"On belay!" my wife, Tari, and I shouted, alerting our belayer that we were about to resume climbing. We thought it would be a good idea to let him know, since he couldn't see us from where he was. And if we slipped and started to fall, our lives could literally be in his hands.
"Belay on!" came the reassuring reply.
"Climbing!" we shouted.
"Climb on!" he shouted back.
"Ready?" Tari asked, as she turned away from me to face the wall.
"Let's go," I said.
Tari and I were on the final pitch of Colorado's Third Flatiron, nearly 1,300 feet above the rocks and trees below. The last two meters of a 60-meter climbing rope linked me to her.
Each step of a rock climb must be committed. You're moving away from the ground where you started and toward the summit where you plan to end up. You're moving away from the security of what you know and toward the uncertainty of what you hope you can achieve.
And each step is purposeful. When you're on the ground, one step so naturally follows another that you don't even think about it. Not so in rock-climbing. Each step is intentionally selected and carefully executed, an integral part of a progression. How does this step position me for the handholds and foot placements that I see in these next few feet? And how do these next few feet position me for the summit?
When you're climbing a rock face, you see all kinds of little features that the more casual, less committed, non-climbing observer would overlook. Knots in the rock, no bigger than half a golf ball, gentle bulges in the wall, the size of a flattened hand, sharply angled cracks, the length and depth of a pencil—these are the kinds of things a non-climber would never notice. No reason to. But climbers have trained themselves to look constantly for them. To climbers, these numerous, but easy-to-overlook features are essential hand and footholds that help them achieve their purpose—reaching the summit.
Tari and I have learned we can apply to our marriage the same skills required to scale a mountain. We began our marriage climb with a commitment: to be the best spouse we could be. That was 13 years ago. Because we're committed to that goal, we've trained ourselves to purposefully make choices that will help us achieve it.
For example, Tari and I have an unspoken rule. Sometimes she arrives home from work before I do, and sometimes I'm the first through the door. Either way, the one who is already there pushes the pause button on whatever they're doing and goes to the door for a hug. It's a 60-second physical reminder that we're a connected team, climbing together.
And just as climbers search for handholds to help them reach the peak, Tari and I look for the little things that help us grow as spouses and strengthen our marriage. They are our opportunities to keep climbing toward the kind of relationship we both want. That's our summit.
Tari knows I feel most loved through acts of service. So if she's out running errands, she calls to ask if there's anything I need. While it's a small thing, it reminds me that she knows what's important to me and wants to "serve me in love." And since I know Tari enjoys hearing from me during the workday, I'll usually call her. Sometimes it's about something specific, but often it's just to say, "I love you" and to let her know she's important to me. It's a little thing, but another step on our marriage climb.
These are learned behaviors for both of us, no more natural than standing at the base of a 1,300-foot rock face saying, "This looks like fun." We say we're committed to our marriage. But we're kidding ourselves if we're not purposeful about it each day. We know that the most accurate indicator of our commitment to our marriage is our willingness to do these small things that are not natural for either of us.
We've trained ourselves to look for the opportunities to grow as spouses and strengthen our marriage. They are the daily steps on our marriage climb—steps that will determine whether or not our team ever reaches the summit of what's really possible in our relationship. mp
Terry Owens, author of Extreme Marriage and Super Bowl Marriage (both WaterBrook), lives in Illinois.
Copyright © 2006 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine.Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.