So very early on, even before we had children, we started the practice of weekly date nights. We set aside one evening a week for a single purpose: strengthening our relationship, investing in our marriage.
We only had a couple of rules.
• Dinner together was a given; all else was negotiable. Sometimes we went and did a thing together, maybe a museum or a garden or a movie or play volleyball. Sometimes we’d buy a big basket at the grocery store, fill it with all sorts of good food, leave it on someone’s doorstep, ring the bell and run like the wind. Whatever we did, we did it together, and we enjoyed being together in it.
• “Business” conversations were off limits. No making plans, discussing money, solving problems. Dreaming together was good, but not the work of making things happen. This was an investment in our future together, not fixing problems behind us. We had six other days in the week to work on those.
• We did not share our date night with anybody else unless both of us were completely on-board with the idea. Double dates were rare. Less rare was us showing up with a fancy frozen treat from the local dessert shop and knocking on a friend’s door: “We wondered if you could help us? This is too much for just the two of us. Can you help us with it?” Laughter was frequent.
When we started having kids, the subject (and cost) of babysitters came in to play and date nights became even more important. We preferred long-term relationships, so we tried to hire sitters by the quarter. “Yes, we’d like you to babysit our kids every Monday evening for the entire school year, please.” We declined to negotiate the rates down because of the long-term commitment.
Like everyone else, we went through seasons. We’d promised, among other things, “…for richer or poorer…” and we had both of those seasons. So sometimes our dates were at the local hospital cafeteria, or a bagel and a brick of Philadelphia cream cheese at the grocery store, or take a sandwich and go for a walk by the lake, but skipping a date night wasn’t an option.
The hardest year was probably when we were part of a poorly-planned church-planting team in another nation. We were a year into that experiment when I lost my job, so there we were: locked into what we considered an expensive lease on our home, not just unemployed but completely unemployable because of international law, and increasingly depressed at what we saw (what I saw) as failure all around us. We were broke!
We were facing the possibility of having to forego our date nights. Ouch.
In our work with the church, were trying to get a youth group going for the teenagers, and we were talking with the kids about what night of the week to try to do something. Several folks had several ideas, like humans do.
“Not Monday nights!” one of the girls said. “Oh, why not Mondays?” I asked. “Because Mondays is when I’m coming over to your house to babysit so you can have your date night!”
I gasped. I didn’t know that they even knew our situation. We started to argue, when her (single) mom came over and backed her up. “We’ve talked about this, and her mind is set, and I don’t suggest you try to change it. She’s as stubborn as I am.”
She went on to explain that they’d watched our relationship, and even though we’d never talked about it, our young family had been teaching them how to do relationships, just by being us. They wanted to give something back for all that we had (unknowingly) given to them.
So for the next year, this young lady came to our house after school. After dinner, she and the kids would get down to the serious business of playing, while my Lady and I headed out the door for a walk or an ice cream cone or something quiet together.
That was one of the most intense years of our lives (we had kind of a lot going on, doncha know); she may have saved our lives.
But God. God knew. Jesus understood something of what it takes to make a successful marriage with His own bride. Father understood how much work fathering actually is. And I think Holy Spirit just wanted to love on our kids and us.
At the end of that year, very large amounts of raw sewage hit the ventilating device, and we left with our proverbial tail between our legs. That experiment had cost us everything, every dime we had, every relationship but our marriage, and except for this one miracle teenager, it might have taken that too.
A decade or more later, completely out of the blue, back in America again and just beginning to get back on our feet, we answered a soft knock at the front door. Here she was again, now a happily married woman, introducing us to this strong man she had fallen in love with. The look in her eyes when she whispered “my husband” was golden. They had just stopped by to thank us for investing in them all those years ago.
We wept. Maybe it wasn’t all wasted effort after all.
God is SO good. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.