The picture above is of my grandmother Hazel Gredler, and I want to share some family history about her. But first I thought I would share my response to the question I was asked this week – how would you describe the perfect marriage, if you had a magic wand to allow you to make one?
The key qualities are SHARING and ACTION. By sharing, I mean many of the things I have discussed in this blog, and a couple more: RESPECT, HONESTY, TRUST, caring and concern, commitment, intimacy, passion, affection, sex, humor, forgiveness, gratitude, encouragement, and the communication of feelings. You can tell by the bold capital text that I think the two main ingredients are sharing and action. Sharing builds a closeness, and implies a partnership. You are usually either both building each other up, or both tearing each other down. As Pastor Chuck says, it has to be two-way. Someone has to take the first step, forward or backward. You have to give a little to get a little. Which (who) comes first – the chicken, or the egg?
Action means that when you listen to your spouse’s feelings and concerns, when you sit in the pew and listen to the message, when you read an excellent book that has practical steps, when the counselor suggests things to do, you don’t just make a note or nod your head You act on what needs action.
I also capitalized respect, honesty, and trust because they are all essential as well. Without mutual respect, you cannot build each other up. This is the normal respect any person, any spouse would desire. I do not mean the respect that Eph 5:33 is sometimes distorted to describe. This is often taught as how a wife should have fear and reverence for her husband. It’s like the distortion sometimes made of what Ephesians has to say about submission – perhaps a term more appropriate to training animals than building a mutual respectful relationship.
The book Love Busters emphasizes the importance of honesty (see my resources) and there are many ways to deceive, cheat, and betray a spouse with no exchange of bodily fluids. In fact, I suggest those other ways are more damaging to the relationship than illicit sex.
My grandmother Hazel did not have the perfect miracle marriage, any more than I have it. She and her husband Frank were both Unitarian ministers. In the 1930’s, she moved to Reno, NV for six months to establish residency and get a divorce. Back in those days, divorce held much more stigma, especially for two ministers. She initiated it, but recovered quite well, including in her position as a minister. A cousin shared that she was able to place most of the blame on Frank, and perhaps that involved her evidence that she was the more godly one. PRIORITIES are a big part of the perfect marriage as well, and again it appears Hazel’s were a little off. You see, she put many things above Frank. Although in the perfect marriage Frank would be number two, right after God, Hazel’s sons were more important to her than her spouse. But Hazel’s cats were an even higher priority. She would cook a meal for the cats, while cooking nothing for the rest of the family. The bed in one room was to be reserved for the naps of the cats, not to be used by visiting family after lunch. When she had to be moved to a nursing home, she had her cats put to sleep, and the ashes saved to be buried with her. You think she gave more affection, more touch and caresses, as well as more cooking, to her cats than what she gave her husband?
Many suggest that the marriage of Ruth to Boaz is the best example of a successful marriage. After all, they both waited a long time for “the right partner.” Boaz even ended up with a wife half his age – 40 years younger. Ruth loved deeply and selflessly, and even loved her mother-in-law. But I don’t think their marriage was successful because they both waited for the perfect mate. No, it was because they SHARED and they both ACTED together to build the marriage. They probably even spoke up as soon as a needed adjustment became evident. If you wait for the perfect mate you will never get married, and if you fail to act to build the marriage, the marriage will fail. Someone once told me his greatest regret in life was not that he didn’t wait for the perfect mate, or a better one, but that he didn’t work hard enough to build his marriage.
Here are two poems of my grandmother Hazel, on memories.
Sleep, the guardian angel of the blest,
Eludes me. Deep I stare into the black
And murky night. The shapeless shadows rear
Their forms as though they would submerge my being.
Is there no freedom from the torturing thoughts
Of years ago? And yet, dear one, it need
Not thus be so – for hearts are gardens fair
Wherein are flowers whose iridescent hues
And fragrance sweet are like the memories
That fuse within the soul. I will not let
The dark o’ercome me, for I have the beauty
And secret safe-kept things within my breast
That time, nor chance, nor tears, nor laughter gay
Can ever take away, so what care I?
The faint cool dawn will follow lasting night.
I thought I had emptied my Soul of all the Past –
Had swept it clean of time-worn memories –
But now, as pensive night comes on, I know
That I cannot forget. For here, a star,
So clear and sharp against the darkening vault
Of heaven, shines down into my longing heart,
Making the Past I shared with you, come back
Once more to fill my Soul with love and pain!