It’s as much art and luck as it is science and skill. I’ve spent 26 years both teaching it in my professional role and practicing at it in my private life and it still confounds me at times. When it works well, it feels like a holy miracle. And when it doesn’t it feels like a wicked trap! I’m talking about marriage.
One of the things I say to young engaged couples is that almost everything in life has changed from their great-grandparents’ generation to theirs. Their great grandparents never owned a cell phone, never used Facebook, didn’t go to Tahiti on their honeymoon and in a million years wouldn’t have dreamed of living together prior to marriage. But one thing has remained the same; couples fall in love and commit to love one another “for better or for worse,” betting their lives on love when all else seems fragile and swirling in uncertainty.
Seventy years ago, Bill and Mary Jean Shoop said “I do” at the First Christian Church in Ft. Smith Arkansas. He preached and she cooked and together they proclaimed God’s radical hospitality. But they did not hoard the gift of love. They lavished it on their children, Gary and Penny, their grandchildren and the congregations they served, including ours, twice.
Much of what we learn about marriage, we glean by standing in the shadows of those who do it well or poorly. I am grateful to have witnessed their mutual affection, respect and devotion to the author of all love. In their faithful partnership I saw in the flesh the words of Colossians:
“clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with one another and , if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other . . . . Above all, cloth yourselves with love. . . . “
But you can come this Sunday, where we will celebrate Bill and Mary Jean’s 70 year marriage at coffee/cookie fellowship at noon and you can ask them yourselves, “what is the secret to a thriving 70-year marriage?”