The other evening, my husband watched our two-year-old and cooked dinner so that I could lounge in bed and watch Netflix. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t stressed. I wasn’t threatening an if-you-don’t-help-out-now-I’m-gonna-lose-it melt down. And, without divulging the details of our personal life, on this particular night I know he had no ulterior motives. He was simply being—kind.
His small gesture of kindness toward me made me feel so loved. Specifically, I felt honored and valued, even regal—well, as regal as one can feel eating Sunchips out of the bag while crying over “Parenthood” on the iPad. I don’t recall seeing any US Magazine covers with a runny nosed Kate Middleton licking dehydrated cheese powder off her fingers, but I digress.
We haven’t always had an atmosphere of kindness in our home. It is something we’ve had to work hard to establish and maintain. Let’s just say it’s a good thing we lived in the country for the first two years of our marriage so the neighbors couldn’t hear the yelling. As our friend Peg Hutchins is known to say, “it takes some time to become married.”
An atmosphere of kindness in a relationship, any relationship, creates an environment where the soul can flourish. So much of soul care involves silencing the harsh, critical, mean-spirited voices in our head so that we can hear the voice of love and remember that love is kind. When love begins to speak in our hearts and our minds, our souls have the courage to open up, gain strength, and expand. Often, I prepare to see my Spiritual Director by harshly analyzing myself to figure out what’s wrong with me now and what I need to “work on” in order to “grow.” Just as often I leave with an assignment to be kind to myself. Usually she tells me to go take a nap.
Kindness, gentleness, patience—in a word, love—create the fertile soil in which the soul can be cared for well. The toxicity of criticism, judgments, petty jabs, and eye rolls, or worse yet, apathy, make the soul shrivel and retreat. When we take marriage vows, we promise to establish the ideal greenhouse in which the vulnerable soul can flourish. We promise to love and to cherish one another, to hold one another, to stick with each other no matter life’s circumstances, to be faithful to the end. We have made a covenant with one another to be a soft place to land. We will be the voice of love to one another, offering an alternative to the harsh messages that have stuck in us like arrows. In this sort of safe harbor, we can begin to let our defenses down and become our truest self—the self God is inviting us to become.
It is so difficult to hear the gentle voice of love, but it becomes magnified when our spouses speak and live love toward us. I will be the first to admit that I have failed at this, repeatedly, in monumentally, horrifically terrible ways. So has Andy. But what we’ve found to be true is that we weren’t the only ones who made a promise on the day we married. As Andy and I made our vows to each other, God made a vow right back to us. He promised to be the one who held our covenant together. And he has. We have seen him pour out grace on us and turn us back toward each other time and time again. He has been at work cleaning out the toxicity between us and maturing us into people who every day are a little bit better at loving than we were the day before. We in turn are learning to cooperate with his grace.
The marriage relationship, much like the soul, is vulnerable and takes much tending. So I invite us all to consider, how can we honor our marriages as sacred space for forming souls? In what ways we can invite kindness back into our interactions with each other? How can our marriages become “seed beds” for our souls? And while married people have made a promise to behave this way, any loving relationship can create a context for soul care. How can we create a similarly loving environment toward our friends, co-workers, neighbors, and children?
If right now all you can think about is the plethora of ways you and your spouse have epically failed to care for one another’s souls, be encouraged. Tomorrow is a new day. Where you have been faithless, God has been faithful, and grace abounds all the more.