The COVID virus has shaken our world. The levels of uncertainty we have experienced during this pandemic have been stunning. Economic, Social, Physical, and clearly Political. Our daily lives are flooded with constant change and uncertainty. An invisible virus wields power to create panic and titanic shifts in nearly every aspect of our lives. We don’t go to movies. We wear masks. Churches worship digitally. Schools have become distance learning laboratories. There have been unexplainable shortages for toilet paper.
This change was completely unexpected. We never saw this coming. During December 2019 as we celebrated Christmas, there were rumors of a virus in China, but the tidal wave of change coming in the next few months was unseen. The result of such change is the virus has raised our threat radar. And for good reason. It has the potential to cause real harm to the point of death. As a result - of both uncertainty and threat - we often feel out of control. We have had to admit how little control we really have. We feel powerless.
Then right in the middle of this pandemic mess something else unexpected happened. We have had a surprise cosmic visitor. Newly discovered in March 2020, a small (3 miles wide) comet named NEOWISE. A chunk of rock and ice, on a 7000 year parabolic journey around the sun brightens in our skies during the middle of a chaotic pandemic. What timing. It didn’t show up 6 months ago when we might not have noticed or cared as much to notice. It has been a small glowing jewel of beauty in the middle of great stress and trial.
Our scientific knowledge of astronomical events makes a comet appearance like this something we can readily understand. But go back 2000 years in the middle of some catastrophe, and a celestial visitor would likely have been considered “a sign”. We do that as humans. We try to connect the dots. Signs in the sky must be trying to send us a message. Pandemics mush be trying to get our attention. What are they trying to say? We search for some meaning or explanation. We want to understand the why - especially in times of chaos and uncertainty.
I don’t know about COVID or the comet NEOWISE being signs. I am not prophet nor am I the son of a prophet. But such a monumental event can get our attention. They can remind of things that are important and refocus our attention on what is most valuable.
For me as a marriage therapist, the collision of these two unexpected cosmic realities has reminded me of some very important things about marriage.
The truth about sharing life with a partner in marriage is that the unexpected is bound to happen. Sometimes this is as simple as an unexplained mood shift in our spouse, or as traumatic as a diagnosis of a serious disease. Sometimes a surprise can come from external causes such as being fired from a job or they can be the result of our own choices such as the revelation of an ongoing affair. Regardless of magnitude, from small to overwhelming what they shared in common is being unexpected and creating uncertainty. As a result we often feel fear, and insecurity.
We are wired up as humans to respond to threats like these using our fight - flight system. We are created to respond in these ways because we need some form of protection. It is a good system that God gave us. But what can be good, can also become a problem for close relationships like marriage. The fear response can lead to increased conflict and distance. Fighting can cause injury and fleeing can cause distance.
In my book, Revolutionary Marriage, I suggest a response for these unexpected moments of chaos and change. We have to keep our focus on commitment. Commitment brings stability to the unpredictable. Much like the pandemic has cause isolation, withdrawal, and increased conflict - stress in marriage can lead disconnection. When we return to our commitments in marriage the focus becomes on what we know rather than the unknown. Affirming our commitments to our marriage partner establishes predictability and stability rather than chaos.
I am not going anywhere. That’s what our partner needs to hear.
This becomes an anchor point in the storms of life. The storms pass but the anchors provide stability and security. I think this is what God had in mind when the idea of “one flesh” is expressed in Genesis 2:24. That phrase is all about unity. It means to cling or hold tightly because life is going to batter you so you need something to hold on to.
So in what practical ways do I reaffirm my commitments? You live by the principles of “I am here” and “I am present’
I am here means that you live out your commitment by making time for your spouse. Dedicated time. Sacred space reserved just for them. This is all about physical availability.
I am present means that you live out your commitment to your spouse by communicating an open invitation to empathic connection. You choose to be responsive and aware of your partners hopes, needs, fears and concerns. This is all about emotional availability.
Some have done these things in the middle of a pandemic and they have been blessed with moments of deeper connection and intimacy. They have shared in conversations that have increased understanding and provided meaning.
And this is what a comet has to do with marriage. If we anchor with commitment and are open enough to intimacy in the storm we will find some beautiful surprising jewels. People were able to step outside their homes or sit in the yard with the neighbors and catch glimpses of this astronomical wonder. Making time and space for each other, affirming your commitments can result in you seeing something new and beautiful in your spouse.
These experiences are like likely going to surprise us. We can’t manufacture those moments, but just as glowing tail of dust and gas pops into view in the fading twilight, beautiful moments will be experienced in marriage when we make a space and wait for them to happen. We must commit to the process and wait for the treasure.
Audio of this blog can be found at this podcast.