Instead of hosting unmarried friends like we usually do for holidays, Nate and I decided to use the four day weekend Thanksgiving gave us to work on some personal and marital growth. We have had two housemates for the past year and a half. One got his own place this fall and the other married two weeks ago, so we’re experiencing a tiny, tiny bit of an empty nest feeling. There’s been a sweetness to our time together that we haven’t had almost ever in our marriage. The first few years of marriage, for us, felt like holding on for dear life as we moved cross-country multiple times, began and ended jobs, tried to stay afloat in multiple new churches and communities, and dealt with some difficult blows regarding finances, safety, community, and more. Then, when we moved back to Texas into a house with four bedrooms (it’s hard to find a house with fewer where we live), we opened our home quickly to housemates. No regrets, of course. We grew and learned much about ourselves and one another in the process. There were sweet times and difficult times, as there are with every situation in which sinners are pressed up close to one another. But as we enter into a season of just the two of us in relative stability for the first time since we got married, we are excited to see what the Lord might do in us.
Nate suggested we use our four day weekend as a time to do a retreat of sorts, and that’s barking right up my alley and love for Spiritual Formation of all kind. He had some suggestions for the focus and theme of our retreat and I worked through the specifics, schedule, books, etc.. We began Thursday morning and finished Sunday afternoon in time to deck the house with swags of garland (fa la la la la, la la la la).
When I mentioned we were going to do this on Instagram, many asked for the content we’d use. I very specifically tailored it to Nate and me so sharing the content wouldn’t be super helpful to another couple, but if you’re interested, I shared a bit and saved under Marriage Retreat on my story highlights on Instagram. What I mainly want to reflect on here is the benefit of doing something like this for your marriage (Or your future marriage, as I said on my stories. If the Lord has marriage for you, what you’re doing today to invest in yourself will reap benefits in your marriage.).
We are newbs at this whole thing, both marriage and marriage retreats, however I don’t think experience is the primary barometer by which we should measure worthwhile counsel. I am not of the belief that marriage is the pinnacle of Christian maturity, nor the most important relationship of your life. I am, however, of the belief that marriage is one illustration of the gospel, and if we want to be attentive to how we are both emulating and experiencing the gospel in our own lives and we’re married, we should give our attention to caring for our marriages. Doing a marriage retreat is one way we can do this. It doesn’t have to be at some fancy place (we did ours at home), it doesn’t have to cost thousands of dollars (our cost the price of a few books and the State Park day fee for an afternoon spent by the lake reading and reflecting—a grand total of about $60), and it doesn’t have to be the most meaningful weekend of your life. Ours consisted of personal time in the Word and time spent with two Biblical characters who shared many of our similar struggles personality-wise (Peter, for Nate, and Jonah, for me). We worked through Dan Allender’s Engaging Your Story (free, but would have been worth the cost if there was one—we both agreed this was the best part of our retreat). Then we worked through some chapters specific to areas we want to grow in personally and spiritually, and their accompanying questions. We’d spend the afternoon in conversation with one another using questions we printed off from various sources (easy to google). Our aim was to ask ourselves probing questions about our hearts and then to ask/answer one another honestly about how to love and serve one another better when we spot sin or growth in one another’s life.
We turned off our phones except to check once a day, didn’t use the laptop (except to find a recipe and listen to Dan Allender’s talks), spent a lot of time outside, and generally just tried to turn our focus toward one another and God. It was simple, not fancy, not expensive, not earth-shattering.
Any yet, it was so good. We unearthed some habits, sins, proclivities, and areas that have stunted our growth and our marriage. We were able to speak honestly, kindly, and faithfully to one another about the other’s sin and how it affects us. We were able to listen and repent for where we have done wrong. And we were able to laugh and enjoy just one another for four whole days. I don’t only see myself better today, I see Nate better, and I see God’s intention for us as a couple better.
Marriage, for me, has felt more like trying to find a stabilizing place than it has ever felt like thriving. I have felt rocked since the day after we said “I do.” Don’t get me wrong. I love our marriage. I think we have a really, really good marriage and it is all a gift from God, not from anything we’ve done, just grace from Him. But, for me, marriage has felt like getting knocked off a cliff again and again. Like I’m Wiley Coyote and I never learn my lesson. I have felt less like myself since we married than I’ve felt in my life. One of the reasons for that, though, is my desire for fusion between the two of us overshadowed the fact that I am still very much a whole person apart from Nate. This weekend reminded me as much as I’m grateful for the ways in which we’re similar, we are still very, very, very different people. And that’s okay.
This is just my short reflection on our marriage and our marriage retreat. It’s not really counsel or advice of any kind, except to say if you can do it (trade kids with another couple, ask your in-laws to keep them for a weekend, ask for help), do it. You have the rest of your lives together together. You and them and nobody else, not really, not in the same kind of covenant.
One way to avoid having marriage, your spouse, or your family become an idol is by taking time regularly to intentionally see it/them rightly. So take a few days, print off a few lists of questions from the Google, get a book or two, make a schedule and mostly keep to it, check technology minimally, and get outside. Get a reset on how you see your spouse, clearly or foggily, and how you see your marriage, and how you see you moving forward together in God’s kingdom. You won’t regret it.