Forty Years. One Rule.


Marriage tips spiritual

At dinner on Sunday night, the fortieth anniversary of our wedding, my son-in-law said, “I want some tips on 40.” Pam and I looked at each other, wondering where to start. We offered a few impromptu reflections and shared some of our funniest and most joyful moments. Driving home later than night, Andy’s question still echoing in my mind, I realized that we had offered up our top ten tips on marriage and left off the most important one. Which is, Don’t quit.

There are a ton of things you can do to nurture a relationship, but no matter how good you are at this marriage thing, no matter how hard you work, trouble will come. The seven year itch and the twenty year ditch. In short, you will fail. But that is when the good stuff can happen. In spite of your failure it can happen, as long as you remember the last tip. Don’t Quit.

Here’s why. Your marriage is an actual force in its own right, outside the power of either you or your partner. Two people come together and a third thing is born: the marriage. And that marriage will, from the get go, try to force you out of your little circle so that you can experience what it’s like to live inside something way bigger. It’s the mystery of union, losing your boundaried self–pouring it into this other, opposite self (which is why marriage is used repeatedly in the Bible as the go-to metaphor for divine-human union).

You with me? Your marriage, I mean, has a mind and will of its own, and its will is your ultimate fulfillment. It doesn’t matter if you get married in a dingy JP’s office or a stain glassed cathedral, God will use your marriage to try and change you. (For most of us, it’s God’s best option.) But learning every day how to let your willfulness go is no picnic. It will hurt. You’ll be tempted to blame your spouse for the conflict, when really it’s the marriage trying mightily to work your salvation.

You don’t have to be good you just have to be fierce. Don’t quit. As long as you hang in there, God can work on you. And it is a long, slow work.

Of course there are some marriages where the heat of redemptive conflict turns malign. Then the best and most loving thing we can do is to bring the relationship to a merciful end. But that’s the exception that proves the rule. Don’t quit.


4 Responses to Forty Years. One Rule.
  1. Terrie Wood
    June 7, 2018 | 9:54 pm

    Spot on David…thank you.

  2. Michael
    June 8, 2018 | 12:32 pm

    If you had to pick one rule and only one, don’t quit gets my vote too.

    Kay and I (now close to 46) made a decision early on never to use the D word. Never. She’s the love of my life and I’m the luckiest guy in America. And yes we have had conflict. But if an endruing marriage is a work of art, conflict and reconciliation and growth is the hard work such a creation requires.

    Thanks, David.

  3. Leslie Smith
    June 10, 2018 | 6:23 am

    Dear David (sorry if this a duplicate reply), Thank you. After 12 years of marriage, 5 children, and 3 years in ordained ministry, we asked to meet Bishop Burgess and told him we planned to get a divorce. His simple reply, “You can’t afford it”. Seemed un-pastoral, but it was oh so true. It was his way of saying, “Don’t quit”. This summer Lois and I will celebrate our 58th. So many joys, so many sorrows, so much learned. We are not quitting. Best to you and Pam and St. Luke’s, Leslie

  4. Johnna Fredrickson
    June 13, 2018 | 12:14 pm

    Thanks, David. Happy Anniversary to you and Pam! Dave and I are almost at the 24th anniversary – a lot of work, a lot of fun, and some pain thrown in for good measure. It has sure made life an adventure, and well worth every effort made.

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