Soon after my wife and I were married, we were visited by her aunt and uncle and together the four of us visited a botanical garden. In the gift shop, Aunt Bev bought a small reddish clover as a simple gift. It was a nice thought, but it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.
Over the ensuing 22 years, that clover has grown and died back. It has been repotted and transported. As most of the rest of the gifts that were given as wedding presents have broken or worn out or been given away, this clover is one of the last things that remains from those early days of our covenant life together.
There have been many times I didn’t think the clover would survive. Just recently, it lost every single stem and leaf. All that was left were its root bundles. Everything about it had gone underground. No life could be seen.
But the life was still there, hidden but not absent.
Over the years, I’ve plucked out the dead leaves as I’ve watered it (mostly with the remains of our dinner water glasses), and there have been times I’ve expected it to die out completely. Neglect. Adverse conditions. Moving from one environment to another. Kids. All of these have had their impact, but none of them have killed the clover.
The same is true of our marriage.
There have been times when circumstances, both external and internal, have had the leaves of our marriage go all wilty and not look so lovely. But as the clover has shown me, the life is not in the leaves. The life is in the hidden places. Underground. Not in conditions. Not in circumstance.
Instead of giving up on the clover when its leaves were dead and gone, we’ve continued to water it and adjust its level of sunlight. The same is true of our marriage. Even when the circumstances have grown hostile to its thriving — work-related stress, financial struggles, less time for intimacy, parenting issues, moving to new cities, extended family concerns, the typical stuff — we have done the watering and the sunning and the simple not giving up necessary to sustain life and enable future flourishing.
Those sustaining practices have included regular worship to get us out of ourselves and into a God-context; honest conversations about struggles; refusal to accuse each other and a humility to consider our own faults; engaging with long-term friends, which always puts struggle in the context of years, not just current conditions. I’m sure there are others as well.
What we haven’t done is require flourishing all the time. If we’d required it of our clover, we’d have dumped it years ago. And the same is true of our marriage. Giving up is what brings death, not a lack of flourishing at this very moment.
So, my suggestion to all married couples is: Get yourselves a clover and keep it alive.
Clovers are for lovers.