So, what are you shooting for? What does your ideal relationship look like?
- Fireworks, 24/7?
- Unending admiration?
- Faithful support at every obstacle, but not too much advice?
- Just enough laughter, tears at the right moments, and forever the right answer?
- Someone who’s always there, except when you need to be alone?
- Someone who knows what you need, when you need it, without a word being spoken?
- And, of course, a reasonable amount of surprise and excitement thrown in?
This list sounds pretty silly, but this silliness often fills our minds and emotions. With all of the crazy information out there, we can easily get lost in an illusion called The Perfect Relationship. More than any other day, Valentine’s Day puts the pressure on to express the depths of our love in unique and earth-moving ways. Sadly, this pressure and the ensuing expectations often result in disappointment and hurt feelings.
I’m about to turn 51 and Matt and I just celebrated our 26th anniversary. Some would surely think we’ve seen our best years and shouldn’t expect much when it comes to romance. But I can confidently say our marriage is the best it has ever been: comfortable and passionate; strong, but tender.
After 27 years together, we’re both growing up and learning what love looks like and how honor and humility are primary ingredients.
This morning, as I sat by the fire I’d just built, the loud crackling of the burning wood caught my attention and I thought: Isn’t that how we are at the beginning of something or someone new?
Noisy and dramatic and excited?
Everyday details take on new light and warmth.
All of life seems bright and expressive, even catching the attention of others.
But then we think we’re supposed to live our whole life at that intensity. We think the flame is always supposed to be blue and the woodpile stocked. We get nervous if the fire burns down a bit, wondering what’s wrong and if we should jump ship before it gets worse.
I’ve learned – after years of messed up thinking and working on my own list of ‘ideals’ – there are many stages to relationships and marriage, each one being important to the whole. Although analogies are rarely perfect, I’d like to use this picture of a fire to make a few points on how to maneuver our way through and value what’s really valuable.
We have heated our home with a woodstove for 26 years, only turning on the furnace when going out of town in the winter. We often start a fire in the fall and keep it going for months.
While the first fire of the season is exciting and especially fun to watch, the real heat is produced when the flames burn down and a hot bed of coals takes its place.
My husband is a stone mason and has built many, many fireplaces in the last 30 years. A few years ago he put a new fireplace in a hotel lobby. In conversation he learned they planned to burn it 24 hours a day at a blue flame – to keep a certain atmosphere for the guests. While this sounds plausible, Matt has been called back twice to replace firebrick that couldn’t take the constant high heat. They’ve also realized the immense amount of wood it takes to keep the fire going.
There is a cost to such lofty demands.
Trying to keep a relationship forever in the first flames of attraction will be fun for a while, even appearing desirable to onlookers. But damage to the structure of the relationship is inevitable. No one can carry such a load. And no amount of imagination can keep that “wood box” full of new ideas to excite and entertain.
There’s a part of us that likes the showy, crackling flames of romance. But real love shows itself in a hot, slow burning bed of coals. If you learn to appreciate it, you’ll know to add wood and keep it going instead of despising the quiet flame and letting it go out.
But even low, heat-generating fires produce soot and ash that periodically need to be cleaned out. Life and love have a way of bringing up hidden issues in everyone. We have to decide if our issues are more important than the relationship.
- Will we allow the fire to go out to protect our own self-interests?
- Or will we allow our love for one another to burn away what is temporary and self-serving?
Again, every fire produces ash and every relationship or marriage produces debris. But I’ve learned something about ashes: Many times when I’m cleaning out the stove, it appears they are stone cold – and you would think they’d be after sitting for a few days. Yet, as I shovel out scoop after scoop, I start to see red sparks and glowing embers underneath. If I hold my hand real close, I’ll feel heat still smoldering unseen. No, it’s not enough to burst into flame with one log thrown in. It takes care and patience, paper and kindling and kindness to convince it to rekindle. But it’s still alive.
When issues need to be taken care of in your marriage, don’t be hurt or disappointed or wonder why. Although ashes are part of the journey, they are a very small part. The warmth and comfort and pleasure far outweigh the scooping.
I think of Matt and I. We’ve had bright, crackling flames and piles of cold ashes. Now we’ve found the joy of a hot bed of coals and keeping the fire going. Mistakes, hurt, prayer, humility, and deep thanksgiving have all been a part of our journey. They are a part of every journey, but it is worth every mile.
No matter your age or what stage of marriage you find yourself, don’t go for the outward show, but the inward glow. Go for the hot coals that burst into flame at any log thrown in. They will heat a home and warm those around you in the process.