“I took a test in Existentialism. I left all the answers blank and got 100.” – Woody Allen

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” – Bible

As we look forward to the new year, we are reminded of goals and aspirations. On the one hand we reflect on those of this past year. Were we successful in moving forward? And then we think of the future – do we have new/different plans? Do we want to change anything or is the status quo sufficient?

The answers to these questions are based on our view of the world, and the success of our marriage usually has the same foundation.

In contemplating the married life before marriage, we frequently have on the rose-colored glasses. We plan to live happily ever after! But during the “after” in marriage, we find that the problems don’t go away. In fact they are multiplied, since we have two (or more) lives now intertwined, with all the personality quirks and shortcomings.

If this life and our own plans are all there is, it can become discouraging. Quoting from “The Christian Mind,” by Harry Blamires, “In age the longings, once so delightful, lose their edge; they become tinged with melancholy and even with bitterness, as the sorrowful truth is grasped that beauty fades and love grows cold. ...

“When dreams are no longer stirred in us by mountain peaks or by passionate symphonic movements, by the sweep of a girl’s hair or the falling of her eyelids, it is melancholy to have to believe that the dreams themselves are the truest delight we are to taste, and that the reality they seemed to mirror is a fiction of the beguiling brain.”

Personally speaking, as I grow older, I recognize that many of my dreams from yesteryear remain simply that – dreams, which will go unfulfilled.

Years ago Peggy Lee popularized a song by Gaby Rodgers entitled “Is That All There Is?” The song focuses on life’s disappointments and ends with the statement that even suicide is fruitless because death will just be “that final disappointment.”

However, we know that’s not all there is, both in marriage and in life. Our performance-oriented society insists that life consists of a series of goals or maybe better labeled experiences. The more goals we achieve and/or the more experiences we have, the more “successful” we are.

And yet many will admit that goals and experiences ultimately don’t provide fulfillment; they just lead us to the next goal or experience. Life will be better understood and navigated if we recognize it as a journey and not an endpoint.

In marriage, we can’t sit back and say “it is finished” when we say “I do.” That’s actually just the beginning – of a life long journey. Good marriages take time and effort. Our progress on the journey of marriage may be enhanced by identifying a series of steps that head us in the right direction, but those steps are simply that and nothing more. They aren’t the end.

The true key to a fulfilled lifelong journey comes in recognizing that there is a creator God who has a design for our marriage and our lives. Our ultimate “goal” is to fit into the designs and plans set aside for us. And the ultimate end of those designs and plans doesn’t reach its culmination in the finite.

We all know of people who have worked hard to climb the ladder of success, only to find that the ladder was leading against the wrong wall. They reach the top, and there is nothing there.

As we reflect on the past and look to the future, our goals and experiences need to keep a broader perspective in mind.

Quoting Blamire again, “The alternative is to believe that longing is only longing after all, that the dream is only a dream but that fulfillment and satisfaction remain, as ever, an offering to man from beyond the world.” Relationships, now and forever, are the only things that last.

The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, 640-4689, rogerrollins@aikenfamco.com, www.aikenfamco.com.