Downsizing # 2
I open the filing cabinet committed to emptying it. It holds many files from my days as pastor. I am fully retired. I don’t really need these files any more. It seems I started at the wrong place. One of the first files has the title “marriage preparation”. Ah. I always loved marriage preparation and officiating weddings. Over the last years Lydia and I were often asked to do marriage preparation as a team. We thoroughly enjoyed doing so. In fact, within the last few months we again had the privilege of meeting with a young couple as they prepared for their marriage.
Cleaning out old files is going to take lots longer than I thought it would. There it is, as I open the file for a quick look. “The flower of intimacy” tool we developed to help couples reflect on the breadth and depth of their relationship. We picture a flower with roots (what each of them brings to their relationship) a center (the relationship they want to build), and ten petals (each one another dimension of a healthy relationship).
Using this image, we invite a couple to reflect, first individually, and then as a couple, on the strengths and perhaps weaknesses, and gaps in their relationship. We help them explore their level of intimacy in each petal – emotional, social, recreational, financial, spiritual, esthetic, physical-sexual, vocational, intellectual, and wider family. This is where so many differences of perspective and expectations emerge. The discussion becomes very lively. Most couples find it very helpful to reflect on this multi-coloured nature of a healthy marriage relationship. Most couples are surprised at the broader scope and breath of intimate possibilities.
But opening that file totally altered my timetable for cleaning out that filing cabinet. I was stopped in my tracks – I think in a good way. Part of this is that we too, especially in our aging, need to keep on reassessing our own intimacy needs and expectations, and the realities of our own marriage relationship. But the other thing that grabbed me was that I experienced a lot of relational and emotional and spiritual intimacy in my work as pastor – intimacies which I now miss.
A flood of gratitude to God blesses these memories. It has been an awesome gift from God to have had the privilege of walking with people through the highest and lowest moments of their lives. Perhaps preparing people for weddings and funerals reflects the incredibly wide scope of a pastor’s deeply intimate involvement in people’s lives. We are so often invited into the most joyful and most painful realities of life – and everything in between. Most people want to be assured that God is accompanying them in their journey. They long for the pastor to hold them in prayer and to pray with them. To be invited to pray with people is incredibly intimate. Yes, I do miss that, even as I give thanks to God for the privilege given me to experience that kind of intimacy over so many years.
My marriage also has been an immense gift from God. I am aware that our intimacy needs do evolve and change over time. Some of the things we once really enjoyed doing together – like tenting and camping – are no longer feasible (old muscles resist getting up from tent floors and old bladders resist repeated nocturnal visits to outdoor toilets). And yes, we kind of need two T.V.’s to accommodate our different viewing preferences. We too need to ponder those flower of intimacy petals to reflect on our own changing intimacy needs. One thing does remain constant. We have always prayed together. That has been a powerful core of our intimate relationship.
I better not open any more of my files.
I may never finish downsizing.