Today, Letty and I celebrate 31 wonderful years of marriage. I can honestly say that we are more in love with each other now than we were on our wedding day (and we thought we were hopelessly in love back then!) My wife is truly remarkable. I marvel at how God has blessed me with a spouse who is so beautiful (inside and out), “faith-full,” and loving. In spite of all of my flaws and sins (which are many), she has persevered in her love for me and grace toward me. Most of all, she is the one person in my life who can “call me to the carpet”; lovingly confront my sins and selfishness, and help me to repent. (Those of you who know Letty – and me – you know these things to be so true). As I reflect on our marriage and all the ups and downs of life we experienced together, I am reminded of one small book that made a huge difference in how we approached our relationship, and how this book also influenced our relationship with God.
The book was, “The Secret of Staying in Love.” It was written by John Powell, a Jesuit priest. Letty and I read this book at the same time (summer of 1978). We had just started dating. We experienced a deep love for each other and we wanted to keep it going. We were looking for ways to love each other well. Little did we know how much this book was going to help us.
There were three things in Powell’s book that greatly influenced how we approach our relationship. I share these with you, not only to encourage you in your significant human relationships, but also to point to our relationship with God – who, in many ways, we are enjoined to in deepest relationship.
1. Vision for One-ness. Powell’s book gave us a great vision for our relationship – to become One, to experience One-ness. Although this was a difficult concept for us to understand (we were both around 20 years old when we read this), there was something about it that appealed to us, that this was a worthy vision to pursue. Instead of thinking, “Okay, if we get married we’re going to try hard not to get divorced (or do things that will cause separation),” our thoughts were, “Okay, if we get married we are going to pursue one-ness in everything: love, thought, action.” Little did we know that such a pursuit of one-ness is the primary concept behind the Shema (Deut 6:4) and Greatest Commandment (Mark 12:30) – which is to love the One-ness of God with totality of being, and to love others in one-ness of self.
2. Communication is the key. Powell stressed that communication was the key to success in a long-range love relationship (and not having things in common, physical attraction, doing activities together, or having great sex). Letty and I established early on the “evening de-brief” – where we devote a block of time for just talking about our day or sharing hopes and dreams or unloading fears and anxieties. We also adopted a “no-secrets-between-us” ethic – which is easier said than done. But the quality of our open, honest communication over the decades is what makes our relationship so strong. The same can be said with our relationship with God: open, honest communication (through prayer, worship, Scripture) is the key.
3. Anticipate changes in seasons. I’m not sure if Powell spoke directly to this, but because Letty and I had a long-range expectation to our relationship we knew that our love as “20 somethings” would look different over the course of time. We knew that there would be challenges in life that would demand an “elevation” in how we love and our expectations in receiving love. We constantly surrounded ourselves with older mentors who could tell us what we can anticipate in the coming stages of life. We didn’t anticipate everything, but we knew enough to keep our focus on God, growing, and persevering during those changes in seasons.
Interestingly enough, the nature of our love transformed over the years: from that of star-struck lovers to the type of love that Paul describes in 1 Cor 13 – patience, kindness, persevering, seeking to understand first, bearing offenses, not self-seeking, believing in each other, forgiving. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still “in love”; actually, just the opposite. As our love matured over the years, our attraction to each other is at an all-time high!
And the same can be said about our relationship with God. As we grow in love with the Lover of our Soul, through a vision of one-ness, priority of open, honest communication, and elevating in our love through seasons of life, we become increasingly inseparable from Him – adoring Him and receiving His unfailing love through whole life worship.