I wasn’t prepared for what I saw while walking with my dog this morning.
Walking Lucy can be an interesting endeavor. We have learned which houses have dogs that bark at us. She knows when to sachet that little golden-doodle backside of hers past them and when to immediately put me between her and the barkers. We visit every telephone pole and fire hydrant as if she is checking to see which old friends have or have not walked by recently. She has an affinity for zoysia grass, lowering her head like an anteater into the shaggy turf. She frequently squats to marks her territory and has taught me to carry several bags for – shall we say – elimination collection purposes. And, she inspects and investigates every new sound, weed, trash barrel, paper scrap and used Kleenex she comes across with excitement. They are all treasures to her. She doesn’t care if it is raining, sunny, humid, cold, steaming hot or snowing – she wants her walk. She is my work-out coach, letting me know that it’s time to pull my bones out of the house and hit the streets to check on life in our community.
This morning we came upon an elderly couple slowly walking hand in hand. As we got closer I saw the tall, somewhat hunched over gentleman wore a backpack with a transportable oxygen tank and hose. I assumed the tiny woman next to him was taking him for a walk as he recovered from, or endured, some illness or surgery. I put Lucy into “heel” to keep her from invading their space as we walked by. It was then that I noticed the oxygen hose was for the woman. The man was sharing his energy with her by carrying her oxygen on his back and holding her hand while they enjoyed a brief walk on a spectacularly beautiful morning. We exchanged a brief, “Good morning” and smile. Lucy and I kept up our moderate pace, however I spent the remainder of our walk thinking about marriage, partnership, compassion and what it truly means to love another person.
I don’t know if they were a married couple or not. My romanticized guess is that they have known each other for many years. Maybe they shared raising children, having barbecues and holiday celebrations. Maybe they took trips together, or went hiking, snorkeling, dancing or simply shared the day-to-day routine that weaves one’s soul into a beautiful tapestry with another. It’s also very possibly that they met recently, finding comfort and companionship in each other’s company while sharing stories about other loves, dreams and passions that defined their earlier lives.
It doesn’t actually matter what led them to the point they are currently living. What I do know is they have something deeply personal in whatever their relationship is during this chapter of their lives, he shares her burden and she accepts his compassion.
I guess that brings up some questions that should be the gauge we use for all of our relationships:
- Are we there when our friends, children, family, neighbors or spouses need us?
- Do we feel safe when they offer us help dealing with whatever burden we have been given?
- Do we trust those around us enough to allow them the opportunity to hear our stories – even the ones we pretend never happened – and to still care for and about us in spite of where we have been and what we have done?
- Are we willing to let someone walk with us, hand in hand, when we trudge through the muck of life?
- And, are we there as completely for them?
I think of weddings I have been to where people are encouraged to have Christ at the center of their marriage as insulation against the relationship failing. For so many years I thought that simply meant they were supposed to share the same religious beliefs, go to church together and regularly remind themselves that they believe in God. Unfortunately, that superficial approach to marriage is a recipe for failure.
You see, to have Christ at the center of the marriage isn’t about what you say or even about what you do that others can see. Christ enters the marriage when partners trust the other one has their back no matter what. So it is, as well, for partnerships and friendships. Do the people around us feel trusting and at ease in our presence or are they on edge, unsure of what we will say or do? Who do you call for at 2:00 in the morning when the world starts to spin uncontrollably? Who can safely and trustingly call you?
Christ was like a magnet for the lonely, the disabled and the outcast without regard for socioeconomics, ethnicity and gender. His acceptance and compassion, even in the face of broken lives, always led to something exciting and new. The funny thing is, those who were arrogant, seeking power or immersed in their positions were threatened by his message of love. They couldn’t drop their fabricated personas long enough to look into his eyes and realize some things life lures us into just aren’t important.
Christ at the center means living as Christ showed us how to live. It isn’t about saying a certain prayer or following a litany of religious rules. As he said in, Matthew 22:36-40:
‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets.’
God, the author of love, loved the world so much that God sent Jesus to show us how to live as God created us to live. In turn, Jesus loved God and humankind so much that all of his actions were based on those loves.
So, back to relationships, partnerships and marriage…if we live life as Christ modeled life for us, we, too, will love the one who created us and we will love those around us. Another way of reading this is to say we will respect that God created each and every one of us as only God can, full of goodness. When we let that goodness shine, we will be kind, compassionate, loving and trustworthy to all we encounter in our daily lives. That includes our spouses, partners or companions.
You see, relationships don’t end when the behaviors Christ modeled for us are present. Those are the things that draw people together to grow and live life as God intended for us to life it. It’s when selfishness and personal gain become the reason for the relationship that it fails.
The elderly couple knew it. Oh, I’m sure they have had their moments of conflict and frustration. But, they also seemed know how to carry each other’s burdens so completely and with so much trust, that nothing could come between what they had for each other.
And so it is for all of us, by living life compassionately sharing God’s loving ways, as modeled to us by Christ, at the center of our relationships, we have a tangible a plan to use as a guide for our interactions, behaviors and attitudes toward each other.