Forty years

Forty is a biblical number. Noah watched it rain for 40 days and 40 nights. Moses met with God on Mount Sinai to receive the law for 40 days, then wandered with Israel in the wilderness for 40 years. David reigned for 40 years. For 40 days, Elijah walked to Horeb, Jonah preached in Nineveh, and Ezekiel bore the sins of God's people. Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days before beginning his public ministry. And for the 40 days after his resurrection, Christ appeared to the disciples.

In the Scriptures, however, 40 isn't "just" a number. It signals a change from one mission to another and marks a time of preparation and transformation. That's given me a lot to think about as Andrew and I celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary.

Part of me can't believe that we've been married for 40 years. Maybe it's because, although it sounds like such a long time, it still feels so short. But there's a certain solemnity about this milestone that didn't accompany any of the preceding ones. And that is what I hope to grab onto and ride -- eventually -- into the sunset.

When we met each other in the entryway of our freshman dorm, neither of us was looking for a lifetime commitment. At the time, I wasn't planning on marrying at all. I thought that was because I was too driven, too career-oriented, for what marriage would require. But if I'm honest now, and I finally can be, it's because my own parents' divorce left me deeply wounded. Andrew was still trying to find himself when he found me. And while his parents' divorce didn't change his address or economic status, it tore him apart. In short, we were both terrified by marriage because we knew how very painful it could be firsthand.

What we didn't know was how growing up as children of divorce had hindered us from growing up at all. I was immature and unprepared when I walked down the aisle. Overly emotional and self-protective, because I was not capable of controlling myself, I often tried to control others. Worse, I didn't even know that's what I was doing. Our marriage suffered as a result, and like many, I have my share of regrets. There are things I wish I had done -- and said -- differently, especially those that hurt our children. The one thing I am grateful for is that during our most difficult years, we did not give up on God's grace or on each other. That was the one positive thing our shared experience of divorce gave us.

Now, at 40 years, we are both very different people. It took all that time to get to where I am now, and more than anything or anyone else, it took Andrew's presence in my life. Back then, when we took vows to love, honor, and cherish each other, it's likely that we were making commitments beyond our means. But in the past 40 years, we've grown into it. It hasn't been an easy path, and both of us have hurt and been hurt along the way. But here we are, formed together and by each other. It's all a gift.

Everyone is broken. People of faith are not exceptions to that. But what we do with our brokenness matters, and who we trust with our brokenness matters even more. In marriage, we bring our brokenness to one another. In Christian marriage, we bring it all to God. At the altar, God shows us the power of love. He loves us at our worst in a way that brings us to our best. That is what marriage can do, even if it doesn't start off that way. The years do not move us away from the altar; they bring us closer to it. And it is at the altar and on it that we are transformed not by our efforts but by the grace of God.

- Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and provides freelance editorial services to numerous publishers and authors as the principal of One More Basket. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.