The following is an excerpt from The President’s Devotional, written by Josh DuBois, who served as director of faith outreach for the Obama White House from 2008 through 2012.
It started on the campaign trail in 2008. We were in the back of a black SUV, heading to the Saddleback Civil Forum in Orange County, California. After quizzing me on the Ten Commandments (and poking fun at my friend and his body man, Reggie Love, for not knowing all of Moses’s instructions by heart), then-Senator Obama looked at me with a wry smile and said: “You know, you really should get married.”
“I’m working on in, Senator, I really am. Things are going pretty well with my girlfriend . . .”
“Well, you should get married. Time for you to settle down.”
It was the first of several inquisitions. There was the time we gathered in the Oval Office with a dozen faith leaders to launch the Faith-Based Advisory Council, when President Obama interrupted the proceedings to ask, “You engaged yet?”
There was Father’s Day 2010, when we visited a local nonprofit, and backstage before his remarks, the president introduced me to a group of fathers and kids by saying, “And this is Joshua, my faith-based director. He’s a great guy, but he’s not a dad yet himself—he’ll get there, if we could only get him married.”
And there was the afternoon before a picnic on the White House lawn. We had invited teenage boys from local high schools to the White House, along with some famous adult mentors. I was sitting in a foyer called the Diplomatic Reception Room when President Obama walked in. Before I could begin briefing him on the event, he interrupted me. “Really, what’s the holdup? Why haven’t you popped the question?”
Surprised but grateful for the opportunity to have a longer conversation on the subject, I started in with a range of excuses. “Sir, I’m saving more money for a ring, and a wedding. . . . I’m waiting for the job to slow down a bit so that we have more time to spend together. . . . I’m—”
And the president interrupted me again. “Listen, Joshua. Do you love her? Do you think she’ll be a great wife?”
“Well, yes. Yes sir, I do.”
“Then you can’t let that other stuff stop you. Marriage is the best decision you can make; it sounds trite, but it really does complete a person, rounds you out. If you’ve made up your mind that you want her to be your wife and the mother of your children, then that’s all you need to know. You really should think about popping the question—you need to get married.”
Marriage ran deep for President Obama. In fact, I came to know it as the mooring force for his life. Growing up with his grandparents and seeing their relationship firsthand, the future president embraced their marriage as an island of stability in an often-tumultuous childhood.
And when this globe-trotting, big-thinking, ambitious young man met Michelle Robinson in Chicago in the summer of 1989, his itinerant legs grew roots, and grew strong. At the end of full days then and now, navigating the world and its challenges, Michelle had a way of reminding Barack of what was most important. In photos and joint interviews that shed light on their private moments, we see the president leaning on his wife, both physically and in spirit. She is his place for replenishment, for grounding, for rest, and for joy.