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Just dropping by ... ‘Burn the boats’

Yevet Tenney Published on 18 July 2014

Back in the ancient days of my youth, when I thought the answer to most of my problems would be a couple million dollars, I heard a motivational speaker tell the story of Hernán Cortés.

In 1514, Hernán Cortés, with about 600 Spaniards, 16 or so horses and 11 boats, landed in Mexico. They were on a quest to conquer the Aztecs and take their treasure. Many troops had tried to conquer the Aztecs and had failed.

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Hernán Cortés was a shrewd leader, and he talked to his men about the treasure they would obtain when they conquered the city. He wove a dream for them of magnificent wealth and jewels. Their families would have the finest of everything, and they would be respected and revered for their bravery.

The soldiers were ready to take the city. They would fight for it and win. They were in the rah-rah-rah state of mind when they landed in Mexico, but when they faced the reality, it was a different story. The doubts started to creep in.

Hernán Cortés called his men together. The soldiers probably thought he was going to tell them the battle plan and map out the path for retreat, but he just said three simple yet immortal words: “Burn the boats.” He gave his soldiers two options: conquer and come home with the treasure or die. To shorten the story, the soldiers burned their boats, stormed the city and brought home the treasure.

I was never willing to stand on the shores of tomorrow and burn my boats to obtain great wealth, but there are instances in my life where I have “burned the boats” and have been successful. Marriage is one of those instances.

In today’s permissive society where anything goes, marriage is a point of contention and political strife or it is tossed away as an archaic institution of diminishing value. More and more couples decide to dip their toes in the water of matrimony rather than to jump in wholeheartedly and really swim.

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They say, “If it doesn’t work out, we can get a divorce.” Others say, “We’ll live together and see how things go. We will avoid the cost of divorce fees if it doesn’t work out.” Still others are like butterflies flitting from one flower to the next, making no commitments or putting down roots.

I sincerely believe that everyone wants to find a soulmate. They want happiness and fulfillment in their relationships. They want something that will last and will give them security in their later years. In other words, they want the treasures of marriage without the shackles of commitment, but the irony is as old as time.

The richest treasures of marriage only come after you “burn the boats.” In fact, that is what God intended man and woman should do when He said, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh.”(Genesis 2:24)

Quite literally, the Lord meant for men and women to leave their parents and move into a world of one man and one woman. He said “cleave” which means “to adhere (to someone) firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly.”

He did not say move into your own apartment and stay there until things get tough, then go home to Mom and Dad or cry on your friend’s shoulder or rush to the divorce lawyer to figure out how to solve the unsolvable problem.

God didn’t mean sleep with each other and see how things worked out, trusting to the whim of adversity to keep you together or send you packing. He wasn’t talking about one-night-stands with one flower and on to the next flower tomorrow night. He was talking about “burning the boats,” “until death do us part.”

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I was 38 when I married my husband. I was a died-in-the-wool spinster who had definite opinions about everything. After all, things had gone “my way” for 38 years. I knew how to raise children. I had a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. I had my psychology classes and my Child Development 101.

I had taught for five years, and I had just received my Master of Fine Arts in child drama and playwriting. I had studied marriage and family relations. Why, anyone could see I was the perfect candidate to take over a family of teenagers.

My husband had an associate’s degree in small-business management, had served in the army and had seen much of the practical side of life. He had been a crew chief on a helicopter and was a master carpenter. He could write songs and build guitars.

He had just lost his wife to cancer, had six children of his own and had been married to one woman for 18 years. He had never taken the course on marriage and family relationships; he might have taken psychology but didn’t put much stock in textbooks.

He had definite opinions about everything. He was actually the father of teenagers and had some hard knocks with life. Why, anyone could see that he was the perfect father for teenagers.

I was a starry-eyed bride who expected everything to be fairy-tale and filled with sunshine and roses. I looked at his shining city and readily burned my boats. He burned his too. We made eternal commitments. Who wouldn’t? It was going to be perfect. A match made in heaven. Our life was off to bliss and joy forever. It was truly a perfect match ... until after the honeymoon. Then the battle began.

I picked up my sword of psychology and Child Development 101, and he picked up his sword of practical experience. The battle was on. I would not bend because my theories were sure to work. He would not bend because he stood on the side of “been there, done that.” Pride ruled our home for a few years.

There were slashed feelings and wounded emotions. Harsh words were spoken, and we were like two mules kicking apart the cart. We did have two saving graces. We prayed together and we put down our swords at the door of our bedroom and didn’t pick them up until the next morning.

Gradually, I started to realize that theories are just that – theories. Someone had a brain-child and wrote it into a textbook, and it was worth nothing unless two people decided to read the same page and try the theory out. I realized that agreeing to disagree was much more pleasant than wielding the sword.

It was a magnificent revelation to find out that being wrong was OK. It didn’t diminish my character, it didn’t shake me to the very center, and the doors of heaven did not swing shut with a loud crash. I was just wrong, and I could change my mind. In fact, seeing things from someone else’s perspective was enlightening.

My husband changed too. He learned to listen to my ideas and started to understand my passion about certain things. He even came to admit he was wrong once in a while. He learned to avoid subjects that were charged with dynamite. He started to care about my point of view, and in short, he learned to agree to disagree. Nobody has to be right or wrong. Some things are not worth the battle.

Are we perfect? Do we still have our differences? Every day. But we know from past experience we don’t need the sword. We just need to take hands, and we will make it through.

As I look back, I realize that if we had not “burned the boats” we would never have come to the place we are now. We would not have learned the lessons God intended for us to learn. We would have ended up two lonely people searching for the perfect soulmate in an imperfect world of imperfect people.

We would have cheated ourselves out of years of contentment and security. What is worse, we would have cheated our sweet family of 11 children out of parents and grandparents who have learned not only to “talk the talk” but “walk the walk.” We stand at the top of a very high mountain and can say to our children, “It is worth the climb! Don’t give up! Burn those boats!”

The treasure of marriage is found only after the boats’ glowing embers.PD

Photo by Thinkstock.

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