To celebrate our wedding anniversary, my husband and I canoed on our neighborhood river. Due to extremely low water levels, the first stretch was quite challenging, not unlike some stretches of marriage. This was abundantly clear when the stern yelled, “Draw!” and the bow replied, “What’s a draw?” Immediately after, the canoe lodged on a rock.
Getting stuck happens in marriages also. Sometimes we get stuck in sweet places, in a smooth rhythm, in a happy team. Sometimes we get stuck in rocky places, in barren patches and protracted conflicts.
On the water, as we sat on the rock and contemplated our next move, we met a couple of other canoes. One canoeist assured us that we were in the worst section and that the paddling would soon improve. In boating as in marriage, it helps to have others outside the boat providing perspective. Our encourager was right, and shortly after we dislodged, the remainder of the outing proceeded quite smoothly and pleasantly.
Our anniversary on the river was full of marriage metaphors for me. I am not alone in my musings. I once read a novel by Ben Schrank, Love is a Canoe. The two marriages at the centre of the book struggled and foundered, evidence of the difficulty of maintaining healthy, vibrant relationships.
Christian marriages have additional resources. We can draw on Jesus’ model of self-giving love, Paul’s teachings on equal, mutual regard, and the Spirit’s guidance, to name a few. Even so, Christians are not immune to marriage difficulties and break-ups, as many of us know personally. God’s grace holds us in such times, as surely as in happier seasons.
Our personalities and characteristics impact how we journey with our marriage partner. For example, the means to listen to and adapt to one’s partner, and the capacity to release grudges, both play a part in our ease or troubles in relationships. Unexpected events can bring joy or more struggle; either way, we need to respond to what the river brings us. Some of the low-water, stubborn rocks in my marriage came along during years of infertility, and subsequently when we uprooted from our well-established networks to move halfway across the country.
God’s community is another invaluable resource. At our wedding, the pastor imagined that our shared lives would involve mobility and that we would live in different places. “Seek out the church of God wherever you go,” he counselled. “They will support your marriage; they will provide a place for you to belong and shape you as God’s people.” Excellent advice that we have followed, and that has proven to be true.
May I encourage you in your relationships. For those of you who are single, either having never married or are now without spouse, may you have sufficient companionship and joy that your journey feels full and satisfying. For those who are newly married, may there be much fun in the early years of getting to know each other and learning how to work as a team. For those in the middle years, may you have strength and commitment to carry you through this stretch of demanding, multiple tasks at home and at work.
For those who have weathered decades of shared life, may you savour the hard work and pleasures of what has gone before, and anticipate more years of happy paddling, metaphorically speaking. At a church potluck, I once saw an elderly gentleman place his arm around his wife’s waist, as they slowly pirouetted from the table with their plates of food like an elegantly executed dance move they’d done many times. It was a beautiful sight.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.