Gandalf said to Frodo,
All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us.” JRR Tolkien
Like Frodo’s powerlessness over the growing evil in Middle-earth, we often find ourselves wishing we could control the times of our lives. But all we can do is use the time given to us – to decide whether these moments will increase the magic in our marriages or through neglect cause it to fade further away. Both the ecstasies and the agonies in our relationships are connected directly to what we decide to do with the time given to us.
Paul and Cindy are planning to get married. They are committed believers who want a “Christian” marriage and a fulfilling relationship. Paul is an IT manager and Cindy is finishing law school. Both are type A personalities – driven to succeed. Although many of their friends don’t know what next week holds, Paul and Cindy have a plan for the year. They personify the “disciplined life,” and describe their relationship as warm and affectionate.
Their friends see things differently; they describe Paul and Cindy as loosely connected and over scheduled – absorbed in ambition – missing opportunities to grow closer.
“It’s a passing thing,” Paul says. “Cindy won’t always be in school and in a few years I’ll be leading my own company.” Their friends hear the danger in the dialogue.
Nancy was the first to risk confrontation. After Cindy graduated from law school and passed the Bar Exam, Nancy took her to coffee to celebrate. Cindy lost no time, eagerly unveiling her new goals.
“Where is your relationship with Paul in all this?” asked Nancy.
“What do you mean?”
“It seems like you’ve thought through your ambitions about everything but your relationship with Paul.”
“Paul and I are fine, . . . I’m not sure what you’re getting at.”
“You can’t just let relationships happen . . . they take a lot of work, the kind of work and time you are putting into the rest of your life. . . . Aren’t you assuming that your relationship with Paul will grow without any effort to cultivate it?”
Nancy is correct. It’s amazing how we miss the opportunities to cultivate the things that make the most difference – our love relationships. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16) The word translated “opportunity” (NIV) is a nautical term roughly meaning, “toward the port.” William Shakespeare captures this nautical definition in his play, Julius Caesar.
In a dialogue between Brutus and Cassius over battle strategy and opportunity, Brutus says:’
There is a tide in the affairs of men.
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
Paul captures this essence of “making the most of every opportunity.” Although some believe he is suggesting that we go with the flow, his language is stronger than that. He is imploring that we become proactive. Paul could be paraphrased as saying actively buy up every opportunity as you would buy rare goods in the market place. Look for opportunities. Seek them out. The time and opportunity will pass and once gone cannot be retrieved.
This is what Cindy and Paul need to discover if their relationship is going to work. In an earlier article, we borrowed Dr. Norm Wright’s definition of marriage as the total commitment of two people to the person of Jesus Christ and to each other.
To enjoy the pleasures of this kind of marriage, Cindy and Paul need to:
- Decide that their relationship with Jesus and each other is the main thing.
- Set the same kinds of goals for their relationship as they’ve set for their careers.
- Spread their career goals out over a longer time period and “make the most of every opportunity” in their relationship each day.
- Start today rather than wait.
Cindy’s conversation with Nancy troubled her. She had bounced it off of some of her other friends, and they agreed with Nancy. She had not mentioned it to Paul. A month after the conversation, Cindy was driving Paul to the airport. Because of traffic, they left several hours early only to discover very light traffic. Normally Cindy, being efficient, would have dropped Paul off at the door and gone her way. But today, she reflected on Nancy’s reminder to buy up every opportunity. To Paul’s amazement, rather than dropping him off at the curb, Cindy headed for the parking garage while explaining that they had time to eat dinner at the airport before he passed through security. At dinner, Cindy shared her heart.
“It’s funny,” Paul said, “but I’ve wondered about this too.”
At that dinner they began a plan to reschedule their lives to include more of each other along with those spiritual activities that drew them together in the beginning. Cindy and Paul decided to use some of the same time-scheduling strategies that had brought success in their careers to improve their relationship. They began a weekly assessment to see if they were putting Jesus first and each other a close second and their careers a distant third.
Meaningful marriages are all about how we invest our time. What we decide to do with the time given us, both its quality and quantity, determines our level of marital satisfaction. The successful couple buys up and reserves time for the cultivation of their relationship – with Jesus and each other. Time is the currency of life. How we spend it will make all the difference.
Time Assessment Strategy
- Schedule a regular event that works for both of you (weekly, monthly, quarterly).
- At the event, review how the two of you typically spent the time in an average day. (Using a calendar works best.)
- If you spent more of your available time thinking about work (or working) rather than in activities that promoted your relationship with God and each other, make plans to change.
- For the next week, encourage each other with notes, texts and other reminders that mention the new plans.
- Finally, celebrate all growth in how you spend your time.
Although this strategy seems overly regimented, we’ve used it successfully hundreds of times with couples – including Cindy and Paul.