If their marriage were a disintegrating ship, it couldn't have sprung more leaks or taken on more water.
Phil and Ginny went through eight or nine hard years during which they foundered on the shoals of infidelity. They separated, filed for divorce, reconciled, and then repeated the whole cycle, or at least most of it, several more times.
Amazingly, they somehow patched the leaks, drained off the pools of resentment and recrimination, left behind the storm clouds, and rebuilt their marriage to be sturdier and more seaworthy than before. More than four decades into their marriage, a stranger, spotting them on the street and taken by their obvious mutual affection, asked if they were newlyweds.
Not every instance plays out that way. Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy's main work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," includes a chapter on marriage that says, "Hoping and working, one should stick to the wreck, until an irresistible propulsion precipitates his doom or sunshine gladdens the troubled sea" (pg. 67). She knew this firsthand. Her personal experience included both marriage and divorce.
The decision to stay or not stay in a troubled marriage always comes clearer when we first pray. Prayer helps steer us through the turbulence toward calmer, safer waters. Then, whatever the outcome, both parties can find peace.
With Phil and Ginny, even at the worst, one and often both were praying. They were thinking about their relationship and about the impact their decisions would have on their children and on society as a whole. That was a plus. Their decision to stay in a troubled marriage, together with the resolve to pray for harmony, eventually sent out countless healing ripples.
With prayer, even small decisions take on a sweeter tone. Perhaps the success of most marriages hinges less on two or three key decisions, and more on the 10 million or so everyday ones by both partners. For instance, the decision at the end of a long day to listen patiently and deeply, even if it seems the other partner is overdue to take a turn listening. Or the decision to practice appreciativeness, not criticism. Through prayer, we begin to glimpse the capacity God gives us to make better decisions. And we gain the follow-through to act on them.
No decision about marriage is more healing than the kind that, in a sense, duplicates a Bible episode. Christ Jesus at the wedding feast often referred to as the start of his signs or miracles remedied a shortfall of refreshments for the guests by changing water into wine (see John 2:1-11). What was flat and tasteless and colorless was transformed into what had, metaphorically at least, body and inspiration and understanding wonderful helps for any marriage.
Can we welcome the Christ to our own marital altars, even if it is years past our actual wedding date? Can we acknowledge that this transforming power never leaves us hopeless but takes the very thing we might drown in and turns it into a healing inspiration?
The Christ is the spirit of love so evident throughout Jesus' ministry. Christ illustrates that permanent relationship we each have with our undivorceable Maker.
While every aspect of our experience is subject to Christ's transforming power, one very natural starting point, this Bible story seems to suggest, can be one's marriage. When we make the decision to enlarge our awareness of Christ's transforming touch in marriage, for instance, we open the way for spiritual healing in other areas of life.
A passage from that chapter on marriage stands on its own as a prayer: "May Christ, Truth, be present at every bridal altar to turn the water into wine and to give to human life an inspiration by which man's spiritual and eternal existence may be discerned" (pg. 65).
Even what look like reckless decisions of the past a hasty plunge into a marriage, for example have at times been so transformed through prayer that real and permanent love is won. And characters strengthen.
Whether the prayer-based decision is to stay or to go, the tender presence of Christ still comforts, assures, sustains us. And no matter what, we discern more of our spiritual and ongoing existence.