There is a popular saying, “I wish I knew then what I know now”. Those who express it have a moment of regret in their past they wish they could go back and change.
My dad died in 2011 within a few months after he and mom celebrated 60 years of marriage together. Those of you who may be old enough to remember a television show in the 1970’s called “All in the Family” might well remember, too, the characters of Archie and Edith Bunker. Archie was a crusty old curmudgeon who was always complaining about something, and Edith was the ever doting, simple wife who would run to refill a glass of tea if Archie was holding it up. I wish I could tell you the number of times friends and family members lovingly teased and compared my mom and dad to Archie and Edith, often followed with words like “I would never…” (fill in the blank of what you would “never” do for your spouse).
Not long after dad died, I remember shopping at a Walmart with my mom. Among other things, she was in need of a new bathroom mat. She picked out a blue one. Mom’s favorite color was burgundy red. “Mom”, I said smiling, “you know you don’t have to get blue anymore. If you prefer red now, you can get red”. I could see her giving it some thought. After careful deliberation she placed the blue mat back onto the shelf and picked out a pretty burgundy red one. I smiled in smug satisfaction, but I wish I knew then what I know now.
My parents had a secret to their long and happy life with one another that many couples these days have either long forgotten or have never been taught. They preferred one another. They purposed to love each other through life. Giving up their own preferences (likes, wants, desires, and sometimes even friendships) they chose instead the heart of the other. They treasured one another! It had only been a few short years before that when I came to their house one day to find them both sitting on the front porch, which is where their romance had began all those years earlier (they were living in the house mom had grown up in). Dad was sitting on the porch swing, and mom was laying down with her head in his lap. I could not help but be struck by their intimacy and the bond they shared.
My mother, far from simple, didn’t run to fill my dad’s tea glass every time he “shook” it because she feared him, she did so willingly because she loved him and wanted to please him. What I didn’t comprehend that day at Walmart was that my mom purposed to love my dad so much that she wasn’t just submitting to his preferences, his preferences had become her preferences, even after death. When is the last time you did something for your spouse simply to please them? Again and again I saw throughout my years the two of them loving each other through all the problems and trials life threw their way. They were far from perfect, but they knew how love could cover a multitude of sins.
Why do so many marriages today end in divorce, or so many relationships never make it to marriage in the first place? I believe it is because we have forgotten or have never been taught what it means to give of ourselves again and again and again, to give up our rights to ourselves and seek the favor of the one we purpose to love instead. We don’t know what it means to treasure our loved ones. Our society is so consumed and focused on “self” that we have long lost the art of true communication with others. When “I” comes first, there is often no room for “we”. We don’t see the needs of our spouse because we only know how to focus on our own needs instead.
That day at Walmart when I encouraged my mom to choose her own color instead of showing preference to my dad, who was no longer with us, I thought I was doing a good thing to encourage her to choose herself instead. I have since learned her secret, the valuable lesson of giving preference, and I have her to thank for that.