Last fall, I finally got around to weeding the flowerbeds in front of my house after two years of neglect. Boy, what a job! The beds were almost completely overgrown. I had to use a shovel to dislodge the weeds from the soil. After hours of backbreaking work, I finally had everything neat and cleared again. My neighbors were very impressed.
The beds looked great all through the winter. Then at the first hint of spring, the weeds came back all at once–almost worse than before! Silly me didn’t mulch the beds. I had cleared all of the weeds, but hadn’t taken any preventative measures to keep them from coming back. So last week, I was right back at it: breaking up weeds with the shovel and wearing holes in the knees of my pants. You can bet I mulched this time…and took some other measures as well.
As I worked on my flowerbeds, I thought about marriage. The Bible, in the Song of Solomon, says that marriage is like a vineyard. It must be tended regularly to keep it healthy. If you’ve ever worked in a garden, you know the work isn’t easy. There’s the weeding, the fertilizing, the mulching, the watering…and that’s just for starters.
Hollywood portrays this idea that if you can just find the right person–the one who is most romantic, most intuitive, most understanding, most skilled in bed–then you can live happily ever after. And if it doesn’t work out? Well, people fall out of love sometimes. It happens. Back to searching for The One.
Wouldn’t it be nice if marriage were actually like that? Unfortunately, it’s not. It takes work to maintain that commitment–to keep the fires of passion for your spouse burning in your heart–no matter who your spouse is. In other words, you have to tend the vineyard. And to do that, you need certain tools:
I’ve heard people say, “I could never talk to my spouse about that,” or “I’m too afraid to admit what I’ve done.” Not surprisingly, they felt disconnected from their spouses and were mired in troubled marriages. It takes courage to face up to your spouse’s grief. It takes courage to tackle the tough issues. It takes courage to say, “I need help,” “I was wrong,” or “I want to do better.” Marriage isn’t for the faint of heart.
Your spouse is occasionally going to get under your skin. He’s going to make that wrong turn at Albuquerque. She’s going to discuss your embarrassing habits with her friends. Don’t keep a record of wrongs to use as ammunition in your next argument. Work out your frustration then and there and move on. The “I told you so” spats portrayed on sitcoms may seem amusing, but in real life…not so much.
So your husband put the baby’s clothes on backwards. So your wife turned your steak into a rubber puck. Thank them anyway, and they’ll strive to do better. Complain and criticize, and they may leave you to do it all on your own next time. People have an innate need to feel appreciated, and no one enjoys living with an ingrate. Find one thing every day that you can thank your spouse for doing…even if it’s just listening to you gripe about your tough day at work. Few things will improve your marriage more (1 Thessalonians 5:18).
Communication is the water for your vineyard. Stop communicating, and your love will quickly wither. Don’t expect your spouse to read your mind or emotions. No one is that intuitive. Speak up. Be vulnerable and honest. Share your secrets. Marriage is about loving companionship. If your spouse isn’t the first person you run to with your joys and sorrows (after Jesus), you’re no better than roommates.
5. Gentleness and Honor
I’ve combined these two because they go together. When you honor your spouse, you’re treating their feelings with gentleness. Do your coworkers know your wife as “an old bat,” or the woman who makes you smile? Do your friends think of your husband as Mr. Clueless or Mr. Dependable? Don’t speak ill of your mate, either in front of or away from them. Don’t brush off their feelings or say things that may hurt them. He or she is God’s gift to you. Speak to them gently (Proverbs 15:4) and honor them publicly (Proverbs 31:31).
These tools will keep the weeds–of loneliness, bitterness, anger and infidelity–out of your vineyard. However, they must be used consistently to be effective. Some people treat marriage like I treated my flower beds last year. They put in a burst of effort over a few weeks or months to clear the weeds, then discover their vineyard completely overrun after slacking off for a while. The work it then takes to restore the vineyard becomes very strenuous indeed.
For a healthy marriage, gentle communication is a daily exercise. Gratitude is a daily exercise. Honor is a daily exercise. It’s also what Jesus has called us to–in our marriages, in our fellowship with other believers, and in our walk with him. And when we tend our vineyards, people gather and say, “I wish I could have that.” That’s an open invitation to share the gospel. Which may be God’s intention for marriage in the first place (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Are you tending your vineyard?