Think of this book as a tree supplied by three deep roots. The first is my thirty-seven-year marriage to my wife, Kathy.1 She helped me write this book, and she herself wrote chapter 6, Embracing the Other. In chapter 1, I caution readers about the way contemporary culture defines “soul mate” as “a perfectly compatible match.” Nevertheless, when we first began to spend time with each other, we each realized that the other was a rare fit for our hearts. I first met Kathy through her sister, Susan, who was a student with me at Bucknell University. Susan often spoke to Kathy about me and to me about Kathy. As a young girl, Kathy had been led toward the Christian faith by C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia.2 She urged Susan to recommend them to me. I read and was moved by the books and by other Lewis volumes that I subsequently studied. In 1972, we both enrolled at the same school, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on Boston’s North Shore, and there we quickly came to see that we shared the “secret thread” that Lewis says is the thing that turns people into close friends—or more.
You may have noticed that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words:.… Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling … of that something which you were born desiring …?3
Our friendship grew into romance and engagement, and then from a fragile new marriage into a tested and durable one. But this only happened through the “pearls before swine” speech, the Great Dirty Diaper Conflict, the “smashing the wedding china” affair, and other infamous events in our family history that will be described in this book—all mileposts on the very bumpy road to marital joy. Like most young modern couples, we found that marriage was much harder than we expected it to be. At the conclusion of our wedding ceremony, we marched out singing to the hymn “How Firm a Foundation.” Little did we know how relevant some of the lines would be to the arduous and painful work of developing a strong marriage.
When through fiery trials, thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all-sufficient will be thy supply.
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.4
This book, therefore, is for those spouses who have discovered how challenging day-to-day marriage is and who are searching for practical resources to survive the sometimes overwhelming “fiery trials” of matrimony and to grow through them. Our society’s experience with marriage has given us the metaphor “the honeymoon is over.” This is a book for those who have experienced this as a literal truth and may have fallen back to earth with a thud.
Timothy Keller and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, 1st ed. (New York: Dutton, 2011), 9–11.