“Being in a loving relationship augments our caring and compassion for others, in our family and in our community” – Dr. Sue Johnson, Hold Me Tight, p. 259
This has got me thinking about my great grandparents on my mom’s dad’s side. Mennonite farmers. Small town Manitoba. A very tight knit religious community. (My great-grandpa once got ex-communicated for buying a radio.) They had ten kids, most of whom grew up and stayed in the family’s church. Three left the church – and the priaries – for their own, good reasons. All ten of their children married people they love and cherished. All ten taught their kids to do the same. My great-grandparents lived lean and were poor, but they lived with love for one another.
My grandma Lorraine, who married into that family sixty years ago, adored her mother-in-law. She has often told me that my great-grandma made her feel totally loved. And there was so much evidence of her love for my grandmother. Great grandma wouldn’t let anyone speak plautdietsch (low German) when my grandmother was there, because she didn’t want her to be excluded. And great-grandma learned how to speak English so she could talk to her daughter-in-law.
Imagine that. My great-grandmother always lived among German speakers, but she chose to learn English out of love and compassion.
The sense I get at family gatherings is that everyone in her family and community felt loved by my great-grandmother. And her love made her world a better place. She didn’t just love her kids and inlaws. She loved everyone.
But she loved no one more than my great-grandfather, and he adored her in return. Like two plants growing up a trellis, their marriage to one another was what enabled them to grow towards the sunlight. And by growing, they were able to care for and delight those around them. Now imagine their lives without the trellis of their loving marriage. There would have been less light for them, less growth, less love. With the trellis, they raised ten children and nurtured a community. They lived their faith and died having lived lives of commitment, compassion, and hard work.
That is the most vital message for me, the one that comes the clearest down the generations.
I must love my neighbour, but more than that I must love my wife. I must nurture my child, but there is more to give him when I’ve tended my marriage. Together my wife and I are better people. We are better parents. We are better colleagues and community members. Marriage is our trellis, and our ancestors are our roots.
Because marriage is my trellis, I must always put my relationship with my wife first. Always. If I put myself, or my child, or my clients, or anyone but my marriage first, they will not get the best of me.
This way of being has come down from my great-grandparents, who over ninty years ago, set a trellis in the prairie soil, and grew, grew, grew together in their love and their faith, raising from their roots, around their trellis of marriage, towards the sun.