December 16, 2015

Turtledove Love

Gary Thomas — 

Turtledove Love

Turtledoves are perhaps most famous for their place in what has become a slightly obnoxious Christmas song: “On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me…”

Outside of this song, turtledoves are known for two things:

  • they mate for life (thus you almost always find them in pairs)
  • they have no peripheral vision

Those two realities are connected. Successful mating for life requires a certain tunnel vision.

My own eye condition helps me understand this. A couple decades ago, I was diagnosed with keratoconus a degenerative eye disease that makes your cornea resemble a cone making everything appear blurry. It has gotten so advanced in my left eye that an ophthalmologist told me that I don’t really use my left eye. My brain basically relies on my right eye.

It’s not a big deal, except when I’m biking or running. I have to completely turn my head to see over my left shoulder but most people live with worse medical maladies than this.

There have been a few embarrassing moments, like when I applied for a new driver’s license and was asked to read the letters in the “middle” column.

I could only see two columns and there’s no “middle” in two.

“Is there something wrong with you?” my tester asked.

How long did she have?turtledove pair

For a short season, I agreed to try out a contact for my left eye. After years of having no peripheral vision, it felt like a different world. Walking down a grocery aisle and seeing aisles on both sides felt distracting, like something was coming at me. I was so used to my tunnel vision (plus, I just hated putting something in my eyes every morning), I took the contact out and have lived with my condition ever since. Yes, Lisa hates it that I do this, but I’m more comfortable with my malady than I am with the “cure.”

A similar kind of spiritual tunnel-vision will serve us in marriage. Successful mating for life requires a certain focus and a ruthless determination to ignore “side views.” If you want a fulfilling, turtledove-mating-for-life experience, you can’t be distracted by other affections, flirtations, or “what ifs.” You can’t waste time thinking, “Well, if something happens to my spouse the next spouse I choose would be more like this or that.”

We must look with a singular eye on the marriage and spouse that we have. We must think and act and hope and dream as if the marriage we are in is our only chance at marital happiness.

Because for the vast majority of us, it is.

Being lured away from a turtledove mindset is one of the most subtle spiritual attacks that there is. Most of us would be appalled by actually considering an affair, but “what if” fantasies seem a step removed from actually cheating on our spouse. We don’t want to cheat on our spouse, but what would it be like if we were married to a different spouse? That doesn’t sound so sinful because it’s not about sex, but it can be hugely destructive to a marriage and it obliterates a sacred marriage mindset.

Turtledove-tunnel-vision preserves and serves marriage by focusing on making the existing relationship better rather than fantasizing about an imaginary one.

By definition, marriage-for-life isn’t just a choice to give up all other choices; it’s a commitment to give up even imagining any other choice.

It’s so easy to fall away from each other, to get distracted, or to let outside things become more important than your marriage. In fact, if we don’t fight this drift, it’s guaranteed to happen. Once this process starts, all it takes is time for the slight drift to become a wide chasm.

That’s why we need to be ruthless in our focus. “This is my love, for life. My best chance for happiness is going to come from learning to love her/him the best that I can, fighting through this current distance to remain close to my spouse, in tune with my spouse, investing all my thoughts and energies on this marriage, this relationship, this life.”

Every second spent fantasizing about a different spouse robs you from time spent planning a meaningful time with your real spouse. Instead of ruminating on how someone else’s spouse is superior to yours, pray about how you can become a more committed, more loving spouse yourself. Even if your spouse won’t work on your marriage, you can.

Invest in something that is true, real, and holy and reject any investment in something that is fake or sinful. Embrace turtledove tunnel vision.

This is especially true if your marriage is currently frustrating. The worst time to let peripheral vision steal your focus is when you’re dissatisfied in marriage. During those seasons, you need more focus not less; more commitment and less fantasy. When you’re “rebuilding,” you can’t afford to be haphazard. Don’t even consider flirtations, “what ifs” or “if onlys,” or even non-relational pursuits that threaten your turtledove-mating-for-life.

