"Let marriage be held in honor among all…" (Hebrews 13:4)
I heard the Tim McGraw song Live Like You Were Dying in the most unusual of places the other day – my head as I slept. Normally that’s a huge annoyance, a song looping through my brain while I toss and turn. This time, however, I think I was so relieved it wasn’t something by The Wiggles or VeggieTales that I went along for the ride.
Only thing is, I began to dream along with the music. As weird as that sounds, the dream varied just a bit from the theme of the song, which, in case you are one of the five people without Spotify, is: in order to make sure we don’t live carelessly, we should check off that list of things we’ve always wanted to do, and also that we do not go gently into that good night, but rather sit on top of angry bulls. Or something like that. Basically, you should act like you don’t have much time left, because really you don’t.
The montage that played upon my closed eyelids wasn’t about me, important moments, my death, or things I want to accomplish. Instead, I was treated to a slide show of moments from my three-year courtship with Valerie. What fun life was then. The things we did, the places we traveled to, the way we treasured each other and every moment together (even more so because a lot of that time was spent dating long-distance).
I awoke in a very good mood, even if I was confused about the connection between the song and the dream. On my drive to work some of the words from the song slapped me upside the head:
"… and I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter, and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…"
Ah, I see… that sentence sounded a lot like the guy I was when I was putting the moves on the tall, big-eyed, opinionated babe who liked my jokes. It did not sound so much like the decade-long married version of myself who has been going through the motions of marital/fatherly duties, plus work, church, sports, writing, hobbies, world news, and everything else.
The message was becoming clear, but still I wondered, how can I live like I was dating, when I have none of the freedoms afforded me during those years of getting to know Valerie? Unless I’m mistaken, the very word "dating" implies occasionally going on a date, and with a breast-feeding one-year-old around, movies, walks in the park, weekend getaways, and romantic (read: non-fast-food) dinners aren’t even on the radar screen.
I interrupt this article because at this point Valerie calls me from her cell phone saying she can’t get the car to start. The ignition won’t turn because the steering wheel is also locked, and she can’t jiggle the keys or wheel enough to get either to turn. She’s embarrassed, and I can hear her banging and straining away on the dashboard components. She thinks she’s gonna be stuck in someone’s driveway all day with a baby in the back seat. I suggest looking in the owner’s manual to see if there are suggestions. There aren’t. We decide she’ll have to call a Toyota dealer or Triple-A because I’m too far away to help. 10 minutes later I check in on her because I read online that she might want to use the parking break from now on to prevent this from happening again. Turns out that wasn’t the problem. It was that she was trying to start her Camry with the key to my Corolla…
And so it occurs to me – not only can I count on my wife to spice up our life with a good laugh once in a while, but maybe our dating engine simply has to be redefined. It still exists, but it’s not going to be started with the same set of keys that got it running 10 years ago. That doesn’t mean it’s not a reliable vehicle for shuttling us to all of life’s events in a manner befitting our faith. If I could find a way to regularly appear as outwardly joyful as I inwardly feel whenever I reflect on how blessed I am to have such a mate, I’d go a long way towards helping fulfill the purpose for this marriage, which Valerie and I long ago decided was to be better for the Lord than we are apart – to be a living metaphor of Christ’s love for His Church. That felt easier when we were dating. So with a cue from Tim McGraw, here are some ideas…
"Love does not seek its own…" (1 Corinthians 13:5)
Okay, true, I just told an embarrassing story on Mrs. McEvoy, which might cause some to say, "That ain't love!" But I did it with her permission, so let's move on to the meat...
In Colossians 3:18-19, and again in Ephesians 5:24-25, we are quite simply told by Paul how this marriage thing is going to work. Unfortunately, I’ve heard the first half of those verse pairings – the "women submit" part – quoted and exercised far more often than the equally important "husbands love" portion.
Anyway, remember how much easier those commands seemed back then? This was the most wonderful person in the world. They communicated well, never sought their own way; it would be so easy to submit to him or actively display love for her. Then time, comfort, bad habits, and the daily grind got a hold of you both. Satan tossed clutter everywhere. Threw in some doubt. Sprayed super-green paint on your neighbor’s grass (and spouse). Marriage, it turned out, was complicated.
