The next morning I rolled over in bed next to Keri and asked, “How can I make your day better?”
Keri looked at me angrily. “What?”
“How can I make your day better?”
“You can’t,” she said. “Why are you asking that?”
“Because I mean it,” I said. “I just want to know what I can do to make your day better.”
She looked at me cynically. “You want to do something? Go clean the kitchen.”
The next day, Evans greeted Keri with the same phrase, at which she narrowed her eyes, and sent him to cleaning the garage.
It went on like that. Each morning, Evans would ask his wife, “What can I do to make your day better?” Each morning, Keri would say in exasperation, “You can’t,” often followed by “Please stop saying that.”
“I can’t,” Evans said. I made a commitment to myself. What can I do to make your day better?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Because I care about you,” I said. “And our marriage.”
After two weeks of gently harassing his wife into letting him do things to make her happy, Keri broke down, sobbing. “Please stop asking me that. You’re not the problem. I am. I’m hard to live with. I don’t know why you stay with me.”
I gently lifted her chin until she was looking in my eyes. “It’s because I love you,” I said. “What can I do to make your day better?”
“I should be asking you that.”
“You should,” I said. “But not now. Right now, I need to be the change. You need to know how much you mean to me.”
It was a moment of recognition and connection, full of the real intimacy that comes when apologies are made and accepted, though words, and actions, and simple presence. When Evans then asked Keri what he could do to make her day better, she said, “Can we spend time together, maybe?”
“I would love to,” he replied.
It was the needed breakthrough. Evans and Keri had moved from wanting to be away from each other, to desiring each other’s company and companionship.
Evans kept asking his ritual question for more than a month. The fights stopped, and soon Keri began asking, “What do you need from me?”
“The walls between us fell.” Evans writes. “We began having meaningful discussions on what we wanted from life and how we could make each other happier. No, we didn’t solve all our problems. I can’t even say that we never fought again. But the nature of our fights changed. Not only were they becoming more and more rare, they lacked the energy they’d once had. We’d deprived them of oxygen. We just didn’t have it in us to hurt each other anymore.”
Marriage is difficult. It is the rare couple that does not find it so, and Evans acknowledges that, but he concludes: “To have a partner in life is a remarkable gift. I’ve also learned that the institution of marriage can help heal us of our most unlovable parts. And we all have unlovable parts.”
Evans’ phrase is a good one. Often as couples become bogged down in their roles amid family, career, and church obligations, it becomes surprisingly easy to lose sight of others and their needs, even when they are lying right next to you. “What can I do to make your life better,” asked seriously and attentively is – or should be – the fundamental question of love, one that actively and intentionally clears a path away from self-interest, opening us up to others.
“Real love is not to desire a person, but to truly desire their happiness–sometimes, even, at the expense of our own happiness….I am incredibly grateful for the inspiration that came to me that day so long ago.”
Inspired is the word for it. The insight given to Evans – that real love desires the happiness of the other, even at one’s own expense – came as the answer to the prayer, and in the end it pointed precisely to Christ, as yet another means of explaining to a man, and to all of us, that love, in the end, always has a connection to the Cross.