My husband and I recently celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary—an occurrence most people don’t even get a chance at, and I had wondered if we would get to. Close to the anniversary, by chance I read a novel, watched a movie, and read portions of two books all touching on the theme of the gifts of long-term relationships.
The novel, Crossing to Safety, was about the friendship of two couples, whose marriages, despite severely trying challenges, carry a deep abiding, a kind of oneness, arising from the couple’s commitment to one another. Their long-term friendship also commands attention.
The Netflix movie that arrived at that time was a Chinese movie, Coming Home, about a man who is sent away during the Cultural Revolution but is rehabilitated after it is over. When he returns to his family, he finds his wife suffering from psychogenic amnesia and unable to recognize him. The beauty of the film is how he stays by her. Again there is the abiding, the oneness, the fundamental commitment even in the midst of serious trial.
In the book portions, one, Witnessing Whiteness, about developing cross-race friendships, named the value of being willing to embrace conflict when it arises, staying at the table. Being undefended enough to really listen makes it possible “to find the kernel of wisdom contained within the argument” and to build the kind of trust that sustains a relationship.
The other, Invitation to Love, pointed to the gifts that can come in a committed, long-term relationship with its dailiness. “Difficulties arise,” says author Thomas Keating, “when a committed relationship is succeeding.” When we feel loved, we are more real and our shadow sides emerge. “When a couple bears with each other’s failures, dark sides, and weaknesses, they minister the love of God to each other. Human love is a symbol of God’s love.”
When a theme shows up over and over I take note. I have learned that the struggles of a committed relationship—in marriage, friendship, or work—can be the unexpected wrapping paper for the gifts of God. Sit tight and be sure to give thanks.
What makes a committed relationship? In the messiness of a long-term, committed relationship how might you experience or express the love of God?
How might you be called to stay at the table with God? How has your relationship with God grown?
Merciful God, help us to know the difference between times when we need to sit tight through conflict and pain, and when we need to end the relationship. When it is time to stay at the table, help us to do that.
For further reflection:
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15: 4).
“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13: 7).