I’ll be the first to attest to that, although the Bible doesn’t really think so if you go by the fact that it’s not dripping with verses on how to navigate the maze. You leave, you cleave, then you love/submit. Those simple instructions don’t seem to get us very far down the path. In fact, they seem to take us happily up to the vows and leave us there.
Perhaps that’s the point. Perhaps there is no "trick" to loving deeper, you must get in touch with what it is you fell in love with this person for in the first place, and act upon it. In Revelation 2:4, God holds against the church at Ephesus that they have left their first love. This speaks, of course, to their having lost enthusiasm for new life in Christ, but the verse does suggest that returning to one’s love, whether for Christ or spouse, is possible. Meditating on and appreciating the circumstances that started the relationship are a good way of seeing how deep the apparently-shallow pool we’re standing in actually is.
"If I could speak in any language in heaven or on earth but didn't love others, I would only be making meaningless noise like a loud gong or a clanging cymbal…" (1 Corinthians 13:1)
This is where I tend to have a problem, being gruff by nature. I’m pleasant enough to co-workers and strangers. I've even earned the nickname "Small-Talk McEvoy" from one of my buddies, but for some reason, those I love the most are at times blessed with a symphony of grunts, groans, and snippy comments.
Not only is that gruff nature part of the "former self" that Ephesians Ephesians 4:22-27 says has been laid aside in favor of righteousness and speaking truth, but I recall that it did not dare rear its head during our dating days. That’s not just because I was trying to sell this woman on my finer qualities, but because I truly felt the love and respect for her that I was dishing out. I therefore gave no place to impatient or intellectually superior speech.
In the words of James, there were, when I was dating Valerie, precious few times when the same fountain sent out both fresh and bitter water. But gradually, as I failed to guard my tongue (James 3:6-8), I lazily allowed that small amount of bitterness to befoul the whole cistern. I don’t want to give the impression that I stalk the grounds of my house grumpy and cursing when I’m actually a pretty decent husband and father, but this is where I can stand the most improvement in my relationship, and I know it. Harkening back to the days when I wrote poetry, quoted scripture, wooed from afar, and encouraged about the future has helped me to remember the importance of bridling my tongue. James says horses and great ships are steered by very small bits and rudders. Likewise, the direction of my marriage may be steered by brushing up on the language I spoke when dating.
"Love does not take into account a wrong suffered…" (1 Corinthians 13:5)
Do you often hear people saying, "I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget"? It’s an especially popular thing to say with the camera in one’s face on a reality TV program. Thank goodness that’s not how the Lord defines forgiveness. He instead wipes out our transgressions, turns crimson to snow white (Isaiah 1:18), and divides us from sin as far as East is from West (Psalms 103:12).
Which way is your marriage M.O. regarding wrongs done to you? Do you refuse to go to bed angry, do you grant mercy every morning, or do you have a little file drawer in the back of your brain that lists All the Stupid & Hurtful Things He’s/She’s Done to Me?
Once again, think back to your courtship, and ask yourself how many little foibles, faux paus, and thoughtless words you let slide with little more than a tiny reprimand just because you were so in love.
For our wedding, Valerie and I selected to have Colossians 3:12-19 read aloud. Within those verses we are admonished to: "bear with one another, and forgive each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." Forgiveness and love and new beginnings go together like the secret ingredients of Val’s indescribable chili (honey, it's time for a new batch – you promised).
We all get caught in those lulls in marriage where the wind isn’t blowing, the air gets stale, and nothing new happens. And it’s admittedly a tad trite to think living out some song lyrics is going to lift the doldrums, but the biblical mandates to love, guard our tongues, and forgive are sure solid. In the end, one thing all married (and formerly married) folks should have in common is fond memories of meeting and dating our spouse; otherwise, hopefully, we never would have bound our lives to theirs in the first place. Looking back is a good way to appreciate all those things that led to the commitment.
Try living like you were dating, even if actual dates are few and far between, and see if remembering your first love doesn’t translate to renewing your first love.
Original publication date: August 8, 2007