We didn’t talk for two days after I wrote about him. Them. It wasn’t because he wouldn’t but because he couldn’t.
“I know it’s all true because I’ve lived it,” he quivers, “but it’s still hard to believe when you see it in writing.” My words are a mirror to their lives, an undistorted reflection of what I’ve observed for over 30 years.
At 75, he and his bride still hold hands. At times I’ve seen them look at each other, with grins telling secrets, eyes sizzling. Their son ignored it because — gross — but I thought it was amazing.
Marriage is a hard thing, and untended, it will cool.
I want heat.
Even the most blistering of fires will eventually dwindle to ash if not fed.
Give me flames.
When I wrote about my father-in-law, apparently I poked a bear. Not a mean grumpy grizzly, but more along the lines of Pooh — not exactly a willy, nilly, silly old bear, but sweet nevertheless. With all manner of deference, he suggested a different title (his, based on a poem he penned 25 years ago, is better) and that I might want to rethink my choice of words in one spot (because I “might present myself better”), so I did.
And then he reminded me of the secret to their 54-year marriage, lest there was any doubt, to make certain I understood.
“People want to know how we’re still so in love, how we have such a good marriage,” he began. And the next thing he said was the kind of thing pulls your attention taut, “Having a good marriage doesn’t have anything to do with trying to have a good marriage.”
He would tell you that since his Damascus Road conversion in 1970, he has believed and lived out his life verse, Matthew 6:33:
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
So simple. Not easy.
The entirety of his life has been ordered around these words spoken by Jesus. They have shaped how he parents, they have compelled him to minister within prison walls, and they have taught him how to cherish the love of his life.
If you’re like me, you’re acquainted with family or friends in marital crisis. Maybe you are in crisis, drifting so far apart you’ve lost hope for recovery. Too much has been said, too much has been done. You’ve passed the thresholds of anger and pain and settled into a kind of numbness you didn’t know was possible. You question whether you were ever really in love with each other.
Let’s just sit here a moment and breathe.
I’m praying for you right now, I promise I am. I care because God cares. During a season of depression, I walked in shoes of disillusion and despair, and though my circumstances weren’t quite dire, my eyes were opened to an understanding that frightened me. The redemption of which tendered my spirit to the hurting in marriage. That dark season in my head and heart gave way to an empathy I couldn’t otherwise extend.
Or maybe all of this is foreign and you think I’ll never feel like that. You’re still in the newlywed phase when butterflies stampede when he walks in the door. You can’t imagine you’ll ever grow apart or the quirks you once loved you’ll one day despise.
Think of a triangle where Jesus is at the top, and the lines opposite one another and descending from that point represent you and your spouse. You’re widest apart at the bottom of the triangle, but as you creep up the sides toward the top — toward Christ — you grow closer together. That image was shared with me ages ago, but it’s what I visualized when my father-in-law spoke of Matthew 6:33 as it relates to marriage.
At the genesis of Creation, marriage was born in Eden. Sacred and holy, marriage is a lavish gift from God.
Satan has been trying to destroy it ever since.
When invited to share my counsel and thoughts about difficult seasons in marriage, I offer what I know to be true. Mountains have erupted in my life, and I’ve learned there’s a way to the other side.
Sometimes love is spelled c-o-m-m-i-t-m-e-n-t, and barring abuse or on-going, unrepentant infidelity, honoring the covenant we entered in marriage is best. I realize we can’t control our spouse, but we can control our own actions . . . and if our heart and behavior is Matthew 6:33-ing, well, it changes how we think, behave, and react.
I tell my father-in-law I’m writing about marriage and I might be quoting him, and he’s quick to caution: “Be careful. I don’t have all the answers.”
And I feel the weight of his words, because I know I don’t have half the answers he has. And then I remembered something he wrote — this cowboy-preacher-father-in-love of mine — 25 years ago:
The essence of love is like fruit on the vine
It reaches perfection with the passage of time.
In infancy it flourishes brazen and bold
but is only perfected as our lifetimes unfold
Through paths that are narrow and times that are hard
it’s shed abroad in our hearts through the spirit of God
Without it we fall which we nigh can afford.
But the essence of love comes only from the Lord.
So be careful to seek Him while He still can be found,
and the essence of love in your life will abound.
What is this essence so precious and true?
It’s the presence of Jesus
in me and in you.
~ Tom Dance, October 14, 1989, a wedding gift to his second son and bride
He may not have all the answers, but he’s got the one that matters most.