.
Years earlier, my future husband had given me that ring as a symbol of the covenant between the two of us, the sign of a continuous, never-ending promise that nothing but death could separate.
A few months later, we stood together before an illuminated cross in the front of my church and whispered sacred vows over that ring. “For better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, ‘till death do us part…”
Those were the early days, when we talked in dreams. Everything was said that could be said, then, because it was impossible to keep it in. How deeply I loved him. How beautiful marriage was. How much we were going to do together as husband and wife. How he was handsome when he slept, and how I envied his eyelashes.
I still envied his eyelashes, but he snored now, and I burned dinner.
My ring had worn a place on my finger, a permanent indentation, white and smooth, with the years. The gold was scuffed, and I’d managed to chip a diamond. I didn’t even know you could chip diamonds, but there it was, all the same.
The love that had once been poetic had become practical: folding socks, stopping for milk, paying the phone bill, taking out the trash. He went to work. I grew babies. In the evening, we exchanged daily updates like kisses.
“The kids finished their math.”
“I have a meeting tomorrow at two.”
“Did you buy windshield wipers?”
And so it went, each day feeling more and more like we were to people occupying two separate worlds that collided only occasionally. Some days, it felt like I wasn’t married at all.
It might have gone on that way indefinitely had he not been deployed to the other side of the world. I realized, before he left, that life wouldn’t be that much different with him gone. Not really. And that broke my heart.
The Army put an ocean between us, and more time zones than was polite. The Internet was sporadic and Skype froze his face in disturbing pixelized mutations.
We would go days without talking because it’s hard to talk over an ocean.
Over the course of days and weeks and months apart, our marriage was stripped down to the bare bones. There was nothing to hide behind: no busyness or long hours at work or a never-ending laundry pile. There was nothing to cover up the fact that we really didn’t love, honor, and cherish each other the way we set out to do.
Because you can think you’re doing okay if you can throw in a foot rub in every once in a while, and if you feel affectionate and say “I love you” a couple times a day. You can think your marriage is godly just because it’s comfortable. You can think you’re honoring your vows just because you still wear the ring.
But you can be wrong.
And both of you can feel incredibly unloved and lonely and isolated, even in the middle of a perfectly satisfactory marriage.
People were not made for satisfactory marriages, and our souls know it. Our souls are restless for the kind of intimate communion that is man and woman and the mystery of two made one.
It is why we make those vows in the first place, because our souls long to be bound by that kind of promise.
But like any good thing, it is one thing to want it, and another thing to do it.
I sat on the edge of my bed in the quiet of the night and slipped off my ring. I cried over it because I had allowed my marriage to become something so unlike what I knew it could be. I had neglected my vows.
Bare faithfulness is not the same as love. Enjoying someone’s company is not the same as cherishing. Being proud of someone is not the same as honoring. All of those things were meant to be so much more, so much richer and deeper and more gospel-infused than anything I had been living for a long time.
I looked at my bare left hand and made a decision. If I was going to wear that ring, I said to myself, then I had to live the vow.
That began a ritual that has transformed my marriage. Every morning, I slip my ring on my finger and pray that God will help me to be worthy of it. Then I repeat my wedding vows to myself, thinking of specific ways I can love, honor, and cherish my husband throughout the day.
Each night, I take my wedding ring off again, hold it in my hands, and ask the hard questions. Had I faithfully kept my vows to my husband that day?
Did I put him first, after God, in my day?
Did I pray for him?
Did I make it easy for him to lead?
Did I actively support God’s calling on his life?
Did I encourage him to use his gifts, even if it meant personal sacrifice?
Did I give him my undivided attention?
Did I stop what I was doing and listen? Did I hear?
Did I uphold his reputation in the things I said about him?
Did I believe the best about him?
Did I trust him?
Did I limit my complaining and withhold criticism?
Was I thankful, appreciative, and kind?
Did I respect his hard work in the way I managed our finances?
Was I happy to see him?
Did I actively pursue ways to make him feel loved?
Was I a faithful partner in the raising of our children?
Did I uphold his authority when I parented without him?
Did I work on areas of weakness?
Did I strive to mature and grow?
Was I teachable and open to correction?
Did I recognize growth in him?
As the days passed, the vow I made on my wedding day took on more and more significance. It knit me together with my husband in ways I had longed for, but long neglected. Even with an ocean between us, I was more conscious of my commitment to him, and more focused on truly loving, honoring, and cherishing him than ever before.
And he returned the favor.
Some people say you should never take off your wedding ring. But I needed to take off my ring in order to see the significance of it. I needed to take it off to remind myself why I put it on in the first place, and what that meant for me. I needed to take off my ring to remember that wearing ring is the easy part of marriage—but it means nothing without the vows.
May I challenge you to do the same. Take off your ring. Look at it. Recite your vows to yourself and think about way to fulfill them before you slip it on again. Make each day a new commitment to love, honor, and cherish your spouse the way God intended.
Wear your ring, but live the vow.