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Lately, I’ve had marriage on the brain, and it’s not surprising. It’s valentine season, my husband and I are anticipating our thirtieth wedding anniversary, and our oldest son will be married in a matter of days. As I have pondered what counsel I could share with my son before he embarks on this new adventure, a faint image fills my mind: early morning sunlight shimmers across a broad, clear lake as one small rowboat slips quietly over the water. Two smiling people sit close in the boat, having just pushed off from the shore. They each grasp an oar and begin to pull and glide. Marriage is a lot like rowing.

A brief search for information about rowing reveals that a common thread running through articles and websites on this subject is the treatment of blisters, since friction is always involved when you’re working an oar, and blisters are the inevitable result of friction. Happily, I found a few articles that focused not on the treatment of blisters, but preventing them. Sounds like a good idea. Photos showed the process of wrapping hands and fingers with special blister tape to create a “second skin” to protect flesh. Though time-consuming, it’s worth the effort to anyone hoping to avoid the sting of blisters. If blister prevention is a key to enjoying the sport of rowing, how much more vital it is when rowing with your life’s partner.

The Savior seems to know a lot about rowing. His teachings were specifically calculated to reduce friction—or contention–in our relationships. His gospel is the most effective blister prevention available. “Blessed are the meek…the merciful…the pure in heart…the peacemakers…” (Matt. 5:5-9) Imagine how working mindfully to develop these qualities could help prevent serious friction in daily interactions with our shipmate.

One question posed by Jesus Christ is particularly pertinent to husbands and wives who wish to row in smooth unison: “Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy [spouse’s] eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” Then comes the relationship-altering admonition: “…first cast the beam out of thine own eye…” (Matthew 7:3, 5) The moment we reach for our partner’s oar—trying to “fix” the way he or she rows—we lose focus, and our own rowing technique suffers. My husband seemed to know this from day one of our marriage, and has chosen not to use criticism in our relationship. This is, of course, not because there isn’t anything to correct in me, but Brad knows that critically pointing out my weaknesses won’t solve anything. Besides, he’s busy tending to the business of his own rowing.

I was intrigued by the title of a magazine article: “Falling Out of Love…and Climbing Back In.”(1) It’s an account of one woman’s discovery that she could not change her spouse, and she’s not intended to. But she could invite the power of the Savior’s atonement to change her. The process of change through the atonement can be slow and requires deep humility, but turning to the Lord for this type of help automatically takes our focus off any perceived weaknesses in our partner’s rowing.

One author refers to a healthy marriage as follows, “This stage is much like two teammates in a canoe rowing together toward the destination. Their personal desires are subservient to the common purpose for which they row…Amazingly, as they row toward their God-given destiny, the desires of their hearts that had been set aside are fulfilled.”

On a winter afternoon sixteen years ago, I was parked in front of our local elementary school. It was my turn to drive carpool and I was a bit early, so I turned on the car radio. The station featured a program about strengthening families, and the host compared family life to traveling in a boat, attempting to row in the same direction. He suggested that when the boat is drifting, or turning in circles, someone needs to ask the question, “Will you row with me?” I sat up straight in my seat and fished around in my purse for a pen and a napkin, because the phrase I’d just heard was a song title if ever there was one:

“Will you row with me?
Shall we cross the sea together?
Will you go with me on a voyage
that will last forever?”(3)

I feverishly cranked out lyrics, finishing a couple of stanzas before the school bell shattered my concentration and my noisy crew raced out of the building and scrambled into the car. I was a bit distracted on the drive home as my children shared pieces of their day with me. The question, “Will you row with me?” was still ringing in my ears. As soon as the kids were settled in with snacks and homework I made a beeline for my walk-in closet where I flopped on the floor in the silence and scribbled the rest of my lyrics into a notebook:

“It may take some time to grow
accustomed to the ebb and flow.
Still, I’m hoping you will go.
Will you row with me?”(4)

I’m grateful to my husband for three decades of pulling and gliding together. Every thoughtful act he has performed for me is like a smooth paddle stroke in the water, pushing us farther along our journey. My deepest wish for my son, as he and his lovely shipmate push off from shore this week, is to embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ to help them find the rhythm in their rowing.

Will You Row With Me?
Words and music by Lynne Perry Christofferson
(from the album Keeping Sheep)

Vocalists: Jenny Jordan Frogley, John McVey

Will you row with me? Shall we cross the sea together?
Will you go with me on a voyage that will last forever?
Will you sit there by my side,
take an oar and start to pull and glide?

Are you ready for the ride? Will you row with me?
Oh there’s no motor on this boat,
no sail to catch the wind that’s blowing.
The only way to stay afloat
is by two willing people slowly rowing.

Will you row with me? Shall we cross the sea together?
Will you go with me on a voyage that will last forever?

It may take some time to grow
accustomed to the ebb and flow.
Still, I’m hoping you will go. Will you row with me?

If ever we should start to drift,
uncertain where our boat is going,
there’s no need to abandon ship,
but just resume our slow and steady rowing.
Will you row with me?

This isn’t a race so there’s no need to be in a hurry.
As long as we can row together
It will be a thrilling journey.
Will you row with me? Shall we cross the sea together?
Will you go with me on a voyage that will last forever?
Oh, I need to know: will you row?

 

  1. (Author’s name withheld) “Falling Out of Love…and Climbing Back In” Ensign, January 2005.
  2. Craig Hill, “Four Stages of Marriage: Stage 4,” familyfoundations.com.
  3. Lynne Perry Christofferson, “Will You Row With Me?” Keeping Sheep, (album), 2001.
  4. ibid