Thursday, 6 December 2012


This Friday I have the privilege of talking to some young men who are about to get married.  We will be looking at a Biblical foundation for life together - for being one.  Two people, two lives twined into a single thread.  As Christians we believe that we need to have God with us, blessing our union to make it strong and resilient.  The wise man wrote "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.  A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Eccl. 4.12).

If the session were held a-week-and-a-day-later, these young guns would be celebrating with Sheba and me as we complete 13 years of marriage together on the 15th of December.

This year, more than any so far, has brought to me the brutal fact of some of my closest friends finding the bottom of their worlds dropping out as their marriages unravel.  I think back on one such marriage a-decade-and-a-half-ago, remembering the glorious day of promises, the utter joy of the couple.  Today I am reeling as I get small snippets of text that express the deep crushing sadness of a couple who are telling their children that they are divorcing.  I carry the news in my heart, praying intermittently, going back again and again to what my friends are doing, the choices that are being made, the tragic story that is unfolding in the midst of material plenty.  Lord have mercy.

Its never been easy to stay together.  Everything around us tells us that we have to look after ourselves.  The deepest hurts that bubble up in our marriage revolve around feelings of not being appreciated by the other, when we feel our needs are not being met, when we have been taken for granted.  As one of our church elders put it so well "We are hurt by our most intimate family members because we expect so much from them, and at the same time we appreciate them so little... because we expect so much from them."

Shortly after the debacle in the Garden - God asks Adam what happened... and the first recorded man points his finger at his wife and blames God saying 'the woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it."  Classic, original blame-shifting.  I always am right.  Everyone else is always wrong.  Especially her (or him if you are on the other side).

13 years is a long time.  My marriage with Sheba is now sneaked up past a quarter of our lives - and is almost 1/3.  Soberingly, we will hit 60 before it reaches the halfway point.   But over these years we have had many times when things were not happy-happy.   When what I did has really hurt her.  When what she said did vice versa to me.

But am I ever so grateful to Sheba for the stream of love and care that continues to flow.  I have been so unworthy of it time and time again - but despite that she has continued to love and care for me.  And there have been times over these years when I have had opportunities to give grace to Sheba.  We had (and still have) our fair share of rough edges.  Ones that bring a fair amount of friction, but are also amenable to change.  Its hard to come face to face with your own unpleasantness, the utter fact of needing to change.  We tend to lash out, to defend, to build walls instead of seeing our partner as a God-given instrument to shape us.

The absolute core of it all comes out clearly in a beautiful two sentences by St. Paul.  Writing to a church in a city called Colossae, he urges them with these words:  Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourself with compassion, humility, kindness, gentleness and patience (Col. 3.12).  The idea of 'clothing' ourselves talks about how much we need to 'put them on.'  Looking back on 13 years, how many times I wasn't wearing these beautiful clothes - and how much Sheba suffered because of that.  Multiply that out into so many lives and you have the recipe for so much heart-ache.  Our marriages are finally not about doing neat things together, or working to get the kids grown-up, or pleasing whatever relatives we may have.  We will be moving towards one-ness when we put on these things.  We will be moving apart when we leave them in the wardrobe... or don't even try them on at all.

And then Paul brings in the kicker.  Now he is talking to a church - to a pretty rowdy set of folks who clearly had some problems with getting along with each other.  But what he says totally true for our marriages.  Here's the crux of it all:  Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against each other. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  (Col. 3.13).

There it is. The recipe for oneness.  And how hard it is.  It means that I need to die to self - for her.  And vice versa.

Bear with each other.  There are lots and lots of things that I may not like in my spouse.  But if I am honest to myself, those things are not wrong - they are just not my style, my taste, my preferences.  Well, I need to bear with them.  I don't need to change them.  My love and commitment to our union depends on my acceptance of her - even the parts that are not 'just how I want.'

And then there are things that are really bad.  Things that she has done to me that are wrong.  Lets not even talk of my list.  What are we to do with these actions.  Here is comes. Forgive whatever grievances you may have against each other.  This is not just perceived slights and hurts.  No way.  This is the real rotten things that we have done to each other.  What are we to do? To forgive.  And just in case we don't understand we are reminded - Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  

Ouch.  I must forgive, not because I want to.  Not because she deserves it. But in the amazing grace sense that Christ forgives me.  Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing Jesus prays as the nails are driven through his wrists and feet.  In marriage - which we have pledged to before God and humanity - we don't have the right to keep our hurts, to nurse our grudges, to let our egos do the talking.  The Biblical model is constant, continual forgiveness.  Crazy love.  Very hard to do.  But not impossible.  Especially if its not just me alone - or even if it is not just the two of us trying our hardest - we need the touch of the Divine to just make it through the day.  Every day.

I have seen this in my parents growing up.  Real areas of hurt and misunderstanding.  And real forgiveness between Mum and Dad.  Their 45 years of togetherness that they will celebrate this 23rd of December is a testimony to this.  Two normal, fallible people - continually loving each other through on-going forgiveness.  As I have grown older I have seen the rough patches clearer.  You would think that just being together for a long time will make everything smooth.  Hardly. In fact I get angry when I see things that I thought were dealt with long ago.  But who am I to say as I look back into my own unfinished life?  Into the many parts of my union with Sheba where I have yet to bend?  What do I see - and have seen over all these years - in Mum and Dad are two people who are doing the work of love.  Bearing with each other.  Forgiving each other.  Remembering how Jesus loves and forgives them.  Repeat.

And that's what we hope Asha and Enoch are seeing in us.  We have hardly been model parents.  But we want them to capture this basic pattern of oneness.  Dying to self.  Building each other up.  Taking delight in each other.  Giving grace to each other.

We are excited by folks who are stepping into marriage.  We are grieved by our loved ones who are making steps to annul what they promised.  Have mercy, Oh Lord, have mercy on us all.  We are far from where we want to be, but on a journey, and so grateful for people who have showered us with grace, patience and prayer.

Kyrie eleison

p.s.  As with everything, we pick up lots of things along the way.  The Col. 3.12-13 bit comes primarily from John Piper's book This Momentary Marriage.  You can download it by clicking: here

1 comment:

  1. Col 3:12-14 is the verse (the reference only actually) that is engraved on our wedding rings.

    Your blog post was a beautiful & timely reminder. Thank you!