For a Valentine’s Day episode of This American Life, they told love stories, but not the usual kind. One was a quirky little tale about a couple, Richard and Linda, who had been married nine years and had two kids. One evening the family went for ice cream and Linda recognized a man in the store, a former boyfriend looking better than ever.
His name was David. He was a psychologist like Linda. She and her old flame engaged in some small talk with just a hint of flirting. Linda and her family left, but this chance encounter was all she could think about.
When she got to work on Monday, there was a long message from David. She ignored it, but he called again. She knew better but thought it could not hurt to return his call. David suggested they get together for coffee. Linda decided to ask her husband what he thought about her going for coffee. He admitted he was not thrilled, but he trusted her.
Richard said, “Whatever you think.”
Linda confessed she could hardly stop fantasizing about this man from her past. In a moment of brilliance and tenderness, Richard put his arms around his wife and said, “Honey, I’m so sorry I don’t do that for you anymore.”
Linda called David and told him she was married to a wonderful man, and for David never to call her again. She felt alive and joyful, because she realized what she had.
In a day when so many are looking for greener grass, Linda and Richard’s story is inspiring. There is something wonderful to be said for faithfulness after the thrill is gone. There is something holy about staying with it when we do not feel like it.
“There is something wonderful to be said for faithfulness after the thrill is gone.”
We know what it is like when our get up and go has gotten up and gone. We choose our dullest clothes, because we do not want to waste a good outfit on a boring day. We skip breakfast because nothing sounds good. We lose 20 minutes on Facebook, 20 on Twitter, or 20 on Instagram — or all three.
What we really want to do is spend the day on the couch, with a pint of Cherry Garcia in one hand and a glass of red in the other, watching the Real Housewives of Atlanta, but we know this is not a long-term strategy for feeling better.
On our zombie days, the lower energy we feel, the less we do, the worse we feel, and the cycle continues. We feel low on confidence, low on self-esteem, unable to have fun, unable to concentrate on what we are supposed to be doing.
We just can’t get over our ex. We bombed our big presentation. We had a big fight with our partner. We feel like the people closest to us are having secret meetings to talk about how to be more irritating. We eat too much, drink too much, complain too much.
Some days, showing up is about all we can manage. We have had a hard three years of a global pandemic, political unrest, racial injustice, horrific wars, natural disasters and a struggling economy. Pick any day and the news is much the same — here a school shooting, there a terrible accident, everywhere a tragedy.
We do not need reporters to tell us about broken hearts. We have a variety of heartaches — the daily toll of a parent with dementia, the pain of a broken marriage, the loss of a job, the estrangement from family, the challenge of an illness and the diminishment of aging. When our lives are tedious, we are tempted to give ourselves to boredom.
What do we do when the thrill is gone? We can give up and give in, or we can keep showing up. Our best hope is to do what we know we should do. Share with the needy. Forgive the irritating people we live with. Listen to the lonely, even when we wish we had not answered the phone.
If we keep helping, we will have moments when we want to help. We will look for conversations with people whose lives are different than ours. We will love those close to us as much as we can.
“When we are not feeling sparkly, we keep showing up.”
When we are not feeling sparkly, we keep showing up. We get up and move. Brush our teeth. Wash our face. Sit in a sunny window and drink a cup of coffee. Eat something healthy. Bake something delicious. Wash the dishes by hand.
Get out of the house. Take a walk. Walk the dog. Go for a run. Work in the garden.
Find a way to laugh. Cry if it will make us feel better. Look through old photographs. Take some new ones.
Talk to someone we love. Sing, write and pray about what we are feeling. Think about things for which we are grateful. Focus on what we have more of than on what we don’t.
Being true when it is hard lifts us from dullness to hope. When we think the thrill is gone, we should look critically at the dullness that tempts us. We need to understand that living faithfully is what puts the sizzle back into the romance of life.
Brett Younger serves as senior minister at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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