Marriage: Someone Better

Jason Micheli —  January 21, 2014 — 2 Comments

lightstock_78926_xsmall_user_2741517Here’s the weekend’s sermon from our series on marriage and relationships. The text is 2 Corinthians 3.12-18. To illustrate Paul’s point about us being transformed from degree of glory to the next, I brought in my rock tumbler.

You can also download the sermon in iTunes here under ‘Tamed Cynic.’

Better yet, download the free Tamed Cynic mobile app here.

 

      1. Marriage: Someone Better

And here’s the text: 

Since this is a sermon series on marriage, let’s just cut to the chase, shall we?

Here’s my advice for a happy, healthy marriage. As Dennis likes to say: Are you ready?

Here it is:

     Always.

Always.

Always put the cap back on the toothpaste. Or have separate sinks.

Oh, and if you’re ever watching The Office on Netflix and she turns to you and asks: ‘Am I your Pam?’

Say yes.

I offer it to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Just kidding.

Ali and I- we have a great marriage. And I think we have a great marriage because we discovered early on what was the source of conflict in our relationship. We discovered early on what is the problem in the relationship that makes us fight.

It’s…me.

I remember our very first fight after we got married. I wanted to go out with the guys like I’d always done before, and Ali wanted me to stay behind with her and cut the cake and toss the bouquet.

Ali and I recently celebrated our anniversary.

We’ve been married 11 or 12 years. We celebrated our anniversary with flowers and a romantic dinner. During the dinner I looked at her in the candlelight and I said with my best Richard Gere squint: ‘Of all the people in the world, I chose you.’

And Ali looked back at me through the candlelight and she said: ‘Of all the people in the world, I chose you?’

Ali and I have been married a dozen or so years, but we actually met and started dating 20 years ago. It was love at first sight. The first time she looked at me through my binoculars I was goner.

Actually, Ali and I first met at swim team practice. I’d like to think it was my Baywatch body and snug Speedo that first made her smitten, but if tight-fitting, inappropriate athletic clothing made people fall in love with me, then I would have a congregation full of secret admirers.

 

For our first date, Ali and I went to see Jurassic Park, a movie in which a woman and 2 children are captive to 1 juvenile man’s narcissistic, irresponsible behavior.

Back then, Ali described the movie as frightening.

Today, she describes it as foreshadowing.

20 years. That’s crazy, right?

Ali and I dated for 8 years.

8 years! Which I think demonstrates that I was really good at commitment.

Ali, on the other hand (not to mention every other woman I’ve ever asked) thinks it demonstrates that I was really good at avoiding commitment.

8 years! That’s a lot of movies and dinners out. And you know, it’s funny. It just shows the difference between courtship and marriage. In all those 8 years of popcorn at the movies and dinners out, I can’t recall Ali ever once noticing that I smack my food when I eat.

Now that we’re married…different story.

8 years- that’s a lot of jewelry too. Every birthday, Valentine’s Day and anniversary.

I think it says a lot about marriage that for Ali’s birthday this past week I got her not diamonds or gold but a lithium-ion cordless driver-drill. That’s what she asked for.

It wasn’t even wrapped in a negligee. Because she asked for that too.

I think a lot of you know I grew up in a broken home; I didn’t grow up knowing what a healthy marriage looked like.

Ali though grew up in a great family. A healthy family. A Leave It to Beaver family. The kind of family of which I never imagined I’d one day be a part.

Most husbands complain about their in-laws but my in-laws are different. Mine even let me call them ‘Mr and Mrs Keller.’

You might not know that Ali grew up Catholic.

And Ali likes to say that because she grew up Catholic, she thinks of our marriage as a sacrament.

Specifically, the Sacrament of Penance.

She says that surely a lifetime with me will be enough to get even the worst of her dead relatives out of hell.

A life of hell for some lives in hell, she likes to say.

 

Even though she grew up Catholic, it was Ali who first encouraged me to become a Methodist pastor, and back then I thought that was a tremendous gesture of support. Of course, at the time Ali assumed that pastors like priests had to take vows of celibacy.

