There are not a lot of things I am really good at. But there is one thing I do really well.

I am good at doing the same thing for a long time. I know how to keep going in the same direction. I am expert at the familiar.

I have served in ordained ministry in the Anglican Church of Canada without interruption for thirty-seven years. This October I will have ministered in the same community of faith for thirty of those thirty-seven years. I have lived in the same house for the last twenty-eight years and the same city for fifty-two of my sixty-three years.

But on Saturday this week, I will celebrate the single best thing I have done for a long time. On August 26, 1977 Heather and I were married; this week we celebrate forty years of marriage. We were twenty-three years old when we were married; we had been dating since we were nineteen. We have been a couple for a long time.

Obviously, there are times when leaving is the only healthy choice. Staying is not always the best option. If I find myself in a situation that is dangerous to my physical health, or that risks severely undermining my emotional and spiritual well-being, it may be time to make the difficult decision to leave.

But, if staying is an option, there is one affirmation that will make sticking in there more possible. My mantra for forty years of married life is simple:

Nothing is perfect.

If “perfect” means a circumstance that never causes me the slightest awkwardness, pain, or unhappiness, there is no such thing as “perfect”. There will never be anything that lasts more than a few weeks at best, that does not at some point become a cause of tension and discomfort. Life is difficult; relationships are hard; nothing on this horizontal, material, time-bound axis is ever fully and completely satisfying forever.

There are no perfect jobs, no perfect homes, cities, families, partners, children, or bodies. As beautiful and thrilling as any circumstance might be for a while, there will come a time when, what once seemed so “perfect” becomes, at least on occasion, a source of pain and aggravation.

With all our limitations, shortcoming, failures, and faults, for forty years we have carried on together. We have raised children and moved into the extraordinary world of grandparenting. We have seen great joy and navigated deep sadness. We have been at times cranky together, sometimes petty, even occasionally mean. Our life together has been often funny, always interesting, and challenging. As the years have moved by, we have become more and more deeply joined in love and mutual respect.

The lessons of longevity are not easily acquired, but they are deep and profound.

I have not been a perfect husband for forty years… not even forty minutes. Even my wife, as extraordinary as she is, has not always been absolutely “perfect”. But, the struggles we have shared have become for us a source of strength as we have learned to live within the realities of who we are and of our circumstances as they are.

Through the gift of staying in this relationship for a long time, I have come to see myself more clearly and live my life more honestly. I have discovered that I am ultimately responsible for my own inner state. I cannot project my failures, disappointments, dissatisfactions, or regrets on to anyone or anything. No other human being can ever  solve the loneliness and restlessness that are part of my human condition. Staying in for the long haul exposes the fantasy that promises there may be something better over there.

Doing the same thing for a long time may sound dull and  uninspiring. But, in the steady faithfulness of this marriage, I know I have become more truly the person I was created to be.

Travelling together in the same direction for all these years has brought us to a place of space and freedom in which we have experienced the truth and beauty that are the deepest longing of the human heart.

Thank you Heather for going the distance with me.