It was a Friday night. My husband and I had a "date" with two other couples from the small church where we ministered together. One of the couples was about our age, but the other couple, Willis and Betty, was in their late eighties.
We felt a bit awkward at first. How do you get the conversation started with people more than half a century your senior? But soon things began to feel natural as we watched a video and ate caramel corn, shared stories from our lives, and ended the evening with a rousing "hymn sing," which Willis enthusiastically led on accordion while my husband tried to keep up on guitar.
And that was that.
Yet that night jumps out time and time again in my mind as I think about my own marriage. What am I aiming for here? What really is marital "bliss"?
There's a reason for my incessant questioning on the subject. I've realized that one of the causes of conflict in our marriage has been the notion of the "Ideal Christian Marriage." It's a dangerous mythology many Christian women hold fast to. It prompts us to long for a husband who is an enduringly romantic, emotionally expressive, spiritual giant; who prays for and about everything, treats us like royalty, and quotes Song of Songs during nightly lovemaking. It's an ideal marriage of kindred spirits who understand each other at all times, who minister together with dogged determination, who consistently spur each other on in faith, who live adventurous and exciting lives, and who can't ever quite keep their hands off each other.
All hyperbole aside, this idea persists for many women, especially those of us who serve in ministry leadership roles. We can feel at times as if all eyes are on us, as if every aspect of our lives - including our marriage - must be exemplary. And so we allow this unrealistic ideal to take root in our thinking. Then when our marriage doesn't measure up, we feel disappointed, jipped, or frustrated.
This Christian-marriage mythology must be torn out by the roots. Something new, something authentic and human, needs to spring up in its place.
My time with Willis and Betty planted some seeds in my life; new perspectives on what really matters in marriage are beginning to germinate. These ideas aren't flashy, exciting, or even sexy. But they mean something.
Willis and Betty had many adventures in their six decades together. But the proof in the pudding was the thousands of everyday-days they spent together, the "mundane" routine of friendship, the regularly worn path through time that had become constant and trustworthy. I'm learning to recognize the immeasurable value of long-spirited companionship. It's an aspect of love that's undervalued and unnoticed in our world. It's the truly remarkable companionship of those "who have seen the new moon grow old together," as Madeleine L'Engle described in her series of marriage poems, "To a Long Loved Love."