We want to be one of those couples still goosing one another in the kitchen at 65 making our grandkids cringe with disgust.
This is my customary answer when I talk with couples in preparation for marriage. I ask them, “What’s your preferred picture of the future? What do you want your marriage to look like in thirty or forty years?”
See I just showed my hand a little bit there. There’s a philosophy of life at work there. I tend to believe that life is more meaningful if there is a picture driving our actions. If there’s something out front of us, something that captivates our imagination, something that screams, “Yes, when we get there, this is what I want it to look like,” I believe our day to day actions tend to hold together. Now, before you go all sentimental on me, I have a pretty strong realist vein that runs through my body. It’s the kind of vein that says, “nothing is guaranteed.” Right, I get that. Any number of situations or issues could arise that makes that picture impossible. But without a picture, I often feel as though I’m taking on life willy-nilly, with little glue that holds together my actions, words, ambitions, and relationships.
So I choose a picture.
And in my picture I’m goosing my wife in the kitchen at 65. That’s my picture, what’s yours?
Before you answer that question, there is something you ought to know. The moment you choose a picture, you are responsible for the work that makes that picture possible. That means, daily, we choose actions, attitudes, and words that lend themselves to the greatest possibility of making that picture possible. Listen, if I haven’t done the daily work of caring for my wife, loving her, making time for her, flirting with her, then by the time we get to 65 and I try to goose her, she’s liable to pop knots in my head with a skillet.
We don’t just arrive at our picture. We lean in toward our picture by choosing to act daily in ways that make that picture possible.
I need to back up for a moment.
We didn’t get married with a picture in mind. In fact, I’m not sure what we were thinking when we got married. We were two young (21 and 22) kids, infatuated with the idea of love, steeped in Hollywood romanticism, about as far as we could be from God, and wrapped in a number of dysfunctions and addictions. Put more simply, we had relatives taking bets at our wedding about how many months it would last. We got 6 months from one (which we almost proved right). For the first three years of marriage, we had no picture in mind, only survival. We were two deeply selfish, sinful, messy, broken, people trying to navigate a path with multiple twists and turns, in the dark. Talk about the blind leading the blind.
In those first 3 years we nearly divorced six times.
In those first 3 years we did nearly everything a couple could do to wound one another.
In those first 3 years two little boys were the only two threads holding together an unraveling relationship.
Three years into our marriage, separated by a military deployment, determined to divorce upon my return, Jesus happened. Thousands of miles away, a month apart from one another, Jesus showed up in our lives and called us to be His followers. Three years into our marriage, Jesus dismantled our old selves, those old nasty, broken, selfish, sinful selves and made us new creations. And something changed! And He was bringing us back together.
Wait don’t cue the doves and Kenny G music yet. There was a moment in flying back from the Balkans that it hit me, “Wait, we didn’t like each other much when we weren’t Jesus followers, what makes me think we will like each other now that we are?” But when I walked into the gym where we were to meet our families after our arrival, I saw the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen in my life. It was the first time I’d seen my wife without the veil of sin covering my eyes.
We had a lot of work to do.
Work. There’s that word again. We knew that the damage we’d done to one another wouldn’t be healed up easily. Oh yeah, and besides being made new creations, we still lacked the resources and tools to make a strong marriage. We were now walking in grace, a little less young, but still dumb. We had some learning and maturing to do.
But where would we turn?
To Jesus…well of course.
To His church.
The first weekend I was home, Angie and I were determined to find a church where God was working. She suggested the Nazarene church in Clarksville because that’s where she’d gotten saved. Not having any idea what a Nazarene was, I reluctantly said ok. And that’s where it started, my first weekend back from deployment. Immediately Angie and I connected to a church family that took interest in us.
Here was a group of people who wanted to make an investment in a couple, former alcoholics, messy, broken, bar-hopping, bouncer, party-going, still a little rough around the edges. What were they thinking? Ah, they were just showing us the same love and acceptance that Jesus had already shown us. We didn’t know much about words like “Incarnation” back then, but quickly that community became the hands and feet of Jesus in our lives.
They said, “We’ve got tools.”
And boy did they ever.
We were surrounded with love, encouragement, wisdom, and healthy examples of what a faith-filled couple looks like. Each Thursday evening for about 6 months or more, a lay person named Earl came to our home at 9pm after our children had gone to bed and poured into our lives. He was discipling us (we didn’t know that word either). He talked to us about what it means to be healthy followers of Jesus and serve one another selflessly. He began to help us understand the work required in making marriage work.
Then there were those two couples.
Remember that damage we did for three years? Well one night that came to surface. In that moment, we were threatened. This thing could go either way. Some pain, some scars aren’t healed easily or at a moment at an altar. Sometimes they take time. AND…community! That night two couples were there for us. The guys took me to a different house. The women stayed with Angie at our house.
All night! There they stood alongside us, wept with us, prayed us through the evening, and for the days and weeks following continually spoke into our lives. We wouldn’t have made it through that night had it not been for the church.
That’s right, I said it. The church saved our marriage.
They taught us crazy things. You know like, “the world doesn’t revolve around either of us.” (I still struggle with that one.) They taught us how to communicate with one another. They walked through the grief process of the death of both of Angie’s parents. In fact, when Angie’s mother died three weeks after we arrived at our first Senior Pastor assignment without insurance, it was the church, Erin Church of the Nazarene, in Tennessee, that took up a secret offering to pay for the funeral expenses in full.
They taught us about commitment and devotion.
I still remember driving home from church one morning when it hit me, “Angie, divorce is no longer an option.” She said, “How can you say that? You don’t know what might happen.” I said, “As long as it’s not an option then we will have to live each and every day like it’s not an option. That means if we are stuck with one another from this day forward, we better be more committed to blessing one another than being obnoxiously selfish.”
But that wasn’t all…
They taught us to be committed Jesus followers. We learned about the necessity of prayer to guard our tongues from saying things we’d later regret. We discovered the necessity of maintaining purity in our sexuality with one another, to protect our intimacy from outside influences. We even learned that our marriage isn’t the end all be all. Our marriage was caught up into something bigger than us.
It is the Kingdom of God.
Our marriage isn’t simply about our happiness. It is about living lives that give credible witness to redemptive, reconciling, restorative Kingdom of God. That means the picture I have isn’t simply about the picture. It means that the daily sacrificial, selfless, humble, thoughtful, peace-making actions and words that dot the landscape of our lives give human flesh to the Kingdom of God.
Wait a minute.
That means…we were being shaped in our marriage to be the hands and feet of Jesus to others. Now the church wasn’t just helping us. We were the church giving our lives away to others.
You know what happened as we learned new tools? A picture started to emerge. It was no longer a picture of survival, but instead, a picture of flourishing. We could, because of Jesus and the impact of His church see a future. And in that picture I was goosing my wife in the kitchen at 65.