333 years of marriageOn Sunday, July 15th, John and Sherry Londres were interviewed at our evening meeting at 3800 Marlton Pike. The title of the interview was “How to stay married for 33 years” but John objected to the title, wisely. “This is what worked for us but I don’t know if it will work for anyone else. In fact I know that if they do exactly what we did they will certainly fail, because every couple is different.” John is exactly right but we have to give some authority to those among us who have made it so far in marriage. John and Sherry are rare birds, so we watch them, holding our breath at their beauty as we peer through the jungle of divorce and disillusionment to behold them. To honor them and learn form them I distilled three lessons they taught us.

Use your whole brain

In 1994, John learned about the concept of right brain and left brain. The right brain is more thinking and reasoning and the left brain is more emoting and intuiting. (This is an oversimplification but John had a simple point). Sherry had put his ring on his left hand when they got married 10 years before. The only reason he had heard for the left hand placement was the left hand’s proximity to the heart. John realized that his left brain love for Sherry would ebb and flow but he could trust it. He didn’t really need a left brain reminder to love her. He needed a right brain reminder. He needed a reminder to be intentional about loving her. He couldn’t forget to feel for her, but he could forget to love her well. He wanted a reminder for all the intentions he had for relating to her. So after 10 years of learning what he needed to remember, John switched his ring to his right hand and has worn it there ever since.

I think this is a great example of how to use our rituals. To stay married for 33 years and longer you will have to reappropriate the symbols you have inherited. You must make them your own and even if the first time you weren’t just going through the motions, you must make new meaning of them as you go along. I love the left to right hand switch that John did. I can imagine many places in my life that need a switch to intention. I can depend too much on passion and conviction for motivation to do a lot of the things I do. Making a plan and reminding myself to stick with it will be good for my marriage and many other parts of my life (including planting the church).

Enjoy becoming

Sherry described herself as steady. I’ve only known her for a third of her marriage but I agree. She might be content to just keep it simple, stay close to home, not surprise anyone. But she surprised John a lot when a few years ago she said, “I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with you!” John is known as the wild adventurer, and Sherry has been content to see him when he gets back. But a couple of years ago they went together to Tanzania and summited the highest point in Africa. Sherry did much better with the oxygen deprivation. If Sherry hadn’t been there to strike out ahead of him when the going got tough, who knows if John would have made it. He would have made it somehow, but Sherry was the somehow this time. When you go together there’s no way of knowing what would have been. Some other how is not necessary.

“John gets me out of my box.” Sherry said. She’s done things she never thought she would do, but it’s kind of silly to make a clear distinction between who she has become with John and who she was before they were married. We become who we are because of who we’re with among other things. This is true for friendships as well as marriages. Deciding to go together and trusting to stay together fundamentally changes who we are. If we accept that becoming as a natural part of life and reject the lie of individuality and self reliance, we can enjoy it. John and Sherry have grown together without significant friction because they weren’t really organized to defend those supposedly essential selves. We are not who we are forever. Thank God, we change. You can enjoy that.

Be a fool

John ended the interview with a song. And John is NOT a good singer. He sang “I Do It for Your Love” by Paul Simon so terribly there weren’t very many dry eyes in the house. And Sherry loved it! Love requires you to make a fool of yourself, and to love the fool you’re with for their foolishness. We need to remember who we are and what better way than to make a scene, damn the consequences, scorn the shame. I love how beautiful John’s bad singing was. He loved the complexity of Paul Simon’s sentiment. “It felt like us,” he said. Sherry loved him for being a fool. No one who is there will forget the moment. People are still talking about the last time he did it!

You can listen to John and Sherry’s full interview with me at circleofhope.net/messages