Just weeks before Doug and I were married, we served at a Christian camp together as counselors. While there, we were admonished by one of our fellow counselors for acting “too much like a couple”.
In so many ways, this admonishment seemed to exemplify an unwritten, Christian rule: That married couples should not publicly act like couples. As ludicrous as it sounds, I think this stems from the fear that if we, as a married couple, demonstrate physical affection toward our partner publicly, then we’ll encourage youth who aren’t married to display similar signs of affection toward their significant others. Once youth are engaging in PDA, it’ll only be a matter of time before they’re engaging in sexual sins of some kind.
How messed up is that?
Youth today are exposed to all sorts of sexual immorality – in movies, music, tv, the internet, magazines, books, and even in art. What they lack exposure to are examples of healthy marriages.
Having realized this, several years ago I began to embrace my freedom in Christ and stopped worrying about acting “too much like a couple.” For Doug and I this has meant that we’ve stopped trying to be something that we’re not: Single. Instead, we’ve embraced the fact that we’re married and so we act like it – even in front of our youth. We’re not afraid to be caught holding hands, hugging, or even exchanging a short kiss in front of our kids. Even when we’re traveling with a van full of high school teens, we share inside jokes, laughter, and steal moments away for quiet conversations with each other; We also fight and experience grace and forgiveness from each other.
In some ways, this has become so commonplace to us that I’ve stopped thinking about how unusual it is. Until, that is, Doug and I served as leaders on my youth ministry’s mission trip a few weeks ago.
During the mission trip, Doug and I celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary. As a wholehearted introvert, I truly did NOT want anyone to know about this, lest I find myself in the spotlight, something that’s an introvert’s worst nightmare.
Yet, on our very first night on the mission trip, my other adult leader (the only other person who knew it was our anniversary!) outed us.
Then on our actual anniversary, I returned from my shower to discover flowers by my sleeping bag, a gift from my husband that left all the high school girls oohing and awing over Doug’s sense of romance.
That night, Doug and I walked into the dining hall for dinner to discover a table for two set up for us right smack dab in the middle of the dining room, complete with a tablecloth, candles, real dishes, and a waiter. Later that night, our youth gave us eight “oorahs” – one cheer for every year of our marriage.
As each anniversary surprise unfolded, my kids exclaimed, “That’s so presh!” Meanwhile, I turned a hundred shades of red.
Yet, what I learned was that none of this was actually about me. It was about my kids. It was about letting my girls see Doug romance me and learn that that’s how a guy is supposed to treat a woman, with respect and adoration. It was about letting them ask questions about how we met and fell in love, questions that prompted deeper conversations about Godly marriage in general. It was about letting my kids see how God can use a couple to do his work together. It was about letting them not just see our marriage, but celebrate it with us, something that in an era of increasing divorce rates, not all of my youth have been able to do with their own parents.
The night after our anniversary, Doug and I were talking with one of the staff members who commented how awesome it is that Doug gives up a week of his vacation to go on my yearly mission trip. She then said, “You guys get to serve as a couple and you actually ACT like a couple.”
Those words stopped me dead in my tracks, as I reflected on how not all that long ago, Doug and I feared that behaving “too much like a couple” would send the wrong message to my church kids.
If that’s the wrong message, then I seriously need to reexamine what the “right” message is.
In the meantime, I pray that God will continue to use my marriage – imperfect though it may be – as a powerful testimony of His love for us.