Steve Martin has a book about his life as a stand-up comic before he was in the movies. In this book he says something compelling about greatness.
He says it’s not hard to be great.
Every comic is great, every now and then. There will be times for everyone when things go right, everything works, and you are great. Great moments will happen, you can count on it, and it’s not hard to be great.
What IS hard, Martin says, is to be consistently good. Everybody is great – once in a while. But can you be good – day after day after day?
A comic has to be funny even if the lighting is screwed up, acoustics in the room are lousy, she’s feeling under the weather, or the crowd is full of hecklers. Perfect shows happen on perfect days, but can you still be good, even when everything goes wrong?
Marriage is that way.
There are days in every marriage when everything is just perfect. Things are going your way, you’ve got your heads on straight and it’s so easy to be madly in love.
You both look great, your jobs are going well, there is money in the accounts. You’re off work on a beautiful day when your to-do list isn’t on your mind and you’re in good health. Maybe there’s even cupcakes involved! You’re feeling romantic and you’ve thought up the perfect special thing you’re going to do to say ‘I love you’ to your partner, and the ensure the day will end even better than it’s begun.
You know what I mean, you go-getter?
On days like that, it’s not hard at all to be great. Shoot, you’re the best wife, you’re the best husband the world has ever seen! These days of greatness will happen, every once in a while.
Most days though, you’re shootin’ for good. Can you be a basically patient and kind partner, in the midst of all the things that are not going the way you want them to, and all the stuff you count on working that has decided to break all of a sudden? Can you be, for the most part, a compassionate and gentle partner, in spite of all the people and issues you’re struggling with?
Can you be good, day after day?
It’s Not About How Awesome You Are (Or How Much You Suck)
People often assume that happy, successful relationships come down to individuals’ personal disposition.
Of course, we all rely on whatever natural strengths for caring and sensitivity we possess to support our relationships. That’s obvious. But if relationships that are good day after day and year after year were available only to people who are generally very kind, understanding, patient and caring, there would be about 7 or 8 successful, happy marriages on Earth. And I think there’s a handful more than that, though I don’t know the exact number.
The truth is, regardless of our innate personality strengths and weaknesses, we make choices that keep good days coming, or don’t.
There’s the choice to listen intently to what your partner is saying. There’s the choice to continue with a difficult conversation instead of storming off. There’s the choice to say ‘no’ to things that are taking too much of your time and energy, leaving too little of you for your relationship. Many important choices go into being consistently good.
I’d like to focus on one choice, in particular, that really helps partners be good with each other:
The Choice to Remember and be Grateful
There’s a scripture I speak about regularly when I officiate at weddings, Phillipians 4:8
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
These words come from the Apostle Paul, written 2,000 years ago to a Christian community he cared a lot about. On first reading, his instruction may seem naively optimistic – just think happy thoughts, right? Whatever is good, whatever is wonderful, hey – stick with that! Seems a little Pollyanna-ish or something. Of course, some things that are true and some things that are honorable are not that pleasant to think about.
On the whole, though, Paul is talking about mostly positive things. Whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, whatever is excellent, whatever is worthy of praise. Focus on these things. I believe Paul shared this message not because he was naïve, but because he was wise.
The truth is, the good stuff is often the stuff we forget.
The good stuff is what we need to be reminded to think about.
Consider your day-to-day life. Most of us are so busy, worried about many things all the time. If something is good, if something is working the way it’s supposed to be working, we drop it off the list of stuff we are thinking about.
When my dishwasher is doing what it’s supposed to do, I don’t think about it at all. But when it starts vomiting soapy water all over my kitchen – it follows me around all day with negative, stressed out thoughts about how I have to do something about that stupid thing and it’s such a pain. Of course, in the scheme of things, I’m an unbelievably privileged person to be able to have a dishwasher at all. But I don’t think about that very much.
We can treat human beings, including (especially) the people we care about most in the world, the same way I treat my dishwasher.
There’s a hundred good things, a hundred reasons we value another person, a hundred qualities that make a person beautiful and special. We can very easily take these things take these things for granted, not think about them at all.
Meanwhile, we allow a handful of things that are complicated or frustrating or painful to occupy all our relationship focus and energy. (Major experiences of betrayal or failure in a marriage are a different matter, and not to be diminished. Still, it’s amazing to think of how many catastrophe-free marriages become increasingly awful for lack of basic goodness.)
In every marriage there is plenty of hard stuff to work out. Difficult decisions, mistakes for which we need to ask for and offer forgiveness.
But there’s a simple choice that’s not hard to make, and if you do it every day, it will keep a lot of vitality and goodness in the ordinary weeks and months and years of your life with the one you love. It’s the choice to remember what is good, and give thanks.
Think about what is good, think about what is honorable, think about what’s pure and commendable. Think about what is true and excellent. Think about what is worthy of praise. Think about all these things now, today.
And think about them every day.