By Ashley McIlwain
It’s not enough to just get your checklist together and completed for “how to have a great marriage.” Anyone can do that. Anyone can come up with a list of to-dos and check them off one by one. If you really want to improve your marriage … to make it the best it can be, the true key is to understand the why behind those action points.
So many of us complete these robotic checklists in countless areas of our lives thinking they are the path to efficiency and productivity. Whether it’s with our faith – go to church each Sunday, volunteer once a month, pray each day, read the Bible for 10 minutes. Or our relationships – spend 15 minutes talking together each day, go on a date night once a month, do something thoughtful for my spouse once a week. Or perhaps our jobs – take the initiative on a project, spend more time in the boss’ office, be proactive and well-organized. We go through the motions without understanding the purpose behind them. Then we scratch our heads and act confused as to why the mechanical formula didn’t work.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good to do list. Personally those checklists are how I keep myself organized and on track. They can be a great way to figure out what you want and need to do. The list isn’t the problem; it’s just that it’s half the equation. The other half is how we view the list. You see, it’s not the actions themselves that are so important but rather the motivation behind them.
Think of it this way: a house is on fire. The fire company is called, and all of the firemen in the station begin to go through their checklist of things to do in preparation for their task at hand. Quickly they take their positions on the fire engine and speed off to fight the fire. Thanks to their preparation and training they are ready to battle the flames licking the sides of one family’s home. That’s when they hear it: the desperate pleas of a child stuck in his room. The team bolts frantically, yet with precision, to save the child. With passion and vigor, the firemen are able to beat the odds and rescue the frightened child. The home, while severely damaged, is not destroyed, and the family is all safe thanks to the valiant and heroic actions of those determined firefighters.
What does this have to do with anything?
If you talk to a firefighter about their fire checklist – those tasks they must do before taking off to fight a fire – they will tell you that it’s useless if they don’t understand what each tasks importance is in the big picture. Putting on their suits and helmets are what keep them safe and allow them to go places that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. Sliding down that pole instead of taking the stairs shaves off valuable minutes that are needed for rushing to the scene. These aren’t just aimless items to scratch off some list; they are lifesavers, calculated and crucial actions that could mean the difference between life and death.
Ask yourself: would you want a firefighter to hear those sirens go off and nonchalantly go about completing his duties? Get up. Stretch and yawn. Shuffle down to the truck. Oops, forgot his gear. Halfheartedly pulling his weight in fighting the flames. This is absurd, right? No one wants this fireman involved in saving their home or life.
The same is true in our lives. If you have some itemized list of things to do and don’t understand why they really matter, then it’s going to show in how you tackle them. Ultimately they are pointless motions that won’t impact anyone or anything … at least not in a positive way.
Consider this more practical and related example. You ask your wife to cook dinner. She rolls her eyes, complains, and then slides a plate of something somewhat unrecognizable in front of you. She completed her task, right? Or you ask your husband to take out the trash. He mumbles something under his breath, and then drags the bag out the door. He did his job, right? Well, yes, but you’d probably rather she didn’t or he didn’t. There’s no love or blessing in doing something with a bad attitude.
There are so many times we pass up golden opportunities to bless our spouse. To convey our love. To show our appreciation. All too often we neglect to build our relationship and marriage because we opt to tear it down. Maybe we’re too tired, uninterested, or just plain lazy. The reasons and excuses are irrelevant because they are all destructive. We need to seize those moments where we are given prime openings for blessing, helping, and loving our spouse all while strengthening our marriage.
What if we looked at tasks as opportunities? What if we considered them to be marriage saving actions? What if we performed them passionately and with purpose?
Take a moment to think about why you should spend more time with your spouse, joyfully do your household responsibilities, or plan that date night. Those flowers aren’t to merely appease her; they are so that you put a smile on your wife’s beautiful face, make her heart leap for joy, and remind her of the romantic, sweet, thoughtful husband she married. That love note that affirms your husband isn’t just to get him off your back; it’s to start his day off right, to make him feel like the most appreciated man around, and to remind him of why he has the most amazing wife.
Nothing done halfheartedly produces something exceptional. That includes your marriage. It’s not enough to just go through the motions; you must passionately pursue your spouse with purpose and zeal. Put your heart into the things you do for your marriage and family, and you will see the difference it makes.
All of the little, seemingly miniscule and insignificant things we do make up a bigger picture. Making him dinner, taking out the trash, spending 15 minutes a day catching up on your spouse’s day, planning that date night … those are all of the things that make up the lifetime of a marriage. If you want a thriving, healthy, fulfilling marriage, stop going through the motions, and start attacking those to-dos with purpose, passion, vigor, and love.