Marriage Letters: On Co-Laboring

On the first Monday of the month, Amber and I write letters to each other. Follow this link to read hers. This month's topic is "On Co-Laboring."


Dear Amber,

Co-labor--it's such a taxing word; isn't it? There's the prefix "co," which intimates that two or more are gathered together in the endeavor (and as they say, where two or more are gathered, there's bound to come a disagreement). Directly following said prefix is the meat and potatoes of the matter--"labor." The word finds its roots in the Latin term laborum, which means "toil, exertion, hardship, pain, fatigue." Pain and fatigue--sounds like a cotton-candy carnival of rainbows and dancing unicorns, right?

I suppose that one way or the other, all married couples co-labor. Some co-labor well, know when to give and take, when to work and rest. They work together to make it from one day to the next in love and respect. Others, co-labor more in mutual misunderstanding and angst.  They work to keep their marriage on the less-than-sunny-side of life, conspire against each other, demean one another, and undermine the other's respect and self worth. These are the marriages that co-labored to the death, and killing a good thing is hard work.

There was a time when we engaged in the latter sort of co-laboring more than the former. I flittered about, slapped the ministry moniker on too much work and attempted to call it holy. You stayed home, buried yourself in Yeats, Eliot, and Williams. You wrote a series of poems about a woman who was trapped in an affair, how she wanted a husband who was present. Through our co-laboring, you became that woman, even if only for a season. Those were the days we co-labored against peace.

It's interesting how the tables have turned. I suppose forgiveness, vulnerability, and honesty will do that to a couple. Anyhow, these days I'm watching you minister with the church. You're writing, speaking, and meeting with people at the local coffee shop. You're less flitting and more engaging. I see you coming to life, see you becoming living water, living poetry.

On the flip side of this ministry comes sacrifice. You go to Haiti, and we stay back, waiting to hear the stories you'll tell when you return. We wait with baited breath, sit on edge while you're gone, stare at the door hoping you'll come through it at any moment bearing hugs and Haitian coffee.

You return with stories about the children's school and Le Negra Marron. You return full of life. Our sacrifice is a small price to pay for the life you bring our family. Sure, it's co-laboring in a sense; somehow, though, it's a lighter yoke than the etymology would suggest.

I wonder whether you feel that way, too. You've been giving me more space to step into poetry, have encouraged me in form and structure. This was your thing, poetry; maybe it still is. But you've let that go for now, have encouraged me to keep scrawling it in journals, on Post-its, and across the fold of restaurant napkins. This weekend, you gave me a day with the river and encouraged me in my exploration of nature's poetry. Perhaps this felt like co-laboring to you. I wonder though, did it bring you joy to know that I was in a place of rest, a place where I come alive?

Yes, these days I suppose we are co-laboring in healthier ways. We are co-laboring toward a different kingdom, one that is full of peace and beauty. Even though it's work, the work is light, and full of joy. We're on the same page, working together, and it feels right. I wonder whether God sees this, whether he somehow credits your work to me as a co-creator, and my work to you as the same. This, I think, is the truth, and if we had the imagination to see it this way, perhaps we wouldn't call it "co-laboring" so much as we'd call it "collaborating."

Collaboration--this is the joyful expression of co-laboring. I'm glad to be your collaborator.


Collaboratively yours,