By Ashley McIlwain
It had been nearly 24 hours since there was any sign of life. All that was left were ashes. Gray. Cold. It never crossed my mind that anything could become of it.
Yet, as I piled some newspaper and kindling wood together carefully in my usual teepee formation, before I could even put the real logs on, smoke began to billow. Flickers of orange started to dance radiantly. Flames licked the sides of my strategically placed tinder. Startled, I stared at the site before my eyes.
How could a fire begin and so quickly from cold, old ashes? It seemed impossible, yet that’s exactly what happened. It was magical.
My husband, Steve, and I were camping at Yosemite National Park, and I was on campfire duty. Having grown up in Central Pennsylvania, I’ve made many campfires over the years, but I was caught off guard by this particular experience. We had made a fire the evening before, but it had been lifeless for nearly 24 hours.
It had endured a cold night, morning dew, and an entire day of the scorching sun. It was literally just a pile of peppered-colored soot. It never crossed my mind that when I placed my newspaper and kindling on it that a fire would rather easily begin. There was something about that observation that stuck with me.
Sometimes what we think is long gone and beyond hope … isn’t.
This perception rings true for too many marriages, sadly. Things start going awry, the flames of love begin to dim, and soon the marriage appears to be extinguished. At that point, many couples walk away from their marriage thinking there’s no hope for it.
In fact, as I witnessed with the pile of ashes from a once roaring fire, the marital flame can burn bright quickly and easily again. I’m reminded of Isaiah 61:3 that talks of how the Lord gives beauty to ashes. All it takes is adding some kindling, and it can ignite again, burning brighter and stronger than before.
So what does it literally mean to add kindling to the marital fire? It means pouring love, time, and effort into the equation. Take time to have meaningful conversations about where you started, where you are, where you want to go, and how you can get there. Date one another. Add some romance and thoughtfulness. Bring her flowers. Leave him love notes. Have fun together. Win the heart of your loved one every day.
Most people forget that at the onset of their relationship, they had to work to win the heart of each other. You didn’t get married because you randomly bumped into each other saying, “Let’s get hitched1”. No, you chose, pursued, dated, and wooed that special someone. Eventually those efforts turned into love and commitment in the form of your marital union.
Well, the work, time, and effort can’t stop on your wedding day. Those same exertions you put forth to capture the heart of your better half need to continue throughout the life of the marriage. If they don’t, the friendship and relationship, the heart and soul of the marriage, dies. You begin drifting away from one another and forgetting the things that made you decide to marry this person.
Just like a campfire, you have to continually throw logs on the fire. You have to fan the flames, and keep the fire burning bright. That means dating, laughing, playing, talking, loving, and living life to the fullest with one another.
Though sometimes we accidentally or neglectfully allow those flames to die down to mere ashes, those ashes still contain the ability to ignite at any time. All that is needed is a little fuel. Affection, quality time, affirmations, and romantic gestures are good ways to start. I know that you have what it takes because you won your spouse’s heart before. Now you have an advantage because you have history, a foundation (regardless of how tattered and shaky it is), and the inside scoop on your spouse.
You’ve learned so much about your spouse through the years, so you have an advantage. When you first started dating your spouse, you didn’t know his/her preferences, soft spots, favorites, and dreams. You didn’t have a history or accumulation of memories made. Now you know so much about your spouse, and you have a wealth of knowledge to draw upon in winning his/her heart. Use that!
You may think that too much damage has been done. But, I am reminded of forest fires. They seem so devastating (and they are), but there is a silver lining – what brings death also brings life. According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, fires are actually “vital to the survival” of the forest. Those fires clean the forest floor which in turn provides sunlight and nourishment to the soil leading to stronger and healthier trees. They also kill disease and insects that “prey” on trees. Some trees need fire “every 3-25 years in order for life to continue.”
Maybe the destruction you’ve experienced in your marriage is now the very thing that will keep it alive. It may provide the very nutrients and nourishment you needed to breathe new life to your relationship. Those experiences and hardships could have killed off the diseases trying to obliterate your relationship forever. Now you’re stronger, better, and healthier for it. You’ve overcome … together!
Before you give up on your marriage, remember that even ashes contain the ability to ignite an intense fire again. All it takes is giving it something to grab onto. Even if it’s the tiniest piece of kindling, you have something to work with. There’s hope!
Don’t give up! There’s still a fire to be had!