My husband and I just spent more than 4 hours alone together for the first time in three and a half years. It was pure bliss. An overnight date. Five consecutive meals during which we relaxed, talked in complete sentences, and enjoyed deep conversation as well as moments of quiet instead of fetching fly-away forks and catching children that were falling off their chairs. For five meals straight, no one needed to pee and no one needed a band-aid. It was awesome. We took long strolls and held hands instead of chasing after children running in parking lots. A 30 hour date. Bliss.
Don't get me wrong. We love our kids more than life. We talked about them the whole time and were giddy thinking about how much they would have loved the resort. As soon as we got home I booked another night for this weekend so we can take our kids. It'll be awesome to be there with them.
But it was also awesome to be there alone.
Just a couple of days before we left I was reading my Bible and came across these words of Jesus: "Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest." (Mark 6:31)
Oh, what a sweet invitation of Jesus. The disciples were so surrounded by people wanting to be healed by Jesus, hear the teaching of Jesus, and see miracles that they didn't even have time to eat; so Jesus invited them away with him for awhile to get some rest.
What a gift. What a Savior.
I read those words just a day or two before Paul and I were going away together for awhile, for the first time since before my Mom died, to rest. To reconnect. To sit quietly and hold hands and laugh a lot.
I ached for that time away...we were long overdue that extended time together; and there was the gift of God right in front of me...."Here you go, Rebecca. Come away for a little while, with your Jesus and with your husband, to rest..."
This invitation of Jesus is for everyone. Not everyday...most days we need to stay focused and do the work that God has set before us. But at times, Jesus says to each one of us, "Come away with me...."
Although these words were not spoken by Jesus in the context of a marriage refresher weekend, that was the way Jesus spoke them to me last Wednesday. And I believe that marriage is an appropriate context in which to read these words. Not the only context of course, but an appropriate context nonetheless.
The disciples were working so hard for the Kingdom of God that they were getting tired and needed rest. Maybe they were getting burnt out and Jesus knew that burnout would be destructive for their ministry. It's destructive for our marriages too.
Marriage in and of itself is Kingdom work too. Marriage between a man and a woman points people to the covenant between Jesus and His church. That's really big stuff.
Living within the marriage covenant is hard work...we all know that. But what we often miss is that it's hard work for the Kingdom of God. This is a hard work that matters, eternally.
And sometimes, within that hard work of marriage and raising children, Jesus invites us away for rejuvenation, rest, renewal.
And it is our holy obligation to pay heed and follow when Jesus invites us away for rest. We must remember that He is our good shepherd who leads us beside still waters and lets us rest in green pastures and restores our souls...not just because He wants to, but because we need it.
He doesn't want us to ignore this need, in any part of our lives, including our marriages.
I'm not sure if there is anything we ignore more today than our marriages. We take care of our lawns by hiring fertilizers and aerators. We take care of our clothes by making homemade detergent and taking expensive items to the dry cleaners. We take care of our kids by putting them in every activity under the sun and buying them organic silk almond milk. (btw, what the heck is that??) We take care of our investments and our savings accounts. We take care of our cell phone contracts. We compare prices of our internet services and try to get just the right price at a faster speed. We price shop at every store and take care of our grocery budgets. None of these things are bad....but there's something that's more important yet more neglected than all of them.
It's hard to take care of marriage. It requires far more vulnerability and honesty and intentionality than all of the above. It takes time and relentless commitment. And unlike greener grass or cleaner clothes, the results aren't so visible or so instant.
As always when I write about marriage, I need to pause here, because some of you readers and some of my dear friends have been through the heartbreak of a marriage that has ended. My friend, I'm so sorry. No matter what your story is, there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. And there is no condemnation here in this space. I grieve alongside you. I am here for you, friend. My prayer for you is that you would know the everlasting, never-ending, healing love of Jesus. I know that you know full well the need for us to fight for our marriages.
For awhile last week, as I was anticipating and craving time away with my husband, I kept asking myself why I needed it. Why did I need time away with my husband? Marriages of ages past didn't get "time away" together...why did I need it? Pa and Ma Ingalls didn't get "time away" together or even date nights...so why do I need it?
