I’ve done a lot of premarital counseling. It’s a serious endeavor, but it can be fraught with comedy.
Just a few weeks before a wedding, I once had a groom-to-be toss me a “by-the-way bomb.”

“My fiancée wants to omit the promise, ‘Till death do us part.’ Would that be a deal breaker for the ceremony?”

Deju vu. It was the same question from a bride-to-be who asked me to change the promise to read, “Till love do us part.”

“I really have to stick with the unabridged format,” I told them both. The first couple found another chaplain and the latter couple dissolved their marriage when the groom left on a Navy cruise and the bride parted to go with a land lover.

Unfortunately, marriage counseling is far less comedic and much more frustrating. The most frustrating thing is that I feel like I have been blessed with a marriage that I cannot clone in others.

A good marriage is a complicated dish, and I don’t have the recipe or I’d publish it.

Often I’ve come home from a difficult counseling case, and I’ll hold my wife tight. There is no greater priority than my marriage, because I believe God gave marriage to mankind as the closest equal to unconditional love. Despite God’s intention for marriage, many are willing to take the risk of making marriage analogous to hell.

While working as a hospital chaplain, a respiratory therapist burst into my office, “Chaplain, Chaplain! She said ‘yes!’ ”

“She” was another therapist who’d just accepted his wedding proposal after two years of dating. I knew them well enough to assume their biggest challenge would be to quit smoking. Despite what respiratory therapists witness, some still smoke like chimneys.

He heralded the news from
floor to floor until he arrived on the bottom floor — literally and figuratively. Upon arriving in the unit where his old girlfriend was the shift manager, she gave him a congratulatory hug. Then she invited him into a closet, where she “congratulated” him a bit more thoroughly.

In a hot Texas minute, a two-year relationship went up in smoke. Hospital administration congratulated them both with unpaid vacations.

When you see people like these therapists risking something so precious, it shakes you. You try to define and categorize what you have in a vain attempt to keep it and control it. I wish it worked that way.

I am not entirely sure what my wife and I have. It’s the kind of love that continues, whether I burn the toast or burn my temper. It’s a love that tells me I’m forgiven before I ask. It’s the kind of love described in our wedding vow that “halves a sorrow and doubles a joy.”

Like many couples, we sometimes go to bed dead tired, sometimes too tired for the fun I seek and too tired for the prayers she wants. But we rarely are too tired to talk out our day and absolutely never too tired for our three good night kisses and “I love you.”

Still, maybe there is a thing that I know about marriage that respiratory therapists also know about smokers. Therapists, who watch smokers die, know they are no less likely to become smokers. Ministers, who watch marriages die, aren’t any less likely to divorce. It takes work to quit smoking, and it takes work to make marriages successful.

So at the end of the day, I realize there is something Freudian about the way my fast fingers always often seem to mistype “sweetheart” into “sweatheart.”

A good marriage takes a lot of work and spiritual sweat.

I love you, sweat-heart. Happy 31st anniversary.