Have you belled the cat in your marriage?
Maybe you don’t have a cat. Or a bell. And if you did have a cat, why would you want to put a bell around its neck anyway? Perhaps by now you’ve decided I’ve either presented an intriguing metaphor that leaves you hooked or I’m just really, really strapped for something compelling to write about this month.
I’m hoping it’s the former, not the latter.
You see, there’s this fable that my older daughters and I studied this week called “The Council of the Mice.” These mice have a problem.
Wait for it. Wait for it.
Yep, you guessed it, a cat. This feline is proving to be a highly effective means of unwanted population control. Day after day, more mice go missing … permanently.
So those left behind realize they need a plan to protect themselves. They gather together and one young mouse proposes, “Let’s put a bell around the cat’s neck. That way, when it comes near any of us, the sound of the bell will warn us.” Well, the other mice think this is ingenious! That is, until a senior mouse slaps some reality on the table. He asks, “And how are we going to get this bell around the cat’s neck?”
Suddenly, all the mice have one of those “Oh, yeah” moments. Sure, this task of theirs may be ingenious, but it’s difficult and perhaps even impossible to achieve. Sacrifice, and maybe even the supreme sacrifice, could be required.
What does this have to do with you and your spouse? Or me and mine?
A successful marriage requires a high-risk mission. One that’s difficult, and perhaps seemingly impossible at times, to walk out. One that demands sacrifice and, yes, even supreme sacrifice.
What is this mission?
That would be laying our lives down for the benefit of our marriage. Consistently saying “no” to our safe, selfish desires. Daily sacrificing our personal agendas. Continually killing the things that threaten to eat away at our marital unity. It’s something we agree to when we promise “I do.” Of course, it’s easier said than done. You know, just like a mouse putting a bell around the neck of a carnivorous cat is.
But the thing is, if we want to make the most out of our relationship with our spouse, dying to ourselves is required. And, as difficult as it is at times, it is absolutely worth it. I love what N.D. Wilson writes in Death by Living. He says:
“I can be giving my fingers, my back, my mind, my words, my breaths, to my wife and my children and my neighbors, or I can grasp after the vapor and the vanity for myself, dragging my feet, afraid to die and therefore afraid to live. And, like Adam, I will still die in the end. Living is the same as dying. Living well is the same as dying for others.”
And you know what? For us, there’s good news when it comes to our belling of the cat. We don’t have to do it alone.
Think back to that council of mice. What if they had an ally? A Keith like Beverly Clearly’s Ralph had; a little boy to put that bell around the cat’s neck for the mice. Suddenly, their task wouldn’t seem as daunting. As dangerous. As doomed. Why? Because it wasn’t dependent on them alone.
Here’s the thing, we do have an ally! We have the Holy Spirit who helps us in this process of dying to ourselves. When we’d rather pick a fight over socks on the floor or dirty dishes in the sink, this divine Counselor urges us and enables us to let it go. When we’d prefer to spend our time surfing the internet instead of listening to our spouse’s day, He convicts us to choose our spouse. And as we are sensitive to His guidance, there’s joy in the dying. There’s joy in a life – and marriage – of supreme sacrifice. Of, as Wilson writes, “living well.”
So I don’t know about you, but I’ve decided to bell the cat in my marriage. High-risk and all.