She really meant it. Standing on the stage at a Montreat Youth Conference in front of a thousand of her peers, this young woman was singing about her faith. She was helping serve communion and was standing center stage, holding a chalice. As she sang, “You are my Prince of Peace and I will live my life for you!”, she looked so dedicated and committed. I was definitely rooting for her. I prayed that she had a youth group back home to encourage her, adults who guided her and friends who loved her.
I’ve also sang words of praise and promise and have meant them with my full self, but sometimes, our intentions don’t match our actions.
To quote Elder Price from The Book of Mormon, “So, what happened?”
What most people say when things don’t work out the way that we planned is that “life happens.” I think it’s more complicated than that.
The earnest expression on the singer’s face reminded me of people’s faces when I officiate a wedding and ask the couple to say their wedding vows. There is something very intimate about standing just inches away from the bride and groom when they share their vows. Every single bride and groom desperately wants to live up to their promises. None take it lightly. Some are visibly shaking and some are weepy and some are giddy with joy. They all mean it.
So, what happens to us?
I’ve spent my whole life living in the southeastern part of the U.S. and I’m not especially well-traveled, but I love hearing from people who are sophisticated and worldly. One of our friends grew up in Italy and told us about the practice of “hut-to-hut” hiking. Apparently, in the Alps, there are hospitality huts along the hiking trails that provide food and shelter, comfort and assistance. These are small hostels with a live-in staff to care for the hikers. They are welcoming, reliable and wonderful. When my friend’s parents visited the United States and they went for a long hike, they were kind of bothered that there were no huts. They were appalled that the message was “every person for themselves.” They were surprised that hospitality wasn’t a part of our outdoor culture.
I think that in all of the biggest journeys of life, we might be failing one another by not providing hut-to-hut assistance. Imagine if we had more support in our faith journeys, in our marriages, and in our parenting endeavors. After the marriage vows, we send people out without much support. There’s a good bit available for pre-marital counseling and retreats, but not much after that. Most of us try to piece it together based on happy marriages we’ve seen or books on whatever we are struggling with at that moment. I tend to think that there is always a book or a specialist who can help, but I know a lot of people are more private than I am. If there aren’t structures already in place, they aren’t going to ask for help.
I know what renews me, but I still struggle sometimes to figure out what will renews us as a couple. Last week, I was reminded that time in Montreat, where we first met and dated, is good for us as a couple. There is something in that place that grounds us. We feel cared for by friends who feel like family. We feel encouraged as a couple. That’s one of our huts.
I know couples who find encouragement from small groups at their church and from annual vacations with other couples. Some find hospitality from extended families and some from tailgating together before every home football game. Some create families of choice to provide love and support for their children. Some are intentional about serving together and some find ways to really have fun together.
We’ve been married long enough to know that no couple is immune from struggle, but some seem to weather it better than others. I’m wondering if those who are flourishing have found places and ways that they can be nurtured. It might be worthwhile to start a map of the “huts” that nourish us. Some might be worth visiting again and some might be worth sharing.
On several different occasions, I’ve wanted to sidle up next to an older woman at a church supper and ask, “Am I supposed to be happier at this stage in my life?” I haven’t yet because I know that would be weird. It’s not weird, though, to tell a bride younger than yourself, “There’s a hut just around the corner with soup and bread and a lovely view. Your best years are ahead of you.” This is especially true if you really mean it.
There is, of course, no one right way to be married or parent or seek God. I just know from experience that sending people out on these journeys without the hope of nourishment and rest only sets them up for exhaustion and isolation. There are huts along the way; we just have to help each other find them.