Last week was a banner week for our family. First, we welcomed a sweet new grandbaby, our 10th! He weighed 7 pounds, 9 ounces despite being three weeks early.
Two days later, we got a new daughter-in-law. Emi’s a sweetheart, too. She and Joseph met when both were serving as lifeguards at Tyler Tennis and Swim. They spent hours watching the pool together, working side by side, getting to know one another, becoming friends. Once the pool closed for the summer, they officially started dating.
Fast forward four years, and now they’re married.
My dear husband had the honor of officiating at the wedding. He did an amazing job (in my totally unbiased opinion). He spoke a few words on the topic of marriage before the happy couple exchanged vows and rings. His remarks were brief but powerful. With Doug’s permission, I’d like to share the following excerpt:
For the Christian, marriage is just one more arena of life where we can honor and serve God. While marriage is certainly an expression of a couple’s love for each other, it is also a reflection of God’s love for us. We see this love described in 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
That kind of love is a tall order for us mortals. It is more than the brotherly love of friendship that Joe and Emi shared that first summer. It is more than the romantic love that they are celebrating today.
It is the self-sacrificing love known as agape love that comes from God Himself, and was demonstrated by Christ when He died on the cross on our behalf. It requires supernatural grace to make it happen. It is the kind of love that has us on our knees daily, praying for strength and help, because we are completely incapable of doing it on our own.
It also looks a lot less like an emotion and a lot more like work. Thomas Edison is credited with saying that: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
I would submit that the opportunity for true and abiding agape love is also often missed because it too “is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Luckily for Joe and Emi, they both know how to work hard. It is a defining characteristic for each of them. Joe has had a steady job of some sort ever since he started a dog-walking business when he was about 10 years old. He is the only one in our family who ever seems to have cash in his pocket, and I find myself borrowing from him on a regular basis. I may be in trouble now that he is moving out!
Emi has held two or three jobs at a time in addition to going to school and dating Joe — even when she played in the marching band in high school and had early morning practices. I’m not sure when she sleeps.
But what does working at love require?
It basically requires the same three elements that enable a person to succeed at any other job: show up, work hard and be nice.
Showing up for your marriage has two parts. First is to be physically present. Many of the baby boomer generation were so obsessed with success that they spent all of their time at their jobs and little time doing other things. Their children, my generation, knew they didn’t want to be all work and no play, so they focused on a balanced lifestyle with lots of sports, hobbies and volunteer work. However, each of these groups often pushed family life to the side, neglecting both their marriages and their children.
Hopefully, your generation will do better, but you face a second and even bigger challenge, that of being mentally present and engaged. With television, the internet, video games and social media of all sorts at our fingertips, people can be sitting in the same room together for hours and never say a word to each other. Your goal will be to find ways to minimize screen time and maximize face time.
The second element — working hard — can take a variety of forms. It can mean working hard at a job to make sure the bills are paid. It can mean working hard around the house keeping it clean or preparing meals.
It might mean helping the kids with their homework when you are tired or planning a special date night or vacation. It might mean setting aside some of your own dreams and aspirations to help your spouse fulfill theirs.
But whatever form it takes, the third element — being nice — is key. All the other stuff will evaporate in an instant if you aren’t nice. Many people have turned paradise into pain with a snide remark or a harsh word. Reality television is rife with such examples.
Conversely, other people have turned the worst of circumstances completely around with an encouraging word or a gesture of kindness. Don’t be afraid “to throw kindness around like confetti,” as the saying goes. No one has ever yet regretted being too kind. Not in marriage, not with their children, not in life in general.
We’re praying God will bless Joe and Emi as they embark on this new adventure of marriage. I’m confident He will, as they look to Him for strength and guidance. May He help them love each other with a supernatural self-sacrificing love, working hard and practicing kindness. Amen.
This summer, Doug and Jennifer Flanders will celebrate 32 years of showing up, working hard and being nice in marriage, all by God’s empowering grace. To read more of Doug’s wisdom, please visit https://alltruthisgodstruth.com.