A few years ago, Lisa and I took a military transport and landed in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. It felt unbearably hot, even for a couple traveling from Houston. Yet the Navy chaplain escorting us around said, “Congratulations—you wisely came here during the coolest time of the year.”
Trips like this one overwhelm me with the sacrifices our soldiers make on our behalf (if you’re one of them, thank you). Many are separated from their families for months at a time. Their restaurant options 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 at the base 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. He was 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 with each other, when you struggle to persevere and forgive, when you pray and work 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 based on a mutual love for Jesus Christ?
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.
For younger couples, this is an inspiring call to rethink your priorities and double-down on the primacy of your relationship to God first, your marriage second, and parenting third. One of the most important tasks of parenting is demonstrating what it means to cherish your spouse. If you give your kids a warm kiss but your spouse a cold shoulder, they’ll notice. If you speak kind words of encouragement to them in the morning but cruel words of contempt to your spouse in the evening, they won’t define their home as “loving.”
For older couples (or perhaps those on their second marriage), the empty nest years offer an opportunity to take your marriage to the next level. We can’t erase all that our kids witnessed when they were growing up. But we can demonstrate the difference Jesus makes in a marriage when we re-surrender our lives to him, orient ourselves 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 going forward.
Lisa gets this, so one of my favorite things about having our children visit is her determination to make sure our marriage is operating at its finest. In part, that means we are definitely going to have sex the night before they visit. I’ve always been willing to do my part to help make this happen. Taking one for the team, of course…
Whether your children (or grandchildren) live with you or are older and just visiting, 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 the past, but a darker past will only serve as a contrast to a brighter future, glorifying God all the more and pointing our children toward Him as the one who makes all things new.
The empty nest, by definition, is defined by loss. Let’s redefine it by filling that loss with an increasing level of love and cherishing for each other. After all, our marriages aren’t just about us. They’re about so much more than that.