Throw away the contact, get tunnel vision, stay focused, and put all your energy into making your one marriage-for-life the best that it can be.

Let’s make this practical. Turtledove vision leads us to ask, “How can I make this Christmas the best Christmas my spouse and I have ever enjoyed?”

What gift can you give your spouse that will move them more than any gift you’ve ever given them before? How can you marshal your energy and organize your schedule to make this Christmas a “turtledove” Christmas in which you are more engaged in your marriage, more hopeful in your marriage, more determined to preserve, protect, and rebuild your marriage?

This holiday season, skip the partridge in the pear tree. Definitely forget the nine ladies dancing or the ten lords a leaping.

Focus on the turtledoves. And every time you hear the “Twelve Days of Christmas”—at a mall, on the radio or a coffee shop—let it be a reminder, for your marriage’s sake, that there’s only one day that matters: the turtledove day.

When you subscribe to Gary’s blog, you will receive blog posts directly to your e-mail inbox. You will be one of the first to learn about the latest in Gary’s writing.

11 responses to Turtledove Love

  1. This is a good, but hard truth for those us with whose spouses have serious, chronic mental illnesses. Since my husband was diagnosed with schizophrenia, I’ve been hoping and praying that God will give me another chance at marriage and love someday, since my husband is unable to connect with me or contribute to our marriage.

    It’s hard to have “turtledove vision” in a situation where it doesn’t seem like my husband will ever be capable of loving me back, but I guess that’s what true love is – loving unconditionally, with no expectation of love in return.

    I’d love to read your take on marriages affected by mental illness. There really isn’t much out there that I’ve found for young women in my situation. Thanks!

  2. Love this! 12 Days of Christmas has a new meaning for me! And I thought the five golden rings was the best day! ?

  3. Glad to have you back, even only with “1 good eye”
    Awesome post and it’s great how God can use something like your tunnel vision and have you apply it to a life long marriage example. I will never think of turtle doves the same again.
    Thank You and Merry Christmas

  4. Gary just letting you know you we’re definitely missed.
    Thank you for this wonderful blog, as always you have topped yourself.
    I was raised in the county on a ranch so I have been in contact with wild doves. I’ve heard it said (not sure if it’s true) that when you hear the lonely sound of doves cueing, that dove has lost it’s mate and is having to start over and find a new mate. I have always found that to be sad. That dove has lost its history and is starting over. I love doves and the thought of mating for life. I have always wondered, what do they have that humans are lacking in. Thanks again for your wisdom and insight into what God designed to be for life.

  5. Gary, I hear what you are saying in this blog, but you forget that sometimes spouses become engrossed in other activities at a detriment to their marriage. Both spouses need to remember that the needs of their spouse comes before their own personal enjoyments and/or gratification. It doesn’t necessarily need to be another person, but an activity that distracts them and robs them of valuable intimate time with the other spouse.

    • Here’s the challenge if someone is in a marriage such as you describe: how can you focus on loving that person without imagining what it would be like to be married to someone who paid you more attention? You can spend time and energy thinking about how good someone has it when their spouse is less distracted and more focused on the marriage, or you can spend time and energy praying and working toward a marriage in which you find a way to break through the disinterest or busyness. It’s better to lovingly confront and ask God for the power to “love anyway” than to just give in to constant frustration. That’s what this paragraph was all about:

      “This is especially true if your marriage is currently frustrating. The worst time to let peripheral vision steal your focus is when you’re dissatisfied in marriage. During those seasons, you need more focus not less; more commitment and less fantasy. When you’re “rebuilding,” you can’t afford to be haphazard. Don’t even consider flirtations, “what ifs” or “if onlys,” or even non-relational pursuits that threaten your turtledove-mating-for-life.”

  6. Thank you – Just the words I needed to hear. The Holy Spirit brought me here today. God bless.