You Reap What You Sow

Our motel curtains, closed together by clipping on pens.

When my daughter and I traveled last month to visit her boyfriend’s family, we stayed in a motel room that left a lot to be desired.

In the flush of my new AARP membership and its discounts for hotel and motel stays, I got caught up in the “what’s the least I can pay?” game. I looked at the bottom line without any consideration of quality. Out of six motels to choose from in town, I chose the least expensive.

I read no reviews. I went online and made reservations within about five minutes, not even talking to a person in making my pre-paid, no refunds allowed reservation. It was a chain motel, and since I’d been happy enough with a stay with them in another city, I figured it was a safe bet.

When we arrived, the guy behind the front counter checked me in with hands covered in dirt. He was wearing a tank top with sweaty underarm hair quite visible.

The room was dingy, musty-smelling, with patches of touch-up paint that didn’t quite match the rest of the wall. The towels were so threadbare that I could see my hand through them. The chairs were covered in stains of an unknown origin. We were on the first floor, right on the parking lot. The window was covered with those thick vinyl curtains that didn’t quite meet in the middle; I clipped on some pens to hold them closed so no one could see in.

The website had indicated a fitness room and swimming pool. The pool was being jackhammered out and rebuilt. The fitness room consisted of one broken-down exercise bike in the laundry area.

The next day, our towels were replaced but our garbage was not emptied. Our beds were not straightened out at all. I had to buy towels to place over the chairs and supplement our threadbare bathroom linens.

It was a colossal example of getting what you pay for.

You Get Out of It . . .

You get out of it what you put into it. Marriage isn’t so different, is it?

When my husband and I married, we figured everything would come naturally and easily. We loved each other, and that would surely conquer all. People had been living in marriage for thousands of years, so how hard could it be, anyway?

Once we began to have marriage problems, I figured that if God wanted us to have a good marriage, He would make it happen. If our sex life was a problem, God would fix it for us. I thought that God would look down at us and think, “Hmm, that marriage could use a little mojo.” He would wave a magic wand, and the next morning I would wake up, washed with desire and arousal for my husband and we would live happily ever after.

I didn’t mind the idea of transformation, as long as I didn’t have to do any work for it.

I showed up for my marriage—barely—but wasn’t willing to put any of myself into making it better.

My husband wanted us to go to marriage workshops. He wanted me to read books and blogs. That was too much an investment for me.

So why was I so surprised that our marriage wasn’t getting any better?

 . . . What You Put Into It

I was miserable in our marriage. It wasn’t until I changed what I was putting into it that it began to improve.

My motel stay taught me some things that can help.

Don’t believe the media representations. Our motel website had a nice picture taken from a vantage point that obscured most of the ugly setting. Online, the room looked like it would be something other than what it turned out to be.

I spent a lot of time comparing my marriage to what the media suggested it should be. Sitcoms would joke about the husband with unreasonable expectations of sex, and I saw that it was acceptable to rebuff a husband’s advances. I allowed that to justify my own actions. I would hear figures about 50% of marriages ending in divorce, and I let myself think that since we were still married, we must be doing okay. It turns out the divorce rate isn’t quite what I’d been led to believe.

Learn. In my motel situation, I should have read online reviews. If I had, I would have had realistic expectations—and I also would have known that all the motels in town were equally bad. The reviews would have helped me put my situation in perspective as well as point to some things others had done to cope with the issues I encountered.

I refused to learn about the differences between men and women, about God’s design for marriage, or even about what others had done to improve their marriages. I didn’t want to learn for fear of finding out that my only option was do actually work at it. Ignorance does not lead to bliss.

Make the best of your situation. Covering up the stained chairs, having some healthy snacks stocked in the fridge, and figuring out a way to close the curtains made our motel room tolerable. We worked with what we had and found a way to make do. I did more than just shrug my shoulders and do nothing. I couldn’t change the entire situation, but I could make what we had better.

When I married, I learned a lot about my husband that I’d had no idea about before—his bathroom habits, his heating and air conditioning preferences, his approach to household repairs, and his preference for leaving his shoes out where he can see them rather than putting them in a closet. I wasted a lot of time yearning for a man with different habits and preferences rather than learning to adapt myself to his habits and make the best of the man I had married.

Listen before you speak. I was upset by the fact that the motel had not emptied our garbage. The following day, however, the motel manager came to my door to do the cleaning. She immediately apologized for the horrible housekeeping the day before and informed me that the housekeeper had been let go. Instead of lashing out in complaint at her, I was able to feel compassion for a woman trying to make up for a staff member’s lack of effort and give her some soothing and encouraging words instead of my anger.

My long-time unproductive communication strategy had been to make sure to always tell my husband my thoughts and feelings about a subject. I listened for the purpose of developing a response rather than for the purpose of hearing. A turning point in my marriage was when I finally allowed myself to hear what my husband had been telling me about how the lack of intimacy affected him. In learning to listen to my husband, I developed compassion for him and was better able to set aside my own hurt and anger.

See the blessings. Our motel room was pretty crummy—but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. We had running water that looked clean and good water pressure for the shower. The small refrigerator worked and allowed us to keep some things cold. We slept surprisingly well, with beds that were far more comfortable than we expected and no difficulty from neighbors or traffic noise. The air conditioner worked. I made sure to be grateful for what we did have, even while I was unhappy about the rest of it.

Even during the worst season in our marriage, I found moments to be thankful for my husband and for our marriage. His strong hair-dusted arms could hold and comfort me like nothing else. He cooked dinner more often than I did for several years. When I was experiencing severe gynecological pain, he picked up the slack and took care of me. Seeing the blessings were part of what kept me going and gave me hope that our marriage might be okay.

Sow Differently

In my efforts to spend the bare minimum, I got the bare minimum in return. In my efforts to do as little as possible to improve my marriage, all I got was disappointment.

Once I began to put something into my marriage, I began to see fruits of my effort. The more effort I made to stop comparing, learn, make the best of things, listen, and see the blessings, the better my marriage became and the more it blessed me.

As I began to see good results from my effort, I became intentional about growing and doing better—and my marriage improved by leaps and bounds.

The harder I worked on my marriage and the more I put into it, the better my marriage became. I got out of it what I put into it.

Galatians 6:7 tells us that we will reap what we sow. What do you reap from the effort you put into your marriage?

Image credit Chris Taylor

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