Sunday mornings around here are crazy. Inevitably I find only five shoes for six small feet. Somebody leaves a puddle of water on the bathroom floor, and we take turns stepping in it. My hair religiously says "no" to efforts with the blow dryer or curling iron. The kids realize they need to go to the bathroom only after they're pressed and dressed and Dad is waiting in the car.
And then there's the roast. One Sunday morning when we were expecting company for dinner, I put the roast in the oven and forgot to set the timer. We ate sandwiches. The next week I double- and triple-checked the timer. Pierre checked the timer. The oven worked wonderfully, but we left the roast on the counter. We ate beans.
Why bother? Why not just take the day off, like our neighbors do? Because we love church. We love the music and preaching, and we especially crave fellowship with God's people.
Fellowship is the unique and life-changing dynamic of the body of Christ. The apostle Paul describes Christians as members of one another called to serve one another, exhort one another, be devoted to one another, honor one another, encourage one another and bear one another's burdens. That's mutual edification. And Sunday morning's fellowship—after a hectic week at home—is simply refreshing.
Pierre and I stay committed to being with the people in our church because fellowship doesn't happen unless we spend time with them, giving and receiving, so God can produce change in our lives. Funny, though, how sometimes in my rush to be with the family of God, I forget that my number-one source of fellowship is right beside me. My husband, that guy who brings home the lean bacon and takes out the garbage, is also my brother in Christ. As Christians we're exhorted to help build each other's spiritual lives. That means Pierre and I should continually seek ways to "spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb. 10:24). In marriage, God brings another person up close for the purpose of helping us live out all those "one another" commands that Paul wrote about.
We're All Different
One of the things that makes life in a church family challenging—and effective—is that people and their circumstances are so different. I can look around in church and see a home-schooling mother of five children, a lonely divorcee, an ambitious businessman and a starry-eyed teenage couple.
I can see my husband, too. Like other members of the body of Christ, Pierre and I are different. In the same way God puts varied members together to serve different functions in the church, I believe God plans that when two become one in marriage, their diversity would be their strength.
On days when I do not revel in my husband's structured (I didn't say "monotonous") approach to life, the Bible reminds me that fellowship begins with acceptance. Pierre isn't like me, and that's okay. And when our selfish nature makes either one of us hard to live with, we find an answer in Ephesians 4:2-3: "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." That "bearing with one another" is a nice way of saying, "Put up with him; he has to put up with you."
So I'm learning to recognize Pierre's punctual, one-thing-at-a-time lifestyle as the perfect balance to my more "gymnastic" approach of spinning and flipping as I plunge into multiple activities and relationships. That diversity is our strength.
The Inside Story
It's actually easier to deal with brothers and sisters at church because I can generally control the intensity of those relationships. If something gets too hard or too personal, I can pull back some. But with Pierre, it's for better or for worse, and there's no easy out. The Bible says to be "devoted to one another in brotherly love" (Rom. 12:10). That's the core of commitment, and I'm committed to Pierre.
I want to show my "brother" at home a devoted, intimate kind of love. We know each other like no one else, which means we have the tools either to destroy or to enrich each other's lives. Paul says, "encourage one another and build each other up" (1 Thess. 5:11). If Pierre is questioning his capacity to lead our family, only I can give him the boost he needs. When the pressure of work starts to wear away his confidence, I can help him bear that burden. And when I become engulfed in the whirlpool of multiple activities, this man who knows my capacities and my limits can steer me back toward my real priorities.
To honor one another, we make an effort to touch on special points of interest or talent and brag to others about our amazing spouse. Once I overheard Pierre telling friends that I had a special way with people on the fringe, making them feel a part of the group. I was encouraged. Somehow a mention of my strengths means so much more coming from the person who knows all my weaknesses.
The beauty of fellowship is that it goes both ways; it's a mutual exchange. Christians get to share with each other the gifts of God's grace. Marriage, too, is a mutual arrangement.
Things go wrong in a church family when some people set themselves up as the "givers" without being able to receive support and encouragement from others, or when some come only to "take," exploiting the church for what it offers without desiring to love and serve as well.
Likewise, setting out to "get what you can" from your spouse is exploitation. It's more subtle, but equally harmful to feel that you are the only one "giving" in your relationship.
I am learning to receive from Pierre. When I talk to a friend about somebody else's personal life, I can count on my "few-words-a-day" husband to suggest that maybe it was gossip. Ouch. That hurts. But thanks, Pierre. I needed it. Because Pierre and I are different but also close, the give-and-take of exhortation rings true.
In Ephesians, when Paul exhorted spouses to submit to each other, he understood something about mutual service. This is the "washing each other's feet" principle. When my partner does not or will not "wash" mine, I can by the grace of God make concessions, forget myself and do something special just for him.
One day as I worked furiously at the computer, my three children simultaneously had mother emergencies. I barked, um, balked and Pierre stepped in to deal with the situation. When I finished my work and went upstairs, expecting bedlam, the bath was drawn for me and tea was ready. My husband had "washed my feet" when I needed it but didn't especially deserve it.
In John 13:34, Jesus admonishes his disciples to love one another. He knew that true fellowship in the new body of believers depended on that mutual love and care. God planned for the same loving diversity, intimacy and reciprocity to be lived out in the union of a husband and wife.
So of course Pierre and I will keep making it to church—despite bad hair days and semi-frozen roast beef—and keep investing in fellowship with the members of that body. But we also want to make the most of the rich potential for mutual edification between us. Sunday morning and every other day, this is fellowship at its best.
Margaret Brouillette is a writer living in Quebec, Canada. She and her husband, Pierre, have three children.