"It is no idle band, no holiday engagement. He who offers himself a candidate for that covenant comes up, like an Olympian, to the great games, where the first-born of the world are the competitors. He proposes himself for contests where Time, Want, Danger are in the lists, and he alone is victor who has truth enough in his constitution to preserve the delicacy of his beauty from the wear and tear of all these."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was thinking specifically of the covenant of friendship when he penned these ringing words. It should be obvious that they bear an even profounder and more meaningful application to the closest friendship of all, the most powerful and permanent of all human covenants: the covenant of marriage.
Covenant is an extremely important scriptural word. In fact, the case could be made that covenant is what the Bible is all about. It's a word that speaks of a solid, immoveable, unshifting commitment between one man and one woman, a bond founded upon mutual promises made within the context of a solemn ceremony. Time and time again the Old Testament portrays God as binding Himself to His people in a covenant relationship of everlasting love. There's the covenant with Abraham and his family, the covenant with Moses and the Hebrew people, the covenant with David and his royal descendants, and, of course, the Covenant of all covenants – the New Covenant sealed once and for all by the blood of Calvary's cross.
We live in a culture that has either forgotten or rejected the idea of marriage as a covenant. Couples who want to go the distance in their relationship need to rediscover it. They need to come face to face with the realization that the compact into which they've entered is something deeper than a legal formality – that it is "no idle band, no holiday engagement." Statistics verify this point: researchers tell us that one's degree of marital commitment, even when assessed prior to marriage and in the early years of marriage, is closely associated with marital satisfaction and longevity. Those who desire a marriage that succeeds, lasts, and fulfills have only one choice: they must relearn what it means for a couple to embrace a common destiny, burn their bridges behind them, and say, "Wherever we go, whatever we do, we're gonna go through it together."
It's not hard to see the reason for this. Read your Bible and you'll see that covenant is the place where adventure begins. Commitment makes excitement possible. Why? Because when bailing out is an option, the thrill of the challenge falls flat.
Do you remember The Lord of the Rings? Do you recall how Sam Gamgee responded when Frodo proposed to make the trek to Mordor without him? He said, "I made a promise, Mr. Frodo, and I intend to keep it." It's a good thing he did, for without the keeping of that promise the story would have ended before it even began. Ahead lay danger, hardship, pain, and near-death, but because the two hobbits chose to face it together there was joy at the end of their journey.
That's precisely how it works in marriage.
Remember, always act like you're trying to get a second date! Sometimes in marriage we forget that we need to pursue and "woo" our spouse. So dress up a bit. Be polite and open doors. Compliment one another. Be affectionate – hold hands, cuddle and steal kisses. Remember to protect your date night from conflict by cutting off any arguments and agreeing to talk about the issue at a later time.
Step 1: Go someplace different for dinner.
Instead of visiting the same familiar locations and eating the same old food, pick somewhere new or try a different type of cuisine.
Step 2: Pick a date night activity that highlights the excitement of mutual commitment.
- Is there something you'd like to do that can only be done together? Can you think of some activity that simply won't work at all unless the two of you decide right up front that you're both going to stick it out to the very end? Dancing naturally comes to mind – after all, "It takes two to Tango" – but there are other games and sports – tennis, handball, or rowing, for instance – that might fit the bill equally well. An art project might also serve the purpose. The trick in this instance is to replace the competition element with an atmosphere of mutual dedication and encouragement. That's what a covenant is all about.
If that type of date doesn't appeal to you, why not consider the option of renewing your vows – and giving some deep and careful thought to what they really mean. This doesn't have to be done within the context of a formal ceremony. You could make it a completely private affair. Write out what you want to say beforehand. Then, after dinner, go to some place that has a special significance in your shared history – the church where you were married, maybe, or the movie theater where you had your first date, or your favorite stretch of beach or hiking area – and repeat your solemn promises to one another. Talk about how your relationship might change if you were to take these vows more seriously.
Watch a good action/adventure movie together – either something that's currently playing in theaters or a film you can rent or buy on DVD – and spend some time afterwards talking about how the main characters' commitment to one another added spice and excitement to the story and helped determine the shape of the plot.
Whatever activity you choose, remember to have fun! Think about the benefits and rewards of completing the activity together.
Step 3: Relax and unwind.
After your activity, find a quiet place for dessert or coffee to slow down and emotionally connect through good conversation. Answer the following questions. Be sure to keep your responses positive, uplifting and encouraging.
- What was your favorite part of the evening?
- What is the one thing you learned tonight that you didn't know about me before?
- How do you think a mutual commitment to see a shared experience through to the end enhances the enjoyment and significance of that experience? How do you think this principle applies to the promises you made to one another during your wedding ceremony or while renewing your vows?
Step 4: Home Sweet Home
As you drive home, spend time planning your next date. Also, think about additional ways you can strengthen your marital covenant and express your lifelong commitment to one another in the coming week. Once you get home, however, it's up to you what happens next. Have a great final adventure!