Yesterday, Patrick and I celebrated our anniversary. It's been eighteen years already... our marriage is an adult. I'm so proud. In some ways the years have flown by so quickly, and in others it seems like the day I walked down the aisle to meet my sweetheart's tearful gaze was a lifetime ago. We have literally grown up together, clinging to one another as we've navigated life's sometimes exhilarating and other times turbulent waters.
Recently, my parents gave me a painting that has hung in their home for many years. It was painted by an artist who lived in the town Patrick and I grew up in. As I was taking it from wall to wall, I decided it would look best above a little chest of drawers where wedding photographs of Patrick and I sit. Looking at the grouping together, I began to notice the lush trees and meadows and then the fence which worked its way into the horizon.
Patrick and I didn't always have clear fences around the flourishing garden of our marriage. As insanely and passionately in love as we were when we married at 22 and 23, I don't think we ever thought to protect our marriage. Love would carry us through anything, we naively must have thought. Divorce wasn't a part of our vocabulary. We would never betray one another.
"Catch the foxes for us,
the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,
for our vineyards are in blossom."
Song of Solomon 2:15
But like a child needs boundaries and guidelines to keep him safe from harm, marriages need fences, too. Within the first few years of our marriage, we learned that neither of us was immune to the charms and attention of another man or woman. It happened to me first. I worked with a man I allowed myself to become to close to... just a friendship I thought. Only I had no clear boundaries. We became far to familiar with one another, spending too much time alone. One day, I realized that although it was never my plan, I had led myself straight into temptation.
I was too fearful to tell Patrick. Even though I hadn't acted on anything, I couldn't believe I had let my guard down and even ventured as far as I had in friendship. Some of the emotional intimacy that should have been Patrick's alone, I now was sharing with someone else. So I turned down a future job opportunity, and thus erected a fence that should have already been in place.
Had I been vulnerable and told Patrick at the time, we would have seen to the tending of many fences. We would have avoided a similar circumstance occurring in his life only a couple of years later.
There is a very sly fox who would like nothing more than for brides and grooms to get so wrapped up in their love that they think they are immune to the spoiling of their vineyards, lush meadows, and blooming gardens. He who seeks to devour the fruit of God's covenantal love is relentless in his desire to put asunder what God has firmly planted.
As our marriage has grown up, we have realized how important it is to tend to the fertile ground of our love. We have erected fences of many kinds. We don't travel or have meals alone with people of the opposite sex. Guarding the intimacy of our marriage, there are some things we only tell each other, some jokes only between us, and a vulnerability cultivated only within the confines of our relationship. Unabashedly flirtatious, we banter with one another, and make sure we are uninterested nerds to everyone else. Even, and especially, spiritual intimacy of a certain level is reserved only for one another, because God's word promotes intimacy like nothing else.
Through the years, we have also learned a lot about watching out for the little foxes that would come and spoil our fruit. Sometimes even "good" things like relationships, ministries, career ambitions and the like can begin to spoil the vineyard. There have been times that God has painfully removed us from a situation or had us build a protective fence in a relationship to help our marriage to continue growing in abundance.
Within the fences themselves, we also have learned to continually cultivate the garden. To water it with time and attention. To shine upon it with the warmth of love and respect. To admire the beauty that God is growing in it, simply laughing, having fun and enjoying it. And to allow Him to prune in areas that have gone a bit wild or aren't producing good fruit.
And then, of course, there is maintaining a fertile ground through physical intimacy. Oh how the enemy tempts us to buy into physical oneness, devoid of a true commitment, before vows are exchanged. Then he tempts us to neglect the gift that it is once we've been married for a while... when life gets in the way. Yet God has created the marriage garden to bloom in safety in an undefiled bed in which we have no fear and are unashamed. Where we can comfort one another and express committed love and intimacy, to the extent which we do in no other relationship.
"My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of spices,
to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies.
I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
he grazes among the lilies."
Song of Solomon 6:2-3
There is some scandalous Biblical authority for you. God has crafted such a beautiful plan for marriage. Wait for it, until it is sealed by vows, and then cultivate it and guard and protect it once it has been sealed. I want a garden that is vibrant and full of beautiful blooms, a respite from the world, that declares God's glory.
Do you, friend? How does your garden grow?
Praying for life, beauty and strong fences in your relationships.