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On Marriage and Mt. Fuji

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We started preparing for it last year.

After the kids were in bed each night, we’d go and run up and down the hills surrounding our home. Our legs needed to be full of strength, our lungs full of endurance.

We were planning to hike up Mt. Fuji. Our 20th wedding anniversary was this year, and in the absence of grandparents or other childcare options that might allow us a more typical European or beach holiday, we decided we could make the 1 hour drive to Fuji and test our bodies and our teamwork before age starts to multiply its effect on us.

Well, then, you know…Coronavirus cancelled everything. Even, apparently, mountain hikes. Fuji was closed to climbers during its very brief climbing season.

Over the summer, we made the drive to Fuji anyway, thinking that even walking around 5th station where most hikers begin would still be a worthwhile trip.

We were right.

The road up to Fuji 5th Station is lush and wooded. Alpine flowers, deer and cool breezes followed us as we ascended. But when we got out of the car at 5th station, we were nearly knocked over by the gusts of wind assailing the mountain that day. The temperate day was freezing at this height, and our light hoodies left us wishing we’d brought along a little more.

We stopped in a souvenir store (hey, we were already there!) and picked up a chocolate Mt. Fuji to enjoy later, and then made our way over to the starting point for the hike we were forbidden to take. What we saw surprised us.

Past the tree line, the alpine paradise was gone. Volcanic rock and barren landscape filled our field of vision. Halfway up, this iconic mountain looked like a completely different place.

We had been prepared for this ahead of time. Friends had told us that the best place to observe the beauty of Fuji was actually hiking the mountains around it, but going that route causes you to miss out on the undeniable thrill of making it to the top of Fuji itself.

Serving anyone making the journey, dotted along the ascent to Fuji are mountain huts where you can rest, talk with other hikers, and even get your Fuji Walking Stick branded with the location of each stop along the way, a tangible mile-marker of sorts for such a momentous endeavor. You certainly can’t enjoy these benefits from the surrounding mountains.

As I stood there taking it all in, wind whipping my hair to shreds, I thought about what a metaphor to marriage this mountain is.

The early hiking in marriage is so blissful – mountain flowers, breezes, and the occasional deer thrill you with the wonder of the path you’ve chosen.

But sometimes the path gets steeper. The Pinterest picnic spots vanish. The road ahead of you looks anything but inviting. You can’t even see the top, but the part you can see leaves you slightly discouraged. It starts to feel like a nasty bait-and-switch. The marriage you signed up for – maybe even the spouse you thought you signed up for – is nowhere to be found.

But this is the exact moment God’s covenant with us (and its reflection in our own marriages) becomes astonishingly beautiful. John Piper says in his book, This Momentary Marriage, “Marriage…is mainly about displaying the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church.”

So as we endure with our spouses (and they endure with us) through major and minor irritations, pandemics, personality changes, gaining and losing of habits, adding children, releasing children, losing jobs, losing tempers, with each decision to love and to stay, we are reminding ourselves that our God is doing the same thing on a much grander scale.

He is not treating us as our sins deserve, nor is he holding them against us. He is not giving up the hike because the terrain looks less beautiful than he had hoped. He moves toward us, even – and perhaps, especially when – we move away. He is unchangeable in his decision and resolve to make us his people.

This is marriage – such a beautiful, mind-blowing picture of the faithfulness of God toward his people.

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