I love this time of year, don’t you?
Even though the days are getting shorter, I love the cool, crisp air and the changing colors of fall. It’s nice cutting the air conditioning down at home.
Pleasant evenings find my wife, Cindy, and me sitting in the back yard, reminiscing around a crackling fire. I’ve even noticed that we are sleeping a bit closer together!
I’m reminded of a verse in Ecclesiastes. “Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?”
Over the years in pastoral ministry, it has been a privilege to counsel couples in preparation for marriage.
Often I asked them to tell me exactly what it is that they cherish about each other. They would tell stories of how they first met, where they were for their first kiss and other fond remembrances.
I would be careful to write it down. I would then weave their words into the homily for their wedding day. Afterward, I would give them a copy, urging them to read those words again when times get tough.
And you know like I do that times always get tough. There comes a day in almost every relationship when we are so far from one another that the relationship gets cold.
And it is then that we need to warm one another. It’s not just true in marriages, but in most any relationship – friends, neighbors, co-workers.
It’s true also in churches.
Marital therapist, John Gottman, writes, “Fondness and admiration are two of the most crucial elements in a rewarding and long-lasting romance. Although happily married couples may feel driven to distraction at times by their partner’s personality, they still feel that the person they married is worthy of honor and respect.”
That’s why Gottman’s number-one strategy for helping couples in marital trouble is not to plumb their problems with each other. It is to get them, figuratively, to “lie down together.”
Gottman asks them to get close to one another and do one of the following exercises each day to heat up the fondness and admiration they’ve simply become too cold to feel like they once did.
Feel free to try these at home, at church or wherever relationships seem hard:
- Describe one character trait or physical attribute you find endearing or lovable about the other.
- Think of a good time in your relationship and talk about what was so good about it.
- Name one thing about the other that makes you proud.
- Describe one strong value, belief or interest you have in common and why it is important to you.
- Talk about a common goal you once had or could still forge together.
- Describe a time when you felt very supported by the other.
- Tell the story of your meeting and why you decided to bind your lives to one another in the first place.
- Discuss a vacation or play time you remember sharing together and what was so special about it.
- Describe a tough time that you managed to weather together.
You know, Gottman wasn’t the first to counsel this. The Apostle Paul saw this before him.
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure … lovely … admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. … And the God of peace will be with you,” he wrote in Philippians 4:8-9.
Church relationships are not unlike marriages. If you want a church that is filled more with a sense of peace and promise than of problems and pain, think on these things and see if it doesn’t warm up that old fondness and admiration.
Bill Owen is the south central consultant at the Center for Healthy Churches. He served previously as pastor of Mount Carmel Church in Cross Plains, Tennessee, before retiring after 32 years of ministry. A version of this article first appeared on the CHC blog website and is used with permission. His writings can also be found on his blog, and you can follow him on Twitter @owenrevbill.