I just got home from Walmart. I usually leave there with a sick feeling as I look at the receipt and try to figure out what part of common groceries could possible cost so much! Usually, I want to get in and out as quickly as possible and am ashamed of those times I almost ran over people swinging wildly from aisle to aisle. Today, as I was tucking my long receipt into my purse, I looked up to see an elderly couple, in front of me, walking out the door to their vehicle.
I stopped and waited a few minutes so they wouldn’t feel rushed, and I couldn’t help but smile as I watched them. He stood on the left with both hands on the cart. She stood on the right with both hands on the cart, and they walked, very slowly and gingerly to their van parked in a nearby handicapped spot. He helped her into the passenger’s seat and then slowly put the groceries in the back and drove away.
As I watched them interact, the last thing I cared about was whether Eric had put his clothes in the hamper or whether we had enough money to make gourmet meals every night. The only thing in my relationship with Eric that mattered to me at that moment was making it to where this couple had arrived. I’m sure they had their share of heartaches throughout the years and I’m sure they had newlywed fights. They likely stayed up many nights with screaming newborns and likely had times where they were afraid because they had more bills at the end of the month than money. They have probably buried parents, uncles, aunts, friends, and possibly even children. Yet, here they were, through it all, walking in perfect step with each other, each holding on for dear life. It really warmed my heart and put my life in perspective.
In fifty years, I won’t care about all the loads of Eric’s laundry I had to do or all the dishes he left in the sink to be washed. In fifty years, if the Lord tarries and we are still here, I think all that will matter to me is that Eric is still walking gingerly with me. Thinking about it this way, I am so filled with appreciation for him. I’m thankful to God that He sent him to me, and I’m thankful to Eric that he’s here for me day after day. He couldn’t make a mess big enough to make me wish he’d go away.
This couple walked in such perfect formation that it was clear they had done this shopping cart saunter together for many years. They had practiced walking together just by doing it faithfully for so long. Generally when we think about marriage, we don’t think about practice. When a pianist spends hours perfecting his craft, we think of it as practice. When a surgeon performs so many operations that she can do them in her sleep, we think of it as practice.
Marriage is the same as any other activity we spend hours, and our lives, practicing and perfecting. Early on in practicing marriage, there is more to learn: more about the other person – and more about ourselves. It is difficult to learn something so foreign to us as selflessness, unconditional respect, and unconditional love. Each time we get to the place where we think we have “this marriage thing” settled, a new dimension emerges.
One thing that is important to address here: practicing marriage is not cohabitation. In marriage, vows have been declared to love, honor, respect, and cherish each other. In cohabitation, no such commitment has been made. This distinction presents a fundamental difference in how the man and woman relate together. Instead of being secure in his love for her in marriage, she is seeking his love from a position of insecurity. Instead of his feeling responsible for her and providing for her, as he would in marriage, he views cohabitation as a contractual arrangement of two independent people pooling their resources. Additionally, a sexual relationship outside of a committed marital bond is forbidden by God in the Bible (1 Corinthians 7:2; Hebrews 13:4). For people who claim to desire an abstinent cohabitation, and the follow-through of that is nearly zero, a question for you: Is cohabitation without sex more likely to bring glory to God or give Satan a foothold in your relationship?
Getting back to our couple…. For probably fifty years or more, this couple has encountered one new dimension of marriage after another, but they stayed the course, and in their old age, they have each other. Wouldn’t it be neat to know how they did it – or what they would consider essential traits for spouse selection? Most people love sharing their stories – young and old – so ask them. If you see such a couple who have had plenty of years behind them and they appear to love and respect each other, ask them what advice they would have for a young couple starting out – or even the traits they think you should be seeking while selecting a spouse. It may fundamentally alter the way you go about doing both of those.
I’m sure as they wake together and go to sleep together they are glad that they didn’t give up in earlier years when it seemed like they would never get it right. What greater reward for faithfully living with and loving your spouse through the hard times than having them by your side in your old age? I can’t think of one… can you?
Have you ever thought about marriage needing practice to be done well?