We recently enjoyed watching our granddaughter (age 16) and grandson (age 14) finish the Richmond Marathon; her second marathon, his first. My husband had expressed concern that our grandson’s preparation had consisted merely of playing junior varsity baseball and freshman football. I didn’t understand why that wasn’t enough. Earlier, both had won their age group in the Outer Banks Triathlon. As it turns out, my husband’s concerns were legitimate.
In the early stages of the race, our grandson, with his effervescent personality, was goofing off and sending upbeat text messages. When we saw them at the 13-mile marker, they were still in high spirits. Shortly afterwards, we got our last text message saying that his calf muscles were tightening up. Later, his sister reported that he had “hit a wall” around mile 15 and had to gut-through the remainder of the race.
At the 19-mile marker, his mom and dad — having run several marathons ¬¬— knew that he was facing seven miles of unrelenting pain. He was just putting one foot in front of the other, pulled along by his sister’s encouragement. Given her experience and training, she could have left him behind to run a competitive race; we were so very proud that she decided to help her brother keep going, rather than run her best race.
With no more text messages, we were thrilled when the two of them came into view approaching the 26.2 mile finish line. No, it would not have been the end of the world if one or the other or both of them had not been able to finish, but I’m so very grateful they stuck it out together to the end of the race. I am glad that our grandson found out what it means to keep going when you feel like you can’t go any further, and I’m glad that our granddaughter found out how much satisfaction there can be in helping another person to victory.
There will come a time when each of them will need to look back and remember those lessons — particularly when they marry. There will be times in marriage — after the thrill of fiery passion has been dulled by difficulties and stress — when the only thing to do is put one foot in front of the other or to find satisfaction in caring more for someone else’s fulfillment than in your own.
I know there are sometimes real reasons for ending a marriage: abuse and infidelity for sure. But many of the justifications don’t cut it: “We weren’t getting along;” “We’re not in love any more;” “I’ve got to find out who I really am;” or, “People aren’t meant to live together for so many years.”
I have been married to the love of my youth for a very long time. I’ve experienced the highest highs and some pretty miserable lows. What I’ve learned is that some of the conflicts of marriage are not really about the immediate event that causes the flare up of feelings. Looking back on some of the low places in our marriage, neither my husband nor I can remember what started the conflict. What we do remember was that the low times came during prolonged stress — dark days when money was tight, pressures and demands on time and energy unrelenting, or our hopes and ambitions had crashed and burned. Times when it seemed as though all we’d dreamed of had been smashed by circumstances beyond our control. There were times when the whole idea of a fresh start or positive outcome seemed utterly impossible.
No, we did not immediately join hands, draw close to each other, and bravely face our fate. Those times were bleak, and we were knee-deep in despair. Sometimes we hurled angry, hateful, hurtful words at each other. Other times we were distant but maintained a detached civility to each other so as not to embarrass ourselves in front of the kids, family, and friends. Basically, we plodded on — “til-death-do-us-part,” our only option — even though yammering thoughts warned: “This is the way it is going to be the rest of your life.”
Of course, that wasn’t true. The stresses of winter do eventually give way to spring. And with proper pruning and tender loving care, a plant that looks dead can bloom again. We were passionately in love when we married, and with the pruning of forgiveness, love blossomed again, passionate as ever; actually, even more so.
It is strange to look back at those dark times and try to figure them out. Part of it was our own fault: we put a lot of stress on ourselves through our own ambitions, tendency to take on too much, and our pig-headed determination to see our expectations realized. But part of it was circumstances: investments that went belly up, jobs that were lost, the illnesses and deaths of loved ones. Put simply, there were lessons about life that we had to learn: accepting and valuing each other for who and what each of us was, not what we, through the rose-colored glasses of early romance, imagined that the other was going to be; being willing to apologize and ask forgiveness whether it was our turn or not; getting up and dusting ourselves off when fortune didn’t smile or failure knocked us smack on our backsides, and by God’s grace embarking on the painful business of starting all over from scratch when all around us there were others whose lives seemed so much less troubled or when life seemed unfair.
Running a marathon has some lessons for marriage. No matter how easy things are in the beginning, there are going to be difficult periods. But when those times come, if you keep going through the pain, you and those who love and depend on you will drink deeply from the cup of satisfaction that only those who cross the finish line can know.