Today we are wrapping up our series on ministry marriage by Sharon Drury. If you haven’t read the first 2 parts, you can find them here – Part 1 and Part 2. We will end this series with the final four practices Sharon has implemented in building a strong ministry marriage.
#5 – Because I Love You Cards
I can’t remember for sure who started this but I think it was Keith. He was a busy youth leader and I was a homemaker. I usually made the bed each day but one day I entered the bedroom and saw the bed completely made and a little note on it saying, ‘Because I Love You.” Sweet! I kept the note for a bit then saw his shoes one day in desperate need of polishing. I shined them and left his original note in the shoes. That started a lifetime practice of doing extra loving deeds for each other just because of love. It was a game of sorts and included doing dishes, putting a couple cookies on a desk, washing a car—things not required but an extra bonus deed of love. Sometimes one of us would forget to return the deed and the other one would make a new card. At one particularly grueling time one of us had collected a dozen cards—we were in BILY debt! These little surprises fueled our relationship. And they were “infectious” too. Our 6 yr old son had seen us doing this over time apparently. One Saturday morning he got up before us and cleaned all the area around our wood stove and when we arose, we found his hand-scrawled “Because I love you” note on a post-it sticker. We still have that sticker reminding us that “more is caught than taught” when it comes to kids. We still surprise each other with “Because I Love You” deeds of love even though we’re retired. We’ve been doing it for nearly forty years and it has still feeds our marriage.
#6 – Praying Together
In a seminar in the 1980s Bill Bright told how he and his wife Vonette would reach out to lay a hand on the other as they lay down in bed, and pray a blessing on the other one—taking turns with one or the other going first. We thought it was a wonderful marriage practice and started copying the Bright’s habit of a nighttime prayer for each other just before going asleep. Praying together in a big crisis or before big events is important, but praying before going to sleep each night has been an even bigger secret to building a strong clergy marriage. We have usually gone to bed at the same time, partly because of this practice. Sure, sometimes are so tired we totally forget. And sometimes one of us falls asleep while the other is praying. But often one of us starts by reaching out to touch a shoulder or head and prays a blessing on the other one. Then that person returns the favor so we both get prayed for as we fall asleep. We’ll pray for courage in a situation the other is facing tomorrow, or for healing from a hurtful experience today, or for wisdom and strength. Bedtime prayers like this worked better for us than a “Bible study” together because one of us tended to drift into “teaching mode” in a Bible study. Instead, the simple practice of prayer drew us closer to God and to each other—like the two corners of a marriage triangle, with God at the peak; the closer I get to God, the closer I’ll be to my spouse.
#7 – Keeping the Fire Hot at Home
But for the grace of God, we could all have a broken marriage! All the best practices in a perfect marriage don’t work if we are too proud to realize we are not above temptation. I remember early on in our marriage when I observed a bikini-clad counselor entering Keith’s office at the Salvation Army camp we ran. She was just “dropping by to ask some Bible questions.” I was totally overcome with jealousy… but worked up the courage to later face my husband and say, “You can’t do that ever again.” Poor guy! He was like a lamb before the slaughter. He had no idea what was really happening. Thankfully, he listened to me. Then he paid even more attention to me after discovering she was involved in a marriage breakup of a minister at that camp a year later. We also realized we needed to bring into our marriage what some spouses go elsewhere to get…fun, creativity, a healthy body, time away from the kids, a good lock on the bedroom door, and an occasional night away at a hotel for just us. We decided the best defense was a good offense for our relationship. So we worked on having good sex and avoided letting our marriage become dull and boring.
#8 – Laughing together
My father didn’t give me much advice about who to marry but I remember one thing he said: Try to marry a funny man. How right he was! And I got a very funny man! We all know that laughing together with friends is a bonding experience; so it is with our spouses. Sometimes we watch stand-up comedy [e.g., Jeff Foxworthy] together just to steal their best lines to use in our own marriage. Or we’ll say a short “inside joke” phrase we both remember that causes us to break out in simultaneous laughter. These phrases become “insider talk” that makes our relationship a kind of secret society of humor. Sometimes it short-circuits an impending argument, like when Keith smiles and says, “Yes, Mrs. Rich.” Then I immediately remember Mrs. Rich’s Pyracanthia bushes at our 2nd pastorate and burst out laughing! Or sometimes I smirk and say “Remember the cowboy hat” and we still, 48 years later, break out in cascades of laughter at that poor gift choice. Sometimes it is just a phrase from a Peanuts comic strip, like when one of us comes home feeling broken and beaten down, the other notices and says, “Poor sweet baby.” It’s a sign my spouse just needs sympathy, not solutions. Of course, laughing together is easier when we both lighten up and quit taking things—and ourselves, so seriously. We humans need to laugh. Many of us find people to laugh with at work or when eating out with friends. It bonds us together with them. So it is with laughing together at home; it bonds us together as a clergy couple—after all, working with church people gives us plenty of things to laugh about.
Has one of the 8 practices stood out to you as something you have found helpful in your marriage? Are there other practices you have implemented that you would like to add to the list? We’d love to hear from you in the comment section.