By Andrew & Terri Lyke
January 28, 2000
Lately we’ve been reflecting much on the importance of having good role models for marriage. We have just begun an initiative at St. Ailbe Parish on Chicago’s south side that will facilitate the kind of role modeling that newly married couples may otherwise find elusive.
We call it the “God-Couple” program. The pastoral staff matches couples in their early years of marriage with “veteran” couples who have been trained to lead discussions on various aspects of married life.
What qualifies these couples to minister to the newly married are five characteristics:
1.) They have life experiences that give them a faith perspective on marriage and family life. That perspective allows them to meet the challenges of family life with hope.
2.) They draw from their life experiences through storytelling. Rather than giving advice or lecturing, they share stories that reveal God’s work in their marriage. Such stories inspire newly married couples and give them hope.
3.) They participate in the life of the parish. Their involvement gives them a sense of ownership in their worshiping community. Ministering with the newly married, they serve as ambassadors of the parish and welcoming presence to them.
4.) They have good hospitality skills. They know how to rejoice in the presence of others. People feel love in their presence.
5.) They are comfortable praying together and with others. Their ease with prayer invites newly married couples to emulate them.
These veteran couples will meet with their newly married couples at lest four times within a year. The hope is that their relationships will continue beyond the program. However, at the very least, both the veterans and the newly married will experience the nurturing effect of like-to-like ministering in marriage.
The God-Couple concept was born out of our own experiences of having excellent role models of marriage in our lives. Our vision of our marriage is influenced by many faith-filled, loving couples who have inspired us over the years.
We remember the early years when our perspectives were limited by our lack of experience. We couldn’t see beyond our challenges. Thank God there were Ada and Fernando, John and Pam, Ann and John, and others whose role modeling of Christian marriage lifted us and raised our perspectives.
Couples benefit from participating in a community of marriage. What might otherwise seem impossible becomes doable. Married couples, regardless of their years married, are nurtured by the hope of others, and their hope and faith feeds the community. This is the goal of this program: to feed our faith communities with the good news of marriage.
Just like it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a church to keep a marriage. Let us pray that what begins at St. Ailbe’s will be a model for other faith communities.
“Paul” Couples Are Important to Young Marriages
March 16, 1995
Married couples powerfully benefit from relationships with other married couples. In our ministry to marriage we stress the importance of three types of relationships couples have with other couples: mentor, companion, and protégée. Borrowing metaphors from Promise Keepers Men’s Christian Movement, married couples need a Paul, a Barnabas and a Timothy. Paul was a great teacher and mentor. Barnabas was a good companion who traveled and struggled with Paul to Cyprus and Asia Minor. Timothy was Paul’s protégée who he taught and guided. Paul’s tutelage is clearly seen in the two epistles addressed to Timothy.
Having a mentor couple, a Paul, is especially important early in the marriage. A mentor couple may be parents or other relatives. They may be neighbors, parishioners or friends. Mentor couples are not perfect. But, they are successful. Their success is not necessarily in terms of career, income and so forth. Mentor couples know how to partner with one another. They rise above their differences. They exemplify the relationship that works.
Early in our marriage we were part of a Marriage Encounter group that met monthly. We were the youngest couple. One couple in particular, Ada and Fernando, were mentors to us. They didn’t come across as a perfect couple. But they seemed to always handle their differences with grace and lovingly. We were struggling with being different, being right, insisting that the other be wrong. Ada and Fernando, through their openness to us, revealed similar struggles. But, they seemed to have it all in the right perspective. They showed us that their commitment to each other, to their marriage, took priority over their needs to be right, in control, or for the other to conform to their way of thinking. Ada and Fernando also showed us how important God was in their marriage. Even today when we struggle to pray together, we think of them.
Mentor couples don’t choose you; they are chosen by you. Often they don’t even know they are mentors to you. Recently while visiting Ada and Fernando, we shared with them how important they were to us during our early years. They were very surprised. It was important for us to let them know that they were mentors to us. Somehow it was a gift we gave back to them.
Sometimes our natural role models are not the best mentors. Parents are not always good mentors. And couples who impose their “free advice” are not necessarily best suited to be mentors to you. It’s important to look for successful relationships to be mentors to you.
When choosing a mentor couple, don’t look for the “perfect couple” who does everything right. They don’t exist. However, look for several couples who model different aspects of married life that you want to emulate. They will never fall from grace in your eyes if you don’t canonize them.
You may not develop close friendships with your mentors. That’s not their role, at least not during their mentorship. Watch them; learn from them; emulate them. Then years later, tell them who they’ve been for you.
In our next article we will talk about companion couples—Barnabas couples. Until then, think about the couples who have been mentors to you. Give them a call or write them and thank them. It’ll be a way of giving back to them.
“Barnabas” Couples: Good for the Road of Life
March 29, 1995
Married couples minister to other married couples in conscious and unconscious ways. In our last article we suggested three types of relationships: Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy (mentor, companion, and protégée). We expounded on the importance of having Paul/mentor couples, especially in the early years of marriage.
