In March of 2014, when Lisa and I landed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba it felt unbearably hot, even for a couple traveling from Houston, Texas. And the Navy chaplain escorting us around said, “Congratulations—you came here during the coolest time of the year.”
Lisa and I have gotten to work with the military quite a bit through the years and seeing how the military operates firsthand always overwhelms me with the sacrifices our soldiers make. Many are separated from their families for months at a time. Their restaurant options on Guantanamo Bay make cooking at home seem like a good option. The internet connection brought back fond memories of 1990 (It took me 45 minutes to download a 32-minute podcast). And the “coolest time of the year” felt like walking on top of solar heating panels.
My first assignment was to speak to a youth group on The Sacred Search (making a wise marital choice). Afterwards, an 11-year-old boy asked to shake my hand and said, “I just want to thank you for saving my parents’ marriage. My dad said your book Sacred Marriage held them together, and our home has been so different ever since they read it.”
Lisa (sitting next to me) and I were at a complete loss for words. This boy seemed so young, and so earnest, and so thankful, and it reminded me of a truth every parent needs to take to heart:
Your marriage is about so much more than you.
This kid said his life had been changed because his parents’ marriage had been changed.
When you fight to stay intimate, when you struggle to forgive, when you pray to stay close and to defeat the personal demons that war against your marriage, your fidelity and your very soul, you’re not just fighting for your own happiness. You’re fighting for your kids and grandkids. You’re fighting for the church’s witness. You’re fighting for the glory of God.
People who run first marathons often run for charities, saying, “I don’t want this to be just about me.” They’re willing to endure 26 miles because it means more than mere exercise to them. In our marriages, the stakes are even higher than that. Will we endure, and not just endure, but press in to each other so that we not only stay together, but thrive together and learn to cherish each other in our passion to give the world and the church the joy and example of a sacred, intimate marriage?
If you could have seen how vulnerable that 11-year-old boy seemed, how sincerely grateful he was, you would be moved as much as Lisa and I were.
This holds true even if you’re an empty nester and active parenting is over. You can’t erase all that your kids witnessed when they were growing up. But you can still demonstrate the difference Jesus makes in a marriage when we re-surrender our lives to him, orient ourselves once again around loving him and then loving each other, choose to make our marriage more of a priority, and pray that we can give our children and grandchildren an inspiring picture of mature love.
Whether your children are still at home or now just occasionally come to visit, more than they need a hot meal and clean sheets, they need to see the power of a God-centered, God-empowered mature love. We might wish we could have done better for our children in years past, but we can create a certain kind of marriage that will be the only kind of marriage our grandchildren will ever know we had, the kind they will celebrate and remember long after we’re gone.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I wrote Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage as Lisa and I were becoming empty-nesters. The empty nest, by definition, is defined by loss. But we can redefine it by filling that loss with an increasing love for each other.
The thing is, you don’t have to wait until the kids are gone to start cherishing each other. And the look on that young boy’s face made me more determined than ever to reach every single couple who comes to a conference, every individual who picks up a book, and every single reader who logs onto this blog with the message that your marriage is about so much more than you. As far as it depends on you (absent abuse, of course, when you need to get to a safe place), it’s worth the effort.