The latest unexpected turn for my wife, Ellie, and me came in 2019.  I was diagnosed with an aggressive type of terminal brain cancer.  Ellie is facing the thought of being a widow before she turns 60. That wasn’t supposed to happen . . . at least until age 80. Or that’s what we thought.

You can’t know everything that’s going to happen to you over the course of your marriage. But you can decide ahead of time how you’re going to handle it. That’s the whole purpose of your wedding vows.

And so this diagnosis has caused both of us to take stock of where we are in our lives and what we have in each other. It has caused us to reflect not just on our wedding vows, but to the words we say to each other every day. Do we still say: I choose us?

I choose us every day

The day could be good or challenging. We could be in the middle of a fight or heading into a romantic evening. We might be struggling to speak to each other, or clinging to each other in the midst of a crushing life event like we’ve just experienced. Those are the times we need to put everyday words to our lofty vows.

Here are some ideas of what that might sound like.

“Whatever bad happens, I choose us.”

I promise to be true to you: “I’m praying for you today.”

In good times and in bad—I’m glad I married you.” “Thank you for being good to me, even when I don’t deserve it.” “I’m sorry. Will you please forgive me?”

In sickness and in health—“I want you to eat healthy and exercise so you’ll stay around a few more years.” “Thank you for taking such good care of me when I was sick.”

I will love and honor you—“I appreciate what you did today.” “I really love you.” “You’re a good man.” “I love the way you care for others.”

All the days of my life—“I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me.” “There’s no one I’d rather grow old with.”

With these words …

In his book With These Words: 5 Communication Tools for Marriage and Life, my friend, Rob Flood, focuses on how wedding vows play themselves out in communication between husband and wife.

Good communication doesn’t just involve the mouth. Before there are words in your mouth, they first emanate in your heart and become formed by your mind.

When your spouse speaks, you’re not to merely hear the words in your ears, but you need to take them into your mind and heart. And you can express the value you place on those words through things like eye contact and meaningful touch.

Near the end of the book, Rob offers this communication vow. It’s an opportunity for recommitment to the intentions you expressed to each other in your wedding vows. It’s a way to say to each other: I choose us again today.

But this focuses specifically on the intent of your words and your mate’s words. It’s not just looking at the moments in which those words are spoken, but focusing on the ultimate goal you want those words to produce in your marriage: unconditional love, grace, honor, unity, devotion.

A communication vow

With these words

        I will seek to build you up rather than tear you down.

With these words

        I will do all I can to reiterate what you mean in a way that honors and respects you.

With these hands

        I will touch you caringly, seeking unity, even through the hardest conversations.

With these eyes

        I will look on you tenderly, avoiding judgment and scorn.

With these ears

        I will listen intently to what you’re trying to say.

With this heart

        I will seek to love the Lord first and foremost, loving you all the while.

With these words

        I will share grace, mercy, and forgiveness, as it has abundantly been shared with me as our Savior.

And with God’s help

        our communication will draw us more closely together

                       for the good of our home and the glory of God.

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The vows matter

Ever think about how many aspects of the wedding ceremony are little more than holdovers from the past, the original intent long forgotten. Many people think of wedding vows the same way—little more than ceremony and tradition.

But nothing could be farther from the truth.

While most elements of the ceremony are largely symbolic, the vows are at the center of not only the wedding ceremony, but the entire marriage. In fact, it’s not too much of a stretch even to say the vows ARE the marriage.

Try repeating these vows my wife, Ellie, and I have spoken to each other throughout the events of life:

“I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

We’re going to keep saying: I choose us.

Copyright © 2020 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.

Since 1995, Scott Williams has been ministering to marriages and families. Since 2004, he’s been doing so as a senior writer for FamilyLife. In 2019, he was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer, but by God’s grace, is doing remarkably well and is continuing to write for FamilyLife. Scott and Ellie live in Little Rock, Arkansas, and have seven adult children and three grandchildren.