Every morning, Shaun and I wake up, let the dogs out, and eat breakfast together. Three or four days a week, it’s a fairly long breakfast. Not because there’s so much food, but because the company is exquisite, and if I must whip up a tuna sandwich for lunch instead of a big, thick roast because we talked too long, so be it. We’d rather have each other than a feast. Eat to live, not live to eat. That’s been our motto.
After twenty-nine years together, we still love each other. It’s something we’d probably both like to take credit for, but the truth is, I think God has shown us the way and given us the strength to take simple steps to love, forgive, accept, and stay faithful to one another. He’s done so partly through His Word, which has an ample supply of marital instruction, and partly through the example of other good, godly marriages we’ve been grateful to observe.
No marriage is perfect. But if you observe the Word while also observing the “good and godly” marriages you come across, it’s possible to make out what’s healthy and helpful and holy. Then with God’s help, you follow suit. Do what the Bible says. Do what the couples who are happy do, tailored to you as a couple, of course. For instance, if you see a loving, successful couple skiing together but you and your husband hate to ski, maybe skiing isn’t the point but spending quality time together is, as is finding something you have in common and enjoying that activity together.
Reading, movies, fishing, bowling, opras, hiking, swimming, rock collecting, prospecting for gold, running, underwater basket weaving. The possibilities are endless. Most of it takes a little bit of cash, but even if one is poor (speaking with past experience here), it’s possible to find something to do. Go for a walk. Take some sandwiches, chips, apples, and lemonade and go for a picnic at the nearest park. Hunt for arrowheads or favorite flowers. Bird watch. Dance to a romantic song. Check out a book at the library on how to give an awesome massage and put that info to use!
We’ve had our fair share of trials in our marriage. Most of them have to do with either my emotional or physical health, as the two have often warred against each other. Other trials have come as well. Some financial, caused by poor health – mostly mine, sometimes his, sometimes our children’s. Some centered around extended family relationships, church roles, job stress, and on and on it goes.
Life is hard. But love at the breakfast table has, as the Judd’s sing, made a happy woman out of me.
When I was a kid, marriage between a man and a woman was the talk. Divorce rates were high, and Christian leaders around the country were attempting to cut those rates by educating couples as to what works, what doesn’t. Today, it seems that marriage is hardly discussed unless it’s between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. Godly examples are running low. Children very often don’t have a mom and dad who love each other. Add to that the pressure to decide which sex they want to be, and well … we really shouldn’t be wondering why some children are suicidal. Stability is scarce, as is encouragement to take what is obviously true and see it as such. For what is truth, other than what they decide it to be? If their truth is that they’re a boy, fine. But they can be a girl if they want, even if their anatomy says otherwise. Their choice, not God’s.
Or so they’re told.
My parents divorced when I was in utero. Remarried (each other!) when I was two. Then divorced again when I was fifteen. Sandwiched in between the two divorces were a few years of a healthy-ish marriage. Most of what I’ve learned about a good marriage has been through couples at church, and some aspects of my grandparents’ marriage.
So if there’s one piece of advice I’d give after twenty-nine years of marriage, it’s this:
Cultivate love at the breakfast table. Shaun and I have had periods of time in our marriage where it was flat out impossible to spend much time together. The years we were raising teens were especially difficult, and if I had to do it over again, I’d find a way to tame that era. Sometimes a couple has to fall back on sheer dedication and commitment until a busy season passes, but my strongest advice during those times is to snag any time possible to be together. If a couple would put down the phone and turn off the TV, how much time in a day would they have to chat at the breakfast table – or wherever?
For good measure, one more piece of advice, and then I’ll close:
Submit to one another.
I know, I know. So much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth anytime a wife is told to submit. The subject of submission is a can of worms I can’t open toward the end of a blog. Therefore, I’ll just say that the truth is, submission in a marriage is mutual. Marriage is about sanctification and learning to get along, and frankly, getting along requires deference. So defer. Choose what hills are really worth dying on (hint: it shouldn’t be very many). Otherwise, stand down. Prefer your spouse’s wishes to your own. Give, give, and give some more. Marriage isn’t, as we’ve been told, 50-50. It might be some days. Other days, it might be 30- 70. Or 80-20. It’s going to vary. Couples need to be open to giving more than their spouse on any given day, while also being open to being ministered to and taken care of. If that’s not happening, someone has a huge pride issue, and pride kills love.
If there’s anything that will squelch marital love, it’s keeping score. We shouldn’t be worrying at the end of the day whether our spouse gave exactly fifty percent. A better thing to be concerned about is whether we gave and received love well. If there’s any doubt, there are two ways to find out:
First, ask your spouse. He or she will tell the truth, mostly because he or she would be a fool not to. She’s been dying to tell him to stop throwing wet towels in the laundry. And he’s been dying to tell her he loathes footy pajamas.
Second, ask God.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me, and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23-24).
God will also tell you the truth – if your heart is open to change (He’s not in the business of handing out information for the sake of handing out information). And He will tell you because He views your marriage as a picture of Christ and the Church, and His desire is that your marriage succeed and thereby bring Him glory.