On September 8, Ernie and I celebrated 44 years of marriage. He has been married to me for twice as long as he was single. It hardly seems possible that we have shared two-thirds of our lives.

Sitting on our deck, enjoying the gorgeous crisp fall weather, we pondered the mystery of all it: how had we stayed together for 44 years when half of marriages end in divorce? We talked about some of the hard times: for Ernie, it was the season I was working (much too hard) on President Carter’s first national energy plan and only came home to sleep and change clothes. We talked about the joy of “co-creating” two fine sons, and seeing them grow into young men of whom we are proud; and the joy of anticipating our first grandchild (on Dec. 6th, but who is counting?).

I texted Ernie at work on Friday to remind him of the passage from The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery that a friend read at our wedding. The little prince meets a fox, and says he is looking for friends. He wants to play with the fox, but the fox replies that he is not “tamed;”

“What does it mean, to be “tamed?” asks the prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me—like that—in the grass…But you will sit close to me, every day.” He instructs the little prince to come at the same time every day. And the fox can anticipate his coming. When it comes time to part, the fox tells the little prince, “You are responsible forever, for what you have tamed.” (p. 64-71)

So, I texted Ernie, “you are responsible forever, for what you have tamed.” Ernie replied that I may be still a tad wild (typical Abbott humor). The taming metaphor was a way for us to talk about the covenant of marriage; the commitments we made to each other 44 years ago and continue to live into each day.

What Ernie and I have learned in our 44 years of ups and downs is that it takes spending intentional time together to be “tamed:” to live in covenant relationship with one another. Similarly, it takes spending intentional time to grow deeper in faith in Christ and wider in faith by bringing new people into a relationship with Christ.

Anyone who is married knows there are joys and costs to this commitment; this “covenant” we make with another human being before God and friends. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the “cost of discipleship.” He is one who bore that cost with joy and humility, returning to Nazi Germany so that he could be with his people during their time of trial, and dying a martyr just as the war was ending.

Ernie and I have 44 reasons to stay married; 44 years that we have spent intentionally with each other, “taming” each other. We learned that love grows deeper as we figured out how to deal with each other’s quirks and flaws. Early on, we had to learn how to compromise over differing ways we squeezed the tooth paste tube; and different habits of spending vs. saving money. Our love has grown wider—as our children were born, grew up, and have now married; extending our family circle.

This past weekend, we hosted our son’s in-laws, who live in California, and immigrated to the US from Russia when Alya was 10. Alya had contacted us, saying her parents were going to be “in the neighborhood,” and would love to visit. (It turned out “the neighborhood” was Niagara Falls!) We were so touched that Elena and Vladimir would make such an effort to “make connection” with us—in essence to spend intentional time with us, becoming friends. Over herring and black Russian bread, our relationships grew deeper and our family grew wider.

Bishop Lewis is calling us to grow deeper in our faith by intentionally following Jesus and teaching us how to be disciples. Then she wants us to grow wider; to expand the church family to include our neighbors who do not yet know the transforming power of Christ’s love. I look forward to meeting with each congregation in this charge conference season, hearing how you plan to “grow deeper and wider in following Jesus.”