Amazingly, spring is nearly over here in Wisconsin. The tulips and daffodils are long gone and even oak trees have leaves out now. I am climbing out of the hibernation of first trimester—today I’m fifteen weeks pregnant, and I am slowly feeling better. This week was also the last week of my sister-in-law’s fulltime job, and my role as fulltime nanny for my little niece. Evan only has two more weeks of his school year to go. So I’m looking forward to the summer full of more time to write, and hopefully the energy to actually put some words to paper.
This past Tuesday was also our Eight-year anniversary (you can read our love story here). One of our anniversary traditions is to re-read the homily that my godmother, Heidi, created for our wedding. She is such a wise woman, and each year that we return to her words I am reminded of good practices that make a marriage work.
Today, with Heidi’s permission, I’m going to share that homily here (and a bunch of our wedding pictures… so you can feel like you were celebrating with us in Northern Wisconsin back in 2007). The homily is a bit longer than my usual posts, but it’s filled with so much wisdom. She organized the homily around the theme of our wedding, The Four Loves, a book by C.S. Lewis about the four different Greek words that we translate into “love” in English.
Cultivate Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity : A Wedding Homily
by Heidi Johnston, May 26, 2007
Amy and Evan, life-long love does not happen by chance. Any couple here that has been married for any length of time knows this. Love is an art that must be learned, practiced and honed. Every successful marriage that you have observed in your life is the result of two people working diligently and skillfully to cultivate their love. We have learned to love because God first loved us, as exemplified by Christ.
I’d like to submit to you that when you combine the four loves—affection, friendship, eros and charity—through all the stages of life you will go through, you will be able to grow a flourishing, healthy marriage. I want to highlight those four elements of love and charge you both to strive for them with all your heart, soul, and strength throughout your married life.
1. Cultivate Affection. Affection is a love we first learn from our own families growing up. It is a love that acknowledges a need to be loved and to love another. It’s a humble love.
As this love grows it makes you feel comfortable with another. It can a have a tendency, if one is not careful, of taking another for granted. But it’s a love that joins one’s heart and soul to another in marriage. It’s affection that will let you be charitable to one another. And by cultivating it, affection enhances eros-love. If you cultivate this love it will allow you to not ever expect too much from each other. It will let you be able to turn a blind eye to the faults of the other. It fosters in each person the ability to see all the rough edges of the other person, look beyond them, and still see a glimpse of the goodness and gifts of the two of you, that complement each other rather than divide. This is a higher love that desires the good of the other and seeks to bring out the very best.
So cultivate this kind of love by:
First, Amy let Evan know that you need him and love him and need his love in return in special ways that are meaningful to him. Evan, let Amy know that you love her and need her and need her love in return in special ways that are meaningful to her.
A practical way to do this is to compliment each other daily. It’s having this mindset: “Catch your spouse doing something good, then compliment them.” As couples add years, sometimes all they do is catch each other doing the wrong or the bad. Develop the kind of eyes that see the smallest good in simple acts and then say the words…
“Thanks for going to the store.”
“Thanks for your hard work on the yard.”
“Thanks for making dinner.”
“You look good in that outfit.”
“Thanks for staying in shape.”
The important element here is for both husbands and wives to feel special. Evan, Amy needs to know, feel, sense and hear from you that she is cherished! She is beautiful today as she is every day, tell her those words. Words Matter! And Amy, Evan needs to know he’s appreciated…even admired by you. Tell him on a regular basis how proud you are of his work ethic; of his commitment to Christ and always desiring to do the loving thing, the right thing, the honorable thing.
Compliments feel good—both to give and receive. So shower one another with compliments of both the big and little things.
Another way to practice affection is to practice meaningful touch! Affection, in the form of touching, is not only a preliminary to love-making; it is the language that speaks more eloquently than words. It’s the holding of the hand, the arm around the shoulder, the touch on the knee, the arm through the elbow on a walk, or the touch of the hand on the cheek. It’s touches in public as well as hugs in private. You might think now, “Well of course I’m going to do this.” But you’d be surprised how many people out there are thinking right now, “I don’t do this as a ‘practice,’ I just touch when I feel like it.” And many spouses, both men and women, are starving for this love language each day. Meaningful touch is the language of passion.
2. Cultivate Friendship. Friendship is one of the greatest loves. We learn about true friendship in our relationship with God. Friends bring out something in us that we do not see. A best friend is a gift from God. It is a true friend that cares for us when we are sick, it is a friend who encourages us to push our selves to do things we would not normally do.
