There we stood. Side by side in front of the bathroom mirror. In our underwear. Brushing out teeth. If it were not for my husband’s more reserved nature and the potential for Internet misuse (not to mention basic Christian modesty) it would have made a great picture for this post.
As I stood there brushing my teeth, I realized this is marital bliss thirty-six years later. This is true romance at the deepest level. Two people so comfortable with each other that mundane daily routines are causes for deep affection. Thirty-six years ago we could never have envisioned we would be standing here like this. Well, we certainly hoped we would be together thirty-six years later, but young love never contemplates the body thirty-six years later. Never could imagine all the miles and all the experiences shared along the way.
I had just finished a session of premarital counseling the day before. I could not help but wish I could have shown them this picture. This young couple is pretty exceptional. They understand, at least intellectually, that marriage is not primarily about romance and that the ideal peddled in movies and songs is a complete sham. But can they really understand how much marriage is about everyday sharing of things like brushing your teeth? After years of being frustrated by Christian books about marriage (I always had to disclaim two or three chapters) I have finally found an excellent one for modern young couples biblically sound and in touch with reality. It is Are You Waiting for the One? by Margaret Kim Peterson and Dwight N. Peterson, published by InterVarsity Press. I highly recommend it. In fact, I am going to recommend that our church’s student ministries program use it for our teens. The message of the book is epitomized in this statement. “Marriage is a school for character. . . an arena in which we can practice the art of faithfully bearing with one another in the midst of all that life brings.”
Further, the Peterson’s offer a very helpful alternative to the often polarizing choices of headship (where the man holds the power) and egalitarianism (where power is equally distributed). They offer the metaphor of teamwork, mutual “cooperation that relies on each other’s strengths and covers for each other’s weaknesses.” No matter what a couple calls their relationship, the reality of everyday life is lived out through teamwork more often than anything else. This is what I saw in the reflection in the mirror that morning—thirty six years of cooperation, teamwork.
Back to the bathroom mirror picture . . . Both my husband and I are in fairly good shape so with the range of possibilities the reflection wasn’t so bad. But it was the simplicity of the reflection in the mirror and all the everyday moments that it represented that got me thinking. Though some authors and some theologians would press husbands and wives into a one-size-fits-all mold, the Petersons’ book was refreshing because it more accurately reveals the reality of what marriage is like. There is no custom mold for marriage. Just as our reflection in the mirror differs from every other couple’s reflection, so the relationship between and husband and a wife differs with every couple. God has created each one of us unique. Two unique individuals joining lives are going to create unique patterns of living together, but always shoulder to should, side by side, navigating one day at a time.
The reflection got me thinking about how very seldom the long-term commitment of two people living very ordinary lives is portrayed in the media. Actually, though many would find fault with some of the material, the television program Modern Family and the marriage of Phil and Claire comes as close as I have seen. Though they are often challenged by cultural expectations of what their marriage should be, they always come to the realization that what it is—comfortable and ordinary but committed and faithful—is really what matters.
The reflection got me thinking. Flowers and gifts are wonderful. Words of kindness and love are precious. Romance is fabulous. But the everyday ordinary acts of faithfulness are the real warp and woof of a marriage that lasts. Taking out the garbage when it stinks, doing a load of laundry when the bin is overflowing, emptying the dishwasher, working in the yard, filling my car with gas when I have not even noticed it is close to empty, reminding me (forgetful as I am) to close the windows on my car, faithfully (and without complaint) waiting for me when one more meeting goes longer than I anticipated, a new tube of toothpaste appearing in my basket when the last one is squeezed to death—all of these are expressions of affection and commitment that are not glamorous but, like our reflections in the mirror they are who we are and what much of life is made up of. The simple things year after year add up to profound trust and deep comfort.
I will not be able to show to the young couple I am counseling the picture of us standing side by side brushing our teeth in our underwear. But I will talk with them about these things—reflections of love that last a lifetime. I can only hope and pray that thirty-six years from now they will be standing side by side brushing their teeth and looking in the mirror, too, and giving thanks for a marriage that is built on love that is demonstrated through the simple, every day acts of sharing life together, side by side.