Why Small Beginnings Matter in a Lifelong Marriage

I first met Michelle DeRusha a couple feet away from where Beth Moore was lifting Jesus high. We were two honest women who came to Deeper Still, who’ve grown into the deepness of the questions and found God present and as enveloping and as real as air. A phenomenal writer with blazing courage, Michelle is a Brave truth-teller and unwavering Christ-dweller who writes authentic, honest, robust, life-changing words with an ear always turned toward truth and grace and Him — When Michelle first began to write a book about Katharina and Martin Luther, she didn’t expect their 500-year-old story to teach her something about her own 21st-century marriage. Today she pulls up a chair on the farm’s front porch today to share a bit of her own real-life love story and to remind us that in marriage, it’s never too late for small beginnings. I could not be more honoured to fling open the farmhouse’s front door and welcome Michelle…

guest post by Michelle DeRusha

“I get it now,” she says, not meeting my gaze across the table. “I understand why people say marriage is hard.”

I nod, trying to catch her eyes, trying to let her know I get it too.

My friend and I are both parenting teenagers, shuttling them to soccer practice and band rehearsal, debate tournaments and confirmation class; wracking our scattered brains to help with algebra homework; navigating mood swings (theirs) and hot flashes (ours); mastering Snapchat (sort-of).

Parenting teenagers is hard.

My friend and I are both caring for aging parents long-distance.

She recently flew halfway across the country to be with her mother, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

My husband’s father and mother have both died in the last five years, his dad just fifteen months after his mom.

Caring for aging parents is hard.

We are busy with work and family – meeting deadlines, teaching classes, answering email, scheduling appointments, emptying the dishwasher, dashing to Petco for dog food.

At night we fall into bed exhausted yet unable to sleep, unfinished items on our to-do lists pinballing around the inside of our heads.

We feel disconnected and distracted and bone weary.

It’s the season, we tell ourselves.

Marriage is hard because this season is hard. This is what I tell my friend as I sit across the table from her.

And yet I know, for me, this is not the whole truth. I know I cannot look to the current season as the only reason marriage feels hard some days. We are busy, yes. This season is demanding, yes.

But the truth is, marriage isn’t hard because of all I have to do. Marriage is hard because of what I don’t do.

“I don’t prioritize my husband,” I admit. Now I’m the one unwilling to meet my friend’s gaze across the table. “He comes last, after everyone else is taken care of, after everything else is done.”

I say it out loud before I even know I’m going to say it. I confess it before I even know it’s true. And I wonder, as I drive home in the dark that night… What kind of wife puts her husband last?

That declaration, the one I didn’t even see coming, the one I didn’t even know was true? It’s been my wake-up call.

I can’t blame my marital ennui entirely on circumstances or seasons.

I can’t keep putting my husband last and expect my marriage to thrive.

This will sound ridiculous – after all, I’ve been married to my husband for nearly 20 years – but when it comes right down to it, I don’t know how to prioritize him. Maybe I’ve forgotten? Maybe I never knew?

I don’t know how to make him feel special, how to let him know he is important, cherished, adored, loved. I don’t know where or how to begin.

When I walk through the front door late that night, the first thing I notice is the box of Peppermint Joe Joe’s on the kitchen counter. My husband has made the weekly Trader Joe’s run hours earlier while I am out to dinner with my friend. He’s picked up my favorite treat, knowing how much I like one (or two…or three…) with my late-afternoon cup of tea.

I smile in the dark when I spot the slender box, lit by the warm glow from the light over the kitchen sink.

A few minutes later I slip into our dark bedroom. The sheets and comforter are turned down on my side of the bed. The fan whirs in the corner. The window is cracked open an inch. My husband knows I need the white noise to sleep; he knows I like the bedroom cool. I slide under the covers, my cheek on the smooth pillow, my husband’s breathing slow and quiet next to me.

And maybe this is the way…in the small things?

I’m not saying marriage isn’t sometimes hard because of seasons or circumstances. Some seasons are more trying than others. Raising children is hard; caring for aging parents is hard; doing both at the same time can cause cortisol levels to rise and tempers to flare.

What I am saying, though, is that even during hard seasons and challenging circumstances, prioritizing my husband is key. If I desire a rich, fulfilling, thriving marriage, I can’t keep putting my husband last.

My marriage can’t be an afterthought.

“Marriage does not always run smoothly, it is a chancy thing,” Martin Luther said. “One has to commit oneself to it.”

A good marriage requires commitment, and commitment is strengthened through intentionality. But here’s the thing: consistent intentionality can begin in the smallest of ways – in small acts of kindness, small gestures of love, small words of encouragement. A soft touch, a steady gaze, a kiss when he walks through the front door – these can be the small beginnings.

“Not all of us can do great things,” Mother Teresa once said. “But we can all do small things with great love.” The greatness isn’t in the thing itself, but in the love behind it.

He stands behind me, massaging the stubborn knot beneath my left shoulder blade while I rinse the dishes.

In the winter months, when the Nebraska winds howl and the temperature plummets, he warms my side of the bed with his body before I slip between the sheets in my flannels and wool socks.

He always asks about my day, even when he knows it was probably much like the preceding one.

Luther said marriage is a chancy thing, but my husband isn’t taking any chances.

And I am learning how to love with intentionality by working to give, accept and share my love with him, in big ways and small.

I’m not leaving this one to chance.

 

 
Michelle DeRusha lives in Nebraska with her husband and their two boys. She writes about living out faith in the everyday on her personal blog, as well as in a monthly religion column for the Lincoln Journal Star. You can also connect with her on Instagram.

When Michelle’s editor asked her which of the 50 women from her first book she would pick for a full-length biography, she didn’t hesitate to answer: Katharina Luther.

Their marriage was radically revolutionary and arguably one of the most scandalous and intriguing in history, yet five centuries after they said, “I do,” we still know little about Katharina and Martin Luther’s life together as husband and wife. Until now. Martin and Katharina Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk brings the private lives and the love story of this legendary couple into the spotlight and offers powerful insights into our own 21st-century understanding of marriage.

[ Our humble thanks to Baker Books for their partnership in today’s devotion ]

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