As I pondered these things, I realized that part of the reason marriages now need "time away" and extra nourishment is because marriage has never been so fragile, under-estimated, and misunderstood as it is today. Never before has marriage been something that you can simply choose to end for no reason. No Fault Divorce has only been around for a couple of decades, so we're really only the first or second generation of married people in our country that are living amongst a cultural attitude that marriage is dispensable. If you don't want it, get rid of it. If it's not working for you, end it. In ages past, ending a marriage was not really an option, so making it work was the only option. Now, we are living in a time when ending a marriage is an incredibly available option, so we have to fight for it more than ever before.
Another thing that came to mind as I pondered my "need" to spend time alone with my husband is that marriages of ages past really did spend more time together than we do now. Now, I'm not totally against all screens and technology (I'm a blogger...screens necessary!), but I do get concerned about how compartmentalized and individualized our families are becoming because of screens. At our house, so many nights after 8:30pm, when four children are tucked into bed, two tired parents each sit down with their laptops or their smart phones and enter into their own little worlds. Sure, we talk here and there or show each other funny or interesting things we come across, but for the most part, we're doing our own thing. Side by side, yet parallel.
Do you know what Pa and Ma Ingalls did in the evenings (at least as far as Laura's memories went)? They sat together. Outside their log house or their earthen dugout, under the stars, the only two people in the world, and talked. Pa played his fiddle and Ma mended her sewing. And they sat, alone and together. Now that's a date. When it was cold outside they sat inside by the fire doing the same thing. Way more peace, quiet, and togetherness than we have now.
Also, they needed each other. In ages past, marriages needed each other. I've written before about how one of the greatest blessings for us in being a single income family is that Paul and I absolutely need each other. We are financially bound to each other, and that is a sweet gift of God.
In ages past, every married couple needed each other. Many years ago, after my one of my grandpa's brothers died, my great-aunt wrote a Christmas letter about all the things she had had to learn to do in that first year without her husband. I was about twenty years old at the time, not yet ready for marriage yet so touched by that letter. I don't remember most Christmas letters, but I'll never forget that one.
She had never written out a check before, or even filled the car with gas. She had spent her married years needing her husband. After he was gone, she was willing and able to learn those things, but how beautiful that while they were both on this earth, their lives were so intertwined that they absolutely needed each other. What a picture of marriage.
And because that deep sense of need within marriage is so lost culturally, we need to intentionally fight for our marriages and take time for our marriages maybe more than ever before.
So then how? I mean, our short time away only lasted for 30 hours, and we might not see another one for three more years. So then how do we make time for each other? We can't even finish sentences or talk without a thousand interruptions. How in the world do we nurture a marriage?
At our most difficult state of marriage, year four for us, Paul's doctor suggested that we both were dealing with some postpartum depression and actually wrote on a prescription pad for Paul to take his wife out on weekly date nights. It was possibly the best "medical" advice we've ever received. We followed that advice with weekly or every other week date nights for a long time. It was wonderful. It was necessary. It was healing. But then more babies came and I quit working.
And since we changed to being a one income family, our date nights have gotten fewer and farther between. But we've learned that not all date nights need to include the cost of a babysitter and a restaurant. Sometimes we turn on afternoon movies for the kids and just have a late lunch of tuna fish sandwiches and doritos all alone at our kitchen table. Sometimes we put the kids to bed by 7:30 or 8:00 and we drink wine and eat cheesecake. Sometimes we can't afford wine and cheesecake so we make a pot of decaf and buy a fifty cent package of peanut M&M's. And we talk and we laugh, and that's good too.
Jesus told his disciples to "Come away with me and rest" because he had so much more work for them to do, and he knew they needed their souls rejuvenated so they could do His work for the Kingdom.
Friends, our marriages are Kingdom work.
Our marriages matter to the Kingdom of God; healthy marriages spur on and grow the Kingdom of God. Our marriages are work, and we have to work at them.
And while Jesus doesn't call us to rest from our marriages, He does call us to rest within our marriages. To come away, together, as husband & wife, in the Name of Jesus, to a secluded place, and rest. Even if that "secluded place" is at your own kitchen table with a bag of doritos, or if it's on your patio with a bottle of wine, of if it's every three years at an overnight getaway...it's necessary.
Jesus extends the invitation not just as an invitation but also as a command, because it matters.
So accept the invitation.