The other day, while cleaning the inside of my fridge, I deliberately chose to stay focussed on one thing. I turned it into a prayer. “Lord, show me how cleaning out my fridge could actually be a metaphor for a life lesson.”
Now my fridge isn’t all that dirty. I usually keep it clean, wiping it down now and then, especially after spill, doing a monthly purge of expired items. As I emptied the freezer, to my surprise I realized I didn’t purge it often enough, there were items in the back of the freezer I had completely forgotten about. I worked my way through the fridge, emptying shelf by shelf, removing the glass shelves to give them a good wipe. I realized there was some spillage I had missed in my routine wipe downs. This clean up took a lot more time than I had anticipated, a little more elbow grease and more hot water to get all the pieces looking shiny and clean again.
Having been married for 18 years to a devoted, faithful man, I can easily take him for granted. Over the years we have made our efforts to stay connected as a couple. We arrange care for our children and schedule in some couple time. We work in ministry together and we are a prayerful couple. Once in a while we butt heads and have a disagreement, but they don’t usually last long. On the surface this marriage appears to be healthy and stable.
There comes a time in every marriage, when some purging is necessary. As Christians we understand that we are called to actively pursue God in our daily lives. To respond to his call to grow in relationship with him, this growth is constant and it’s flowing. At some point, to move closer to God we need to detach ourselves from certain habits or baggage. Matthew Kelly, a Catholic evangelist once said, “Every journey towards something is a journey away from something else.”
A marriage, certainly a Christian marriage that looks secure on the surface may have some underlying problems that need to be dealt with before this couple can move forward in their relationship with God and with each other.
Emptying the Marriage Fridge
Sometimes the couple will not be aware of what is impeding their growth. They have become so comfortable and accustomed to the stain, they don’t see it anymore. A praying couple will hopefully allow room for the Holy Spirit to inspire them to start emptying their shelves. Giving them the grace to discard what needs to go and give what remains a good cleaning. It doesn’t mean this couple is living a façade, by putting on a show for others. In many cases they believe they have a firm marriage. A faithful couple could be oblivious, believing their monthly date night and making up quickly after a disagreement means they are doing well. Perhaps this is so. Maintenance is a big part of building a strong marriage, but is it enough?
Cleaning out my fridge is done within an hour or so. The type of work required to complete the purging cycle in a marriage is likely to be much harder. I am not talking about the bad habit he has of forgetting to put the lid back on the toothpaste, or the toilet seat down. Obviously there are deeper issues directly affecting the physical and emotional intimacy, trust and communication within the couple.
To look deeply within ourselves, through the eyes of faith, and to do it together with our spouse, requires a great amount of humility. It also requires a huge dose of supernatural grace. Supernatural strength is necessary to take the time, to be sincere with ourselves, with God and with our spouse. To put in the consistent and constant effort to work at what needs to be worked at, to forgive the failings we see in our spouse and to seek forgiveness for the failings we see in ourselves. None of this is easy, but it is necessary. Routine maintenance is not enough, because it doesn’t allow for growth.
When I finished cleaning the fridge, my shelves were shiny and the fridge did look a little empty, but it had all the essentials. The expired items wouldn’t be missed, and stains were gone. Now this could also have been a lesson on how we waste too much. This is the usual thought I have in mind when I clean out my fridge, freezer, pantry, etc., since we obviously spent money on items we didn’t have much use for. However, God used this time to show me how blessed I am. That even after discarding, cleaning and scrubbing, I have a good working fridge that still has the essentials I need to feed my family.
When we are willing to do the work, God blesses us in abundance. He doesn’t just give what we need, he provides in abundance. Couples get a new, clean, fresh start, with enough grace, love, forgiveness, empowerment, protection, prayer, and intimacy to keep moving forward. Certainly, the opportunity for a major clean will come again at different stages in their married life. The pain will be different, the habits will vary each time, or maybe some old habit will have managed to creep in again.
Sometimes the couples need help from their community to get over some major stumbling blocks. A spiritual leader or a marriage counsellor who can see the situation objectively, this is not a sign of a bad marriage or of weakness. It takes great strength and humility to admit you need help from a third-party. It is precisely in our weakest, most humbling moments that God’s grace and blessing abounds.
Today I pray for all married couples, that they may seek the courage to clean out their marriage fridge and benefit from the supernatural grace and blessing that comes with the opportunity for a fresh start.