A few years ago my wife and I were holidaying with some friends on Vancouver Island. We were driving around looking for some off-the-beaten-path point of interest when suddenly we came upon a home with the most amazing garden I had ever seen. Right there in the middle of the road, I put the car in park and, like a moth to a flame, started walking towards the house, captivated by what I saw. My wife and friends found a parking place for the car I had abandoned, and they joined me to stand and admire the beauty.
As we stood there taking in the scene, the couple that owned the home came out and invited us inside the gate to show us around. As we walked, they told us about all of the different flowers, what kind of soil and light they needed, and how they had been working for years to optimise all of their plants. They had been working hard for years and were thoroughly enjoying the fruits of their labour.
As they walked us back to our car, the couple asked me about our garden. I responded sheepishly, “We really don’t have much of one.” Then they asked us who was looking after our garden while we were away from home. I simply said, “I don’t do much to it when I am home, so it never even occurred to me to have someone tend to it while I was gone.”
They had been constantly working their garden. We had constantly been neglecting ours. Both of our gardens reflected the amount of effort we put in. As I thought later, I realized that we both really had the gardens we wanted. They wanted an amazing garden so they worked hard and created what they wanted. I had hopes for a garden like that, but I didn’t want it bad enough to do that much about it.
After working with thousands of marriages I have come to realise that, as long as both partners are willing, people basically have the marriage they want. They may hope for something greater, but their marriages reflect the amount of effort, intentionality, and sacrifice they put into it.
Everyone on your block has the same soil and opportunity for a great garden, but, if you drove through our neighbourhood, you would see the results vary wildly. Similarly, every couple basically has the same opportunity to create a great marriage, but the quality from couple to couple couldn’t be more different. Reading books about gardening is much easier than actually gardening. Reading books about marriage is always easier than communicating with your spouse and pulling up the weeds that choke out intimacy or doing things that nourish the relationship.
As a husband, dad, pastor, homeowner, and friend there are many things vying for my attention. The areas I focus on seem to thrive, and the ones that I neglect, like my lawn and garden, reflect the lack of attention. As a leader, there is no shortage of things you can give your best energy and intentionality to. But if there is one area which deserves your best effort, it should definitely be your marriage. Pastors who don’t have marriages that are thriving can be tempted to think that there are somehow different laws of relationships that apply to them or that they are uniquely busy. Just as those in your congregation have the marriages they truly want, so do you as a pastor.
We now live in a different home than we did when we encountered the expert gardeners from Canada, but not much has changed in terms of our intentionality to our lawn and garden. At the beginning of this summer, the entire family was in our yard. I announced that at some point next summer we would win yard of the month. Everyone looked around our yard and laughed. There is no where to go but up, but yard of the month seemed to border on the impossible to all of us.
Will we finally get around to pulling up some of the old mangled bushes that need to go? Will I fix the few sprinkler heads that don’t work like they should? I’m not sure, but I know that my soil is no different than my neighbour’s, and I have all the possibilities they do. I don’t know if there will be a “Yard of the Month” sign staked prominently in our lawn, but I do know that next summer, we’ll have the lawn and garden we want. It will be a perfect reflection of how much attention and priority we have given it.
Your marriage may have weeds, brown spots, or lack colour, but one year from now, you will have the marriage you want. I hope you don’t get distracted from your goal, and I hope you don’t get distracted from creating the marriage you want: one that would be a blessing to you, give honour to God, and model the love of God for the world and your congregation.
Although you might not be able to write a book about gardening I’ll bet you have taught a great sermon at some point about marriage. I’m sure it was filled with very sound and helpful advice, so you probably don’t have to read another marriage book. You can just put into practice the advice you have given others.