Imagine that you and your lover are going to be alone on an island for the rest of your lives.
Not a desert island, but an island that you would choose to live on. There are fruit and berries to eat and beaches and thunderstorms too. But you are not allowed to bring anything with you. No clothes, nothing. Just you and your partner alone to survive the climate of whatever island you’ve chosen to inhabit. How long could you stay on that island before retreating to the mainland? If I offered you a book of matches so that you could light a fire, would that help you? Captain Obvious Says “yes.”
Fire is warm and bright. It maintains life in many ways. Now you and your partner have the warmth and security that fire provides. With the comfort of the fire, you can talk together at night. Evening time is together time. It allows you to do other things like cook food so that it tastes better. But remember, you only have one book of matches. Some of you may say, “No problem, we know how to start a fire. Now imagine a couple that neither of them knows much about how to start a fire. They’ve got a dozen good opportunities to turn sparks in flame and then it’s over. Which is just what happens to this couple.
It only took a few matches before the first fire was lit. But keeping the fire going was hard work, and they didn’t really understand the “skills” of fire-making. Eventually, they got lazy and sidetracked, and their first fire went out. Every few years after, they would strike a match and hope to see flames coming from it. But every time, the match lit up bright, burned hot and then quickly fizzled into nothing. “Useless matches.” One partner shrugs and tosses the matchbook. They still continued to live on the island together. There just wasn’t any fire to keep company with. The night time is colder and quieter. How tempting it must have been for her to see fire on the other islands. The laughter and the dancing from other couples at night were a constant reminder that her fire was out. Eventually, she felt as though she needed fire in her life again and decided to swim off the island in search of someone else with matches.
If you haven’t guessed my analogy yet, the island is symbolic of marriage. It is where we have both chosen to live out our days. The matches are the sparks of romance that set forth a chain reaction turning flame into a fire. The honeymoon phase is the first fire that you light. It starts easily and feels great. The fire is symbolic of our intimacy with each other. That means emotional and sexual. Without intimacy, the nights are quiet, and there is no security on the island.
Some of you know exactly how to build and maintain a fire with healthy flames. It continues to burn brightly as long as you keep feeding it. Now, some of you may not be so experienced in fire-making. After all, there is a science to it, and no one ever did sit you down and teach you the skills of building a fire. It’s not a rare skill. Owning fire is a privilege that humans have passed down their generations from day one. It’s just that you may never have needed to build your own fire. Well, let me tell you this; If you are married or in a committed monogamous relationship you are figuratively on an island together. And if intimacy with each other is not keeping you together, your figurative fire is dwindling down to small flames.
When I was a small boy, my dad walked with me into the forest and told me he was going to show me how to light a fire. I still remember his lesson about tinder, and flammables and feeding it the right amount of oxygen. He then told me to be patient with the logs. “Start with the smallest stuff first, when the coals are hot, add the bigger ones.” My dad gave me all his advice about starting a fire that day. He felt it was a skill that’s essential to life. And he was right. From that day on I was a competent fire maker. And it has saved my life once or twice. So naturally, you might think that my figurative island of marriage also had healthy flames. Not exactly. I did not have the same fire skills on my island of marriage. We have dealt with smoldering coals and smoky wet wood like any other couple.
We have been on our island together for the last 16 years and over time we have learned to develop the skills of fire-making. We’ve gotten burned a few times, but now we have learned our best technique for starting fires. We’ve come a long way from just striking matches. Thru trial and error, we’ve learned the Dos and Don’ts for using matches to light a fire. If you don’t have any fire building experience, I can help pass down these valuable lessons. Like my father passed down to me his best method of starting a fire, I want to save you the struggles of learning it alone.