Next week we’ll celebrate Valentine’s Day once again. Now, while I’m a bit of a romantic, I’ve never tried to ‘find’ romance on this day because it’s something Cornelia and I are ever-mindful of. We start the day with a cuddle and a kiss and that’s the way we go to sleep. I admit to being very spoilt, as Cornelia has for nearly 28 years stood on the front porch and waved me goodbye as I leave for work.
Every year of February 14th you’ll see the local florist blossom with red roses in preparation for the stampede of men, most of who are on their annual pilgrimage to show their wives, partners and girlfriends that they really do care.
For some couples it’s too little, too late. Just this week I learned that four more marriages in my street have crashed and burned. This continual downward spiral in relationships has reached epidemic proportions in our society, where there are no solutions or antidotes to impede this destruction.
Back in 2007 (1) the vast majority of Australians believed that their ‘try before you buy’ and ‘you have to make sure you’re compatible’ philosophies would be the answer to true, life-long love. Sadly though, Australia still ranks in the top six world-wide for the highest divorce rates.
If living together is not the answer to true love, then what is?
Throughout my 28 year journey with Cornelia I’ve come to understand that there are two important elements for creating a strong marriage.
The first element focuses us on unity.
Just before we were married in 1983 we were given a piece of wisdom from a long married couple in their seventies. The counsel was based on Genesis 2: 24, where we are told that … “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Genesis 2: 24 NIV (emphasis added)
How true it is that those who have strong marriages have a oneness about them. As an old aunt said, remember that ‘we’ comes before ‘I’ in wedding. Where two are entwined together as one, their strength is multiplied. Acting and thinking in concert is not easy and takes a lot of commitment, give and take. Having a mindset of putting the other first is Christ-like and the basis on which this oneness grows.
The second lesson must follow the first; to understand that marriage has seasons.
Let me warn you first that this does not mean that you only experience one of each of the seasons of marriage. In fact the climate of marriage is characterised by us moving from one season to another and back again. A strong marriage learns from each season and prepares the couple for the next.
Summer is the hot season in your marriage. It’s the time of great emotion, physically it’s exhausting and it’s wonderfully passionate. That’s the way God intended it to be. Just read the book Song of Solomon and you will see that passion should be a key part of your relationship. It’s during your summer marriage that you explore new things together, learning and stretching yourselves. It’s a time to release your passions, to focus on a vision for the future and begin laying the foundations for a life of God’s purposes.
Autumn heralds a new time when your relationship is buffeted by children or changed circumstances. Work pressures build up and finding time together is more difficult. And while many homes become afflicted with the swinging door syndrome, it is in these times that your family’s relationship with Christ should be strongly nurtured. As you experience the kaleidoscope of colours in your relationship, it is the extent to which Christ is given centre stage in your relationship that will provide you with the resilience you need when times are tough.
Winter is inevitable. In marriage there are times when you sense a loss of intimacy, when you seem to do nothing more than chase your tail, or your world becomes an isolated island in a social landscape. Although this is the most difficult of seasons it’s also the season that gives us the greatest opportunities to use the gift of oneness that God gave us.
Strong marriages are characterised by one person helping the other during these times. Jesus sent his disciples out in twos for this very reason. When one is down, the other supports. It’s a simple concept and very effective, but requires a joint commitment.
For a moment think of the rings of growth on a tree. The dense rings that grow during winter will define the strength of the tree. With guidance from God’s Word, and a willingness from both of you, your winter periods can give your marriage a much stronger base from which to grow.
Spring is the time of new beginnings. When we start to feel the warmth of summer approaching, we are revitalised and refreshed. And while the memories of tough times might linger, it is the promise of a new day and new opportunities that causes us to come out of our cocoons, shedding the dreary and becoming all that the Lord has predetermined us to be. For many marriages the rut of winter has become the grave. For those who have welcomed Spring together, their love will flourish and the impact of their relationship will pollinate others.
Marriage is the most important union on earth, given by God for His glory. But, being human, we know that relationships don’t always work this simply.
When I’ve met with troubled couples over the years I’ve found that the oneness with which they started in marriage has been broken. Often their combined commitment to work through the seasons of marriage has been eroded for a range of reasons.
Be strong, encourage and support one another. Remember the WE in wedding, and have fun on the journey. Your enjoyment is your God’s pleasure.