The roles of companion couples are complex. Companion couples walk together down the path of life, sometimes in step, often not. To be companions to each other, married couples need not be perfect or purposeful. They need only to be present. In that presence they fumble and stumble as in all relationships. Companion couples, before they adequately appreciate their uniqueness, compare and contrast with each other, attempting to grasp what is normal and right. They even sometimes compete with each other for the nicest home, the smartest kids, the most exotic vacations, the best marriage, etc.
To be Barnabas to each other companion couples need not be perfect, but they are purposeful. Their presence is purposefully to be Christ unto each other. They experience grace-filled moments when they rise above animosity and competitiveness to be supportive, to spend a little time walking the same stretch of the path together. Barnabas couples help each other not to feel isolated when they are in the disillusionment area of the continuing cycle of marriage. They celebrate new life and rites of passage that are milestones on the path of life. Barnabas couples share a mission. Their shared mission might be raising their families, serving in a particular ministry through the church, working in a civic organization, or making their block a happy and safe place to live. Their shared mission may be being good friends to each other.
In 1981 we were asked to begin a marriage preparation program in Chicago for African American engaged couples. Two other couples, Martin and Pat, and John and Pam were our companions with whom we blazed a new trail for marriage ministry. None of us had any public speaking experience. We all felt inadequate for the task. However, we saw strengths in each other that collectively gave us the confidence to step out with a new program. The time we spent designing and presenting PreCana for the African American Community gave us keen insights into ourselves, each other, and how God works in each of us uniquely. Our time together has always been times of feasting. For there is nothing ordinary about our friendships. We are all invested in each others’ marriages. We have been Barnabas to each other.
Sadly, there have been companion couples who have been Barnabas to us that have divorced. One of our greatest frustrations is to stand by impotently while the marriages of dear friends dissolve. It’s one irony of being Barnabas. The very nature of the friendship—companionship—sometimes prevents us from helping to salvage those relationships in dissolution. Our closeness prevents objectivity. We continue to pray for them and look for ways to continue our friendships in other ways.
Acts 4, 36 defines the name Barnabas as “son of encouragement.” In our struggles to live a Christian marriage, we thank God for the many Barnabas couples who have been sources of encouragement for us.
Our next column will explore the third kind of couple-to-couple relationship, “Timothy.”
“Timothy” Couples: An Unexpected Blessing
April 12, 1995
To have a Paul, a mentor-couple, and a Barnabas, a faith companion-couple, married couples do the choosing. However to have a Timothy—a protégé-couple—married couples are chosen.
We have had the privilege of being Paul to younger couples through our ministry to the engaged. Couples have commented to us, sometimes years after their PreCana, that we have been positive role models for them. It’s not as a much challenge when they are couples who only see our ministerial side. When our Timothy-couples are close relatives, neighbors, co-workers, parishioners, or others who we see often, the “privilege” sometimes seems dubious. Sometimes it even seems burdensome. We shudder at the thought that these couples might see us at our worst times when we don’t exemplify our ideals. Yet, we know that only in our realness, the good and the not so good, that our love is truly displayed.
When our Timothy needs our listening, we try to spare them our advice. Our actions speak so much louder than our words, even solicited words of advice. When they ask for direction, we try to point them toward God who will always lead them to love. Sometimes simple words of encouragement and affirmation help to empower a Timothy to work harder at their relationship. The greatest gift we can give them is to pray for and with them.
Timothy-couples don’t always tell their Paul-couples they have been chosen. As married persons, we must assume that we are being watched and chosen. This helps us to understand the public dimension of married life. Marriage is an “office” we hold that serves those with whom we come in contact. We leave them with an impression of marriage. Those impressions may have lasting effects on the many Timothy-couples who watch us.
To be chosen by a Timothy is a blessing. It’s a call to be holy and God’s gentle message to “Get it together!”, often just when we need it. It’s not a burden when we realize that God loves us in spite of our broken-ness, and that we have been chosen as Paul in spite of our imperfectness. It invites us to try to be our best for ourselves and for others—for God’s glory.
St. Paul addresses Timothy as “my own son in the faith (1 Timothy, 1:2).” The Timothy-couples in our lives are our “children” in faith. We model our faith as married people to other married people who are maturing in their faith. If you have a Timothy, pray for them; encourage them; affirm them. Remember that the answers to their challenges may not be your answers. But through your witness of God’s love in you, their answers may unfold.
Marriage is a private relationship between a husband and wife. But it is also a very public ministry to those around us, particularly other married couples. We are especially enriched by the couples who we have chosen to be Paul to us—the beacons of light that guide us to successful relationships. Without the many faith companion-couples who have been Barnabas to us, our life would not be as rich and exciting. The precious gift of being chosen as role-models by Timothy-couples reminds us that God chooses us to be His. Having these three dimensions of couple-to-couple relationships, we see ourselves as ambassadors to marriage.