True friendship is not jealous of the other but is greater because of the other. Friendship in many ways augments your love toward each other. Both of you became friends and as you share and discover the things you have in common, your love and care grows toward each other.
Ideally, husbands and wives are best friends as well as lovers—sharing dreams, interests, fears and hopes. While it is important to have friendship outside of our marriage, it is important to take special care to cultivate friendship in your marriage! So, here’s a couple of tips:
Spend time together! Evan and Amy, one of the great illusions of our age is that love is self-sustaining. It is not. In order for your love to grow it must be nurtured and fostered by cultivating your friendship. That demands unrushed, large quantities of extended time. Studies indicate that marital happiness is highly correlated with the amount of TIME spent together.
So you guys keep scheduling lunches together, no TV nights, or walks on the beach. Heart to heart talks cannot be microwaved on the go.
You can cultivate friendship through intimacy by listening for feelings. “Not really listening” is one of the most fundamental errors that couples make. We tend to interrupt our spouses or be impatient while they are telling a story. But intimacy is cultivated when each partner genuinely, patiently listens not only to the story but to the feelings behind the words. You can help each other if you practice volunteering what you are feeling and not make the other person guess what you’re feeling.
The last thing for cultivating your friendship love is to…explore how God is working in your life regularly. Lack of intimacy can often be traced to lack of spiritual vitality. Never think that the practices you two already do: worshipping at a local church, serving together, nurturing your private practices of Bible reading and prayer, or helping the poor are just afterthoughts.
These practices are the places where God meets us with His presence. When you two share how God has nudged you with His spirit in the course of a regular day, how He opened your eyes to a truth, how He communicated His love and care to you through a friend’s words or a sunset, you grow close.
It takes the conversation from work and school and routines to another level of sharing souls. Have the courage to ask each other on a regular basis, “What’s God been doing in your life lately? In what ways do you need His touch in your life today?” and you’ll grow spiritually intimate. As your friendship with Christ deepens, you will be more ready to deepen your relationship with each other. And it will augment the cultivation of your eros love toward each other.
3. Cultivate eros, the romantic love. Eros love is a passionate kind of love. It is that same kind of passion that makes God relentlessly pursue us. There is no greater intimate love shared between a married couple than Eros. It is a love that God gives between a man and woman that unites body, soul, and spirit forever in a covenant as the two become one flesh in sexual union. It is intended for and God-ordained in the context of marriage. It is a passion and love to be enjoyed that burns in our souls and the desire is only quenched for a time when it is expressed to our beloved.
It is Eros love that can bring a married couple the greatest satisfaction when all the other loves are in harmony. It is a dangerous love because it can bring one’s heart, body, soul and spirit together. When it is honored in God’s sight in the context of marriage, it is beautiful and blessed.
But it can also be what would destroy the very heart, body, soul and spirit in each of you when expressed outside the covenant of marriage. So, Evan and Amy, commit to guard that covenant before God and all those present. In guarding that commitment I encourage you to commit to developing passion and romance in your marriage.
What are the secrets of thriving, happily married couples who want to cultivate passion?
Invest in memories: plan mutually enjoyable experiences! Being married doesn’t mean the fun has to end. I have a motto with regards to money: invest in memories. Successful couples work diligently to build a portfolio of positive experiences with their partner: romantic dinners, trips and vacations, going to the theatre, and long walks in the woods. Go on romantic picnics; have passion-filled kisses. Evan, bring Amy a bouquet of flowers; Amy bring home his favorite ice cream.
Do creative acts of kindness. Always be thinking with one another, “What manifestation of love would register deeply with him/with her?” That kindness, and love will build your marriage. Surprise each other with special notes and special meals. Those things never stop being important.
Passion plummets when a spouse begins to associate their partner primarily with dirty clothes dropped on the floor, barked out orders, or nagging and crying. Passion thrives when couples continue to “date,” after they are married. Again, Evan and Amy, be creative now and let that continue throughout your marriage.
A final word on this: realize, Evan and Amy, to expect the exhilarating peaks of passion to remain constant is an unrealistic expectation, but marriage, in no way requires that passion be put on ice. Love grows less exciting with time for the same reasons that the second run on a ski slope is less exciting than the first.
But many long-term, happily married couples will tell you, the excitement may decrease, but the real pleasure can still increase!
