After our family holiday in France we were home for only a few days before Emily was due to travel with a group of over 60 young people from our church to Newday – the annual Newfrontiers youth camp in the UK for teenagers, Grace was also flying off soon after for her National Youth Choir summer school, whilst Lucy set to busily at home earning some much needed cash with her part-time jobs.
Meanwhile Judith and I had booked a ‘holiday of a lifetime’ in the Maldives! We would be away for nearly two weeks as we had 12 nights in the Maldives and a couple of nights travelling either side.
Now I’m not going to write much about what we got up to there during this time since
- It was deliberately planned as a romantic get-away for the express purpose of the two of us to invest in each other & our marriage
- You can most likely guess anyway
- Most of what we did on a day-to-day basis was rather monotonous to read about if not boring
- We were not bored in the slightest (in case you wondered)
- Some of you already are thinking “too much information”
- It’s really none of your business
However I will say – and this is not something we invented, it comes from listening to godly advice years ago from godly couples a little longer in the ministry tooth (especially Dave & Liz Holden and John & Linda Lanferman) – we have benefited in our marriage by learning to plan time to give to one another, as a couple, especially as children have appeared, grown up and featured in our life together. This has meant some hard decisions and some pain and sacrifice.
In order to have some time each year for Judith and I to be together just the two of us, when the girls were younger (and fewer!) we would sometimes leave them for a few days with another family, offering to reciprocate for them when they wanted to do the same. This way we grabbed a few days together after a conference in the UK for example.
But when children are younger and smaller they go to bed earlier (or at least they should do!) and do not ‘own the house’ in the same way the stake-holder-teenager does. Thus finding time regularly week by week to have quality time together, to talk about us (not family ‘business’ so much), to be romantic and to continue to ‘date’ like we did so easily before we had children, was much easier – in fact we often did not have to think about it, it was a normal part of life to find this time. Also when the children were smaller meeting with others at our home in the evening was not a real problem, we could have people for dinner or hold leaders meetings at 7 or 7.30pm knowing that the kids would be in bed and we’d be free to talk. We’d also most likely be heading for bed by 10.30pm at least. Plenty time for talking about our day, our feelings, for some healthy hanky-panky, maybe even read a few pages of a book, pray together.
As children grow up, they are up for longer, doing homework, needing help with it (help!) and advice about school, friends, relationships, they also often need encouragement, and forms to be filled in, arguments and disagreements over who borrowed what without asking needing prudent arbitration, and… So it becomes harder to fit in time to meet and counsel others, and midweek evening meetings end up starting later, finishing later, and so we get to bed more around midnight. Tired. Physically and emotionally. Frustrated. Not having had time to talk just the two of us. Not feeling very romantic.
So we learnt to implement early on (even when it seemed pedantic or unnecessary)
- a regular weekly sabbath (day off)
- a regular weekly date night
- regular (i.e. at least once a year) extended time away just the two of us
and we are so grateful for having been taught this practice. I remember John and Linda Lanferman telling us how that when they first started out in pastoral ministry the average American Annual Leave allowance was 2 weeks; so they would plan one of these as a family holiday and one for just them as a couple. For us this third element has meant in later years saving and planning to spend some money in order to facilitate time away. We have found that if we stay on the island we are always being interrupted or we are unable to ‘get away’ from thinking about our calling and responsibilities so just don’t rest properly; well meaning people approach us and say “I know you’re trying to have some time off but…” comforting themselves that they are the only ones who have encroached upon your time alone. Jesus evidently felt the need to ‘get away’ from the madding crowd. He went up mountains and to ‘solitary places’ [Mark 1:35-37] and he certainly knew the pressure of feeling that everyone is looking for you!
It can be costly and painful adhering to this however. We have on at least one occasion had to borrow some money in order to have some quality ‘get away’ time like this. As a result we had to go without in other areas which perhaps some couples and families would not compromise on. Sometimes its been painful because in order to have some much needed time as a couple, on a few occasions we’ve had to sacrifice what our children wanted of us at that time. But we’re glad we prioritized this way now. So are our children – we’ve hear them recommending to other parents who seem stressed “You ought to get some time just the two of you – when Mum and Dad do this they always come back happier and we all benefit from it!”
So there is a cost. But the alternative is often far costlier. Sadly we have witnessed not a few couples whose marriages have broken up at least in part because they had such high desires for their children they sacrificed their own quality time as a couple and let issues build up over years. Prioritizing family holidays, Christmas and Birthday presents, big family parties, just-so-homes, the ‘best’ schools – none of which are necessarily problems in themselves – but have often added up to a bankrupt marriage. Often too, the ‘investment’ in children and family has not paid off because now the children have to carry the burden of dysfunctional parents.
Not all stories end like this of course. And God is gracious – so we have seen those for whom He has granted another chance, these often implement a different priority strategy when it comes to the investment of time second time around.
So, our time away consisted of
- lots of fun, romance and you-know-what
- lots of talking, questioning, chatting, praying about what God was saying, doing and guiding us into
- lots of reading of books, listening to sermons and teaching together,
- lots of meditation on all these things
We find when we have time for these kinds of things miracles begin to happen (super) naturally. And so it was that in the Maldives, as we gave ourselves to these things, that God began to really speak to me about how hard my heart had become and how he wanted to cure it.
And He started it off largely through a novel: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Now I’m not the novel type…