It’s hard to believe that one year has already passed since I gazed into Cassidy’s lovely eyes, held her hands in mine, and exchanged our vows on the wedding platform.
Creating memories with Cassidy, discussing hopes and dreams for the future, blending our two distinct personages into a cohesive family culture and identity, laughing together, and enjoying the joys of marriage and parenthood has made the past year the most blessed year of my life.
God has been so good to two very undeserving individuals.
A couple weeks ago, Cassidy and I sat on the couch in our living room and discussed the top things we’re grateful we did the first year of marriage. This week we’ll share thirteen of them with you.
1. Having Family Devotions
Psalm 127 assures, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”
Through family worship we strive to let the Lord build our house. During these times, we pray together, sing together, and discuss what we learned in our personal devotions. I also share a passage of scripture or a topical study.
The past year, we studied a few books of the Bible, as well as studying topics such as finances, church, time, the body, evangelism, government, business, and the family.
2. Enjoying Car and Tractor Conversations
We thought we knew everything about the other one, until we married and discovered how little we actually knew. Hence, every day since marriage has unearthed exciting new discoveries in the treasure hunt of life.
Drives to church, the hospital, or road trips offered great opportunities for getting to know one another better. Often, we talked for hours on end, bunny-trailing from one subject to another. In order to inject fresh perspectives into the conversation, we listened to podcasts and sermons.
During fall harvest, we enjoyed hours of conversations in the tractor.
3. Speaking Soft Words
We choose to never yell or raise our voice at one another, even if not in anger. Proverbs 15 describes a “soft answer.”
It is easy for anyone to unknowingly speak in a harsh tone even if not angry. However, the tone of voice often communicates more than the actual words themselves.
4. Speaking Kind Words
If soft words are the wrapping on a birthday present, kind words are the actual gift itself.
“There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health” (Proverbs 12:18). “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
Since two become one in marriage, cutting words are akin to self-mutilation. Ephesians 5:29 puts it this way “For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church.”
We should ask, Is this necessary? Does it build up?
5. Never Tearing Down In Public
The shameful acceptance of husband-wife “jokes” within the Christian church paints a dreary picture of Christ and His church. Like Christ and the church, husbands and wives should be always loving and always respecting.
Before speaking about the other one in public, we shouldn’t ask, Can I get a good laugh? Rather, we should ask, Will this edify?
We want to be always unified, never allowing Satan, others, or ourselves to drive wedges between us.
Because Cassidy is the love of my life, I never want to do anything that would tear her down or cause others to question my love for her.
6. Choosing Forgiveness
Will it matter in five years? Will it matter in five hours? Shortsightedness and self-centeredness have ruined countless relationships.
We’re called to forgive one another as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32).
Cassidy and I desire to not sacrifice our relationship for little things that don’t matter. After all, it’s the little foxes that spoil the vineyards.
7. Saying No As Much As Possible
In His infinite wisdom, God designed the first year to be an incredible time for learning and growing together.
To the Hebrews, God commanded, “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken” (Deuteronomy 24:5).
There must be something special about the first year if God so clearly emphasizes it. The chief priority for a newly-married couple in their first year, apart from their relationship with God, is to spend as much time together as possible. Wanting to please others, a young couple can easily fall into the trap of overcommitment at the expense of their own marriage.
We didn’t do it perfectly. We constantly prioritized and reevaluated commitments. We committed to ask each other before committing to anything. At times, we said no to other “good” things in order to say yes to a stronger marriage.
Looking back, we’re grateful for every time we said no.
8. Reading and Discussing Good Books
The depth of any conversation is determined by the depth of the inputs of both people. Great books lead to great conversations.
9. Doing Real Things Together
Although we enjoyed watching a few movies, most of our time was spent away from technology, in the simple moments of life. Playing board games, sitting outside and reading, going on walks, and talking on the couch created memories that will last a lifetime.
10. Creating Fun Family Times At Home
Everything in our society today seems to be pulling families away from the most important place on earth, the home. Biblically, the home is the locus for education, discipleship, and mental, emotional, spiritual and physical nourishment.
We don’t have to go anywhere else to have a party. Our best memories come from our home.
11. Engaging In Hospitality
Not only is hospitality a Biblical command (I Peter 4:9), but it is also a great way to get to know people on a level not possible in normal everyday interaction.
We didn’t do as much as we wished, but hope to do more in the future. We made a list of people we wanted to invite over for a meal, and then tried to find the best time to do it.
12. Traveling With Our Family
After much prayer, we chose to travel and minister with my family for parts of 2018 and 2019. Traveling taught us much flexibility. It also drew Cassidy and I closer together, as on the road we were doing everything with one another. We made many memories together and with my parents and siblings.
13. Creating Our Distinct Family Identity
After marriage, we enjoyed a lot of fun memories with both of our families. Yet things had changed. We had to “leave and cleave.” We had to find time with our parents and siblings while focusing most on our own little family.
Striving for this balance was both challenging and rewarding.
Here’s one of our goals for our family culture in the future.
Bontragers laugh all the time and are highly expressive. Bontragers use big, rare, words. Bontragers love mentally sharpening games and possess palpable disdain for meaningless games like Candyland, Sorry, etc., They love Axis and Allies, Stratego, Chess, Ticket to Ride, Monopoly, Risk, Scrabble, Take 1, and Memory. Bontragers love learning, reading, writing, and public speaking. Bontragers cultivate the courage, knowledge, and skills to engage in the battles of the day.
This may or may not describe your family, but it summarizes some of the things that are important to us.
Lest you think we’ve arrived, let us assure you that we still have much work to do. Reflection finds certain areas wanting. By God’s grace, we seek to improve and better represent Christ and the church each year. In every life area, we wish by God’s grace to lay foundations that we pray will last a lifetime.
Please come back this Friday to read, “The Year in Pictures,” and next Tuesday for “Things We’re Grateful We Did Our First Year of Marriage (Part II).”
Question: Why is the first year of marriage so important? Which one of these points resonated with you the most?