4. Cultivate Charity, the unconditional love. Charity is God’s perfect love toward humankind. And while we are not perfect, we can strive for this kind of love in marriage. A love that consists of all the characteristics is found in 1 Corinthians 13: “love is patient kind, not self-seeking, keeps no record of wrong always trusts, hopes, perseveres.” Charity is a love that allows affection—love to overlook the faults of each other and learn to accept our spouse for who they are and hopes for them and sees all that God sees in them.
It’s the kind of love that allows us to forgive when we have been hurt by our spouse. It is a selfless love that allows both of you to put the other one’s need before yourself. It’s the kind of love that is self-sacrificing. This kind of love calls each of you to be vulnerable to one other, and that builds trust with each other. So commit to cultivating this kind of love in your marriage and you will have a marriage that will endure through the joyful times as well as times of sorrow.
Here are a few ways to cultivate charity in your marriage:
Evan and Amy, you can cultivate charity by practicing unconditional acceptance. The deepest kind of sharing can take place only when there is no fear of rejection or devaluing or minimizing what the other person is going to share. Nothing promotes intimacy more than knowing you are unconditionally accepted, warts and all.
Evan and Amy, practice, becoming others-oriented. Love is not self-seeking. The Bible says it this way, “Place the interests of others ahead of your own.” If you’re going to make any progress in this, you’re going to have to practice this at the most basic level. It’s the opening of doors; it’s a call in the middle of the day for no other reason than to say, “hey.” It’s asking, “What can I do for you,” often and regularly. It’s helping with dinner.
You practice being “others oriented” in mundane ways. It makes life become a “you first” orientation.
It’s mastering the skill of forgetfulness. Love keeps no record of wrongs. You might even call it amnesia. (There are some older people out there right now who are thinking, “I’ve got an advantage here.”) There is a wonderful sentence in the Bible that comes from the mouth of God, “Your sins I will remember no more.” In other words, God says, “Any failure or shortcoming that’s owned up to and admitted by one of my children, I not only will grant that, but I will expunge that from the database of the universe.”
What deeply loving people do when someone fails or disappoints them (and you will fail each other and disappoint one another) is to ask for forgiveness and remember it no more. Evan and Amy, some couples that have been married for a long time have still not let go of mistakes their spouse made, and it’s poisoning their relationship. Keep short lists! Bring up any “issues” caused by words or deeds, get them resolved, and then expunge them from your mind because that’s what love does. Don’t dredge things up. Ask God for help in this; that’s what He does best.
Finally, remember Love always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Another translation says, “Love believes the best.” Love makes a choice to believe the best. Evan, I pray you will believe the best about Amy, and Amy I pray you will believe the best about Evan. You will move towards each other every day with optimism, not pessimism.
The skill required here is relational optimism. If you two really believe there’s a God, and He’s the center of your lives, and if you really believe that His agenda is to transform lives, then we have to believe that He’s behind the scenes in every person’s life.
And so, what that means for you two is that you need to look at each other with eyes wide open wondering, “I wonder how God is working in Evan, or Amy; what is He up to?” God may be preparing him/her for a spiritual breakthrough of some kind. And so, because I want you two to believe that God is always working behind the scenes in your lives, then you can relate to each other with relational optimism. What that means is, that every day–
Evan, you have hope for Amy.
Amy, you have hope for Evan.
Hope that this is only the beginning and it will get better and better. Love always, always, always hopes. Love never gives up. Don’t give up on each other. Love never writes anyone off and never quits on anyone.
And remember, Jesus never quit on anybody. It never occurred to Jesus to write someone off as a lost cause. You and I, we were lost causes and He pursued us, wooed us, until we opened the doors of our hearts.
So I close with this, cultivate the love of Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity.
And spend most of your time cultivating your relationship with Jesus Christ, for He will give you the power and wisdom and endurance to have what people looking in on you would say is a happy, successful marriage.
* Thanks for the beautiful wedding day photos by our friend Britta Wallbaum, our official photographer Jerry Boucher, our wonderful flower and design consultant Kitty Everett, and my dad, Jack Rogers for his beautiful painting the Four Hearts, and the many many friends and family (especially my mother and brother) who sewed and cooked and hung Christmas lights, and cleaned up after we skipped off on our honeymoon in Victoria, British Columbia. And of course thanks to my wonderful godmother Heidi for officiating the ceremony and basically giving us a whole premarital counseling course in her homily. Eight years later and I cannot think of our wedding without thinking of the gifts of time and talents that people poured into that day.*
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