Writer Nicole Watt was considering throwing in the towel on her marriage until she met her mentor Phyllis.


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Phyllis glided into my church community centre one sunny morning. She was dressed in a vibrant array of reds and her short, gray hair was tinted purple. She’d brought cake to go with the coffee we served. She handed it out with a kindness and humour that put everyone at ease. Though we only said “hello” to each other that day, she would become a miracle in my life. I call her Naomi after the mother-in-law in the Bible who steadfastly guided her daughter-in-law Ruth through loss and poverty to re-marriage. 

My husband and I were separated. He worked long hours while I looked after our children.  Feeling powerless to get him to understand how I was feeling or what I needed, and not yet seeing my part in the demise of our marriage, I was considering divorce when Phyllis invited me for breakfast. She told me her tale of a fifty-year marriage and listened intently to mine, carefully considering everything I shared.

When I asked for her secrets, she laughed and said: “Say less, do more.” I soon learned it was one of her favorite sayings along with “chaste conversations.”

“Chaste?” I rolled my eyes at the archaic word and imagined walking obediently behind my husband, lips sealed. “It just means watch how you speak and whom you speak to. Men need to know they can trust their wives and they tend to be more private than we are. Face-to-face conversations and keep short accounts.”

When I asked for her secrets, she laughed and said: ‘Say less, do more.’

When Phyllis and her husband invited me and the kids to dinner, it was evident she walked her talk. Over time, her counsel inspired me to relate to my husband with more respect. In addition to spiritual guidance, Phyllis also gave me the practical support and friendship I desperately needed. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul says to those he is serving: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”

In verse 7, he compares this love and giving of life to a mother nursing her children. I’ve been blessed by many Titus 2 women during my years as a Christian; women who taught Bible studies, and met for coffee to encourage or discuss problems. But as one young mother lamented: ”Everyone talks to me about how to manage my time better, or that this stage will pass, or that they’ll pray for me. The Proverbs 31 woman had servants. What I need is someone to do a load of laundry or cook a meal and let me nap for an hour.”

We live in a society that is becoming increasingly fractured. For some women, whether it’s distance or dysfunction or working longer hours or later in life, it is not possible to rely on their own families for support. With my mum living in another country and my mother-in-law deceased, I was alone until Phyllis stepped in to help.

She ready-made lasagnes for dinner when I was too tired to cook and invited us to her house for meals. She watched the littles so I could go to appointments or for a walk. When I struggled to cope with the responsibility of young children and my thoughts turned negative, she would hold her hands to heaven and say: “Thank you, Lord, for this wonderful mother. Her children are so blessed!” It’s impossible to be discouraged when someone thanks God for you right in your presence. She became a companion in beach adventures and took us to a Christian conference. She even arranged sailing lessons for me and the kids. One summer afternoon, as we caught the wind and cut across the water, spirit and body came together, and I was moved by a sense of overcoming, of a way being made for us I hadn’t seen before. 

She opened her Bible to Nehemiah 4:14 and declared with Holy Spirit power: “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your families…”

Meanwhile, most of my friends wanted me to divorce. The pressure became immense as the separation continued long past what I had hoped. I shared my concerns with Phyllis, along with the ember of belief that God still wanted me to stand in the gap for my marriage. She bowed her head for a moment, then opened her Bible to Nehemiah 4:14 and declared with Holy Spirit power: “Remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your families…” When my husband and I reconciled a few months later, Phyllis was the one who celebrated with me.

After a year had passed, I opened Facebook and saw a high school friend on a page for marriage reconciliation. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, I reached out to offer support if she needed it. She messaged back and we’ve been in contact ever since. I’m no Phyllis, but I do my best to encourage and pray for her, to look after her in practical and meaningful ways in the same spirit of how Phyllis looked after me.

There are no perfect marriages or lives. Even if I didn’t just celebrate my 13th wedding anniversary, when I look across the kitchen table at my precious spiritual mama and she smiles at me, I know God redeemed Naomi and Ruth before Boaz ever set foot into the story.