At the end of the movie Cinderella you watch the beautiful new bride and her prince charming ride off in a carriage. As they drive off into the beautiful landscape the words, “and they lived happily ever after” appear on the screen.
What is happily ever after? Did Cinderella and Prince Charming ever have an argument? Did Prince Charming forget to send a text message if he was going to be late? Did they argue about the frequency of “boys nights” or how to spend holidays?
When I was a young girl movies liked Cinderella greatly influenced my expectations for the reality of dating and marriage. Happily ever after gave me the expectation that I would met a handsome prince and he would whisk me off on his giant steed. I had the expectation that happily ever after was free of conflict. I completed the story with what I pictured happily ever after could be.
In my envisioned happily ever after Prince Charming would never do anything wrong and he would sweep me off my feet again and again. We would always have googly eyes for one another and we would hold hands and frolic off into the sunset until we were too old to frolic.
Almost seven years of marriage and three children later I have come to realize the above image is not reality. Even four weeks into marriage I realized how unrealistic this expectation was.
Happily ever after is a phrase, it is left up to the audience to infer what the rest of life was like for Cinderella and Prince Charming. I used clues from the story and other cultural pictures of marriage to influence my ideas about what it meant to be a good wife and what a good husband looked like. I dismissed any images I saw that reflected marriage in a negative way.
I wonder what Cinderella and Prince Charming’s marriage was like around year two. Were they still gazing into one another’s eyes and dancing all night? Maybe. Or maybe Cinderella just didn’t feel like picking up Prince Charming’s socks off the floor.
Maybe Cinderella snored like a wild boar so the couple had to sleep in separate quarters. Or maybe Prince Charming and Cinderella had trouble conceiving a child and they had to learn to love and support one another in the midst of trials and heartache.
Maybe the stresses at work or pressures from people in the kingdom caused Prince Charming and Cinderella to actually have arguments and maybe they went to bed angry.
In my favorite book on marriage, When Sinners Say I Do, Dave Harvey writes about how every Jane Austen movie is the same. The stories all end at the altar, just when reality is about to come knocking. Romance movies are about the dizzying tornado of romantic love picking you up in its whirling funnel and setting you down at the chapel doors all giddy and beautifully dressed. (paraphrased from page 136)
It seems no one makes romantic movies about being married. Is it because marriage in real life isn’t romantic? Even the marriages shown on reality TV seem to crumble within a season or two. How many of the Real Housewives are happily married or even married?
Has marriage lost all its romance or is the problem actually us? Does the problem lie in the fact that we have a picture of Cinderella and Prince Charming frolicking off into the sunset and therefore have an unrealistic expectation for ourselves and our spouses?
I believe marriage and relationships can be a broken cistern. Marriage can be a good thing that we use to satisfy instead of finding satisfaction in Christ alone.
When Michael and I were first married I found myself drinking from the perfect marriage cistern. I was working so hard to be an excellent wife worthy of praise.
An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
I was discouraged because I just wasn’t an excellent wife; it did not come easy for me.
I was thirsty. The idea of this happily ever after that I made up was not satisfying.
The marriage cistern cannot hold water.
for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
I still find myself digging the broken cistern of a perfect happily ever after. I depend on my marriage to keep me happy. This means if we aren’t frolicking, I am not happy. It seems I value the gift of marriage more than the Giver of marriage.
In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes, if we look to our spouses to fill up our tanks in a way that only God can do, we are demanding an impossibility. (page 52)
Here I am 29 years old, married to a wonderful man that loves me with three beautiful and interesting children. There are days I provoke my husband to anger and fail to love him and honor him. But there is grace. And I am thankful that I am married to a man that believes in extending grace.
For now, happily ever after looks like changing poopy diapers, cleaning up crumbs and dates on the couch with a 5 dollar bottle of wine. We have no time to frolic. We barely have time to shower. But we do have time for grace. And in eternity, when all things are made right, I believe we will frolic; loving one another deeply because of all the imperfect moments and opportunities to give and receive grace.
Shatter the broken cistern of happily ever after and don’t expect your spouse to fill your tank in a way that only God can.
Find more at onewiththepastor.blogspot.com
Rachel, thank you so much for the encouraging and wise post. Rachel has a great blog onewiththepastor.blogspot.com that is so encouraging for women. You can tell from her posts that she has a heart for connecting with women. I’m not sure Rachel even knows this, but her faith has had such an impact on my life. Rachel was a Kappa Delta at EKU and graduated the semester before I joined the sorority. She had a relationship with some women from Campus Outreach that led to those women holding a bible study for girls in my chapter. I would pass this bible study that met in the KD dorm on my way out for Thirsty Thursday or whatever date night party we had planned that week. I thought, “I’m in college, I have time for that stuff later.” I’m so glad God saved me sooner and not later and by my sophomore year of college I started attending some bible studies led by these women. I am so thankful that women like Rachel, Jessica Duncan, Carrie Pepiot and Danielle Witherington were faithful and invested in the lives of young women like myself. Rachel, you are truly a blessing. I think this quote is very applicable to all of you, “you are planting seeds for shade trees that you do not expect to sit under”