by Megan Johnson
Parenting is hard. It is a most sanctifying thing for us to see our idols exposed, our fears realized, and our sin habits confronted. Thankfully, many of us have a partner in this gift of parenting! And yet, that in itself is a conflicting mess that is hard, sanctifying, beautiful, and joy-inducing as well!
I love this photo. As I determined to share this as my family photo (even though it’s a little silly) it revealed what I wanted to share with you – prioritizing marriage in the midst of parenting. This photo does not display an anomaly in our house; rather, it is typical. We love that our kids are consistently grossed out by scenes like this. The opposite would be far worse for them!
Disclaimer: We’re not perfect, we don’t always get this right, and you could probably help us too! However, we feel really strongly about prioritizing our marriage above everything else except Jesus – which we see pretty clearly in scripture: “… husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church … ”; we are called the “bride of Christ”; we are told that the “two become one flesh”; and more. Our marriage literally points to the ways in which Jesus relates to us – his Church. As scripture says that the two become one, we know it is both in an instant and it is over a lifetime.
Our children learn about God through our relationship to each other – how to serve, forgive, and love deeply. They learn how to be vulnerable and how to rest securely in being known and loved.
At the risk of being legalistic … Can I share with you some things that we do? Maybe these will spur some ideas in you. Pick one you’re not doing (or you’ve forgotten about since having children) and implement it once this week. For us, these are simple, yet routine, habits that have strengthened our marriage significantly. (I’m not even going to share the intimate stuff!)
- We look at our calendars and ask, “Are we prioritizing each other? Are there spots carved out for just the two of us each week?”
- We go to bed together. This is a really big deal and it is worth it! It sometimes requires compromise on both parties, but as a regular habit it definitely changes everything. Enough said!
- We regularly get away over night (or for a week!!) together. Ryan prioritized making this a habit. You may ask, is it hard to figure out and does it cost us something? Yes! Absolutely, but every choice we make costs us something; the reward has always been much greater than the so-called cost.
- We go on dates (at home or out). Sometimes we have to get creative. For example, one of us might sneak out to get our favorite take-out while the other finishes putting the kids to bed. Then we hide in our room (to eat something that I didn’t have to cook) and watch a movie or talk.
- We communicate daily. This sounds simple, right? But is it really? This has to be more than communicating about ministry (work), scheduling, the to-do list, and kid-behavior; it must be a real “seeing” of each other (even if it’s only for ten minutes). This looks like fun texts back and forth throughout the day, kissing and saying goodbye when we leave each other, and debriefing (specifically about thoughts and feelings) about our day in the evening.
- We build each other up. This is being specific in our encouragement, praise, and adoration of each other. We try to be creative and not just say the same old thing over and over.
Lastly, Ryan and I were at a Ministry & Marriage Cohort a couple of weeks ago. We did two new things that were pivotal. I highly recommend these to you as well.
- We made a Oneness Timeline. We each picked four or five events (from the day we were married until now) that we each felt contributed strongly to our becoming more “one”. These events ranged from big to the seemingly inconsequential but they were “events” where we died more to self, felt loved and known, and joyfully became more whole together. And we got to know each other better through the process of making the timeline!
- We made appreciation lists. We each made a list of 25+ things we appreciated about the other person and then read it aloud to them, looking them in the eyes. As we wrote, things came out that we had never expressed to one another before. It. was. POWERFUL!
Marriage requires vulnerability and many of the ideas listed above can be scary. We can offer our vulnerability (and meet our spouse’s vulnerability with our own) and build intimacy. Or we can tear intimacy apart, little by little (over minutes, days, weeks and then years), by our response, lack of response, or lack of intentionality. Your kids need (and want) you to have a healthy, beautiful, gross-them-out kind of marriage even though they won’t tell you that now.
Get vulnerable. Get intentional. Build something together, by God’s grace, that will last beyond these little kid parenting years.