So I’m not exactly sure what she was encouraging.

 

    Anyway, as you know, Ali and I have 2 children. Kids certainly change things.

    I like to say marriage is different now that we’ve got 2 little boys in the house.

    Ali likes to say marriage is different now that she’s got 3 little boys in the house.

 

And I suppose that’s fair.

I’m sure Ali never imagined that the shy, sophisticated, Ivy League, French-film watching gentleman to whom she once said ‘I do’ would one day be teaching her boys to burp the starting lineup for the Nationals or that he would one day be ranking her boys’ farts by both sound and scent or that he would prove genetically incapable of putting the toilet seat down.

But if she never imagined it back then, nothing surprises her now.

When St Nicholas brought the boys a telescope for Christmas, Ali knew that quickly the Ur-anus jokes in our cul-de-sac would outnumber the stars in the sky.

And when we gave Gabriel a microscope for his 8th birthday, surely she anticipated that soon, heeding the siren call of science, we would be sticking snotty boogers on slides.

Still, every now and then, whether it’s my potty humor or the sheer amount of time I spend on the potty, I can spy the question dart across Ali’s face.

Just as I’m sure every now and then, for reasons silly and significant, she sees the question dart across my face:

 Are you the same person I married?

 

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Are you the same person I married?

     And as every married person knows, that question always has 3 correct answers.

The first correct answer is: No, I’m not the same person you married because marriage changes a person.

But at the same time, the correct answer can always also be: Yes, I’m the same person you married; you just didn’t know fully who you were marrying.

And of course the third correct answer, maybe the best answer, the hard Gospel-truth answer is: I don’t know. You tell me. Because now that we’re married, you know the person I am better than I know myself.

 

I’ve been a pastor for 13 years. I’ve taken hours and hours of counseling classes. I’ve worked with I don’t know how many couples. I’ve got shelves of books on marriage in my office, but it’s in my own relationship that I learned the fundamental rule of marriage.

I call it Jason’s Rule. It’s my take on Hauerwas’ Rule

Jason’s Rule goes like this:

You never really know the person you’re marrying until after you’ve been married to the person you’re marrying. 

Whether you have a terrific relationship or a terrible one, Jason’s Rule always holds true.

I don’t care if you’ve already lived with the person you’re marrying or if you’ve filled out a hundred e-Harmony compatibility questions, Jason’s Rule always prove true.

You never really know the person you’re marrying until after you’ve been married to the person you’re marrying.

And if that sounds scary, just consider that Jason’s Rule has an even more frightening corollary:

You are never as fully known as you are known by the person to whom you’re married. 

You are never as fully known as you are known by the person to whom you’re married.

     Marriage isn’t just a process in which you discover who the stranger is that you’ve married.

Marriage is a process in which you discover who the stranger is that you call ‘you.’

To borrow St. Paul’s metaphor, marriage unveils the ‘you’ you really are.

That’s what makes marriage such a beautiful leap of faith, but that’s also what makes marriage such a rough and tumble process.

It’s why even the best marriages aren’t easy or painless.

 

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(pull out the rock tumbler and his/her buckets of rocks)

Because when you’re in love, all you can see are the person’s good attributes.

You think she’s a gem. A flawless gem.

She’s beautiful and affectionate and fun and trustworthy.

 

You think he’s perfect. Perfect for you. A jewel with only minor imperfections.

He’s handsome and compassionate and tender and can make you laugh.

 

When you’re in love, not only do you see only the person’s good attributes, you develop expectations about marriage based on those attributes.

 

You think he’s thoughtful, always remembers to open the car door for you, so you expect that when you’re married he’ll always remember that your drink at Starbucks is a tall, skinny, sugar-free, decaf, soy, vanilla latte, extra hot, no whip- and if he doesn’t remember he must be sending you a message.

 

Or you think he’s brilliant. So you develop an expectation that he’ll never have a problem remembering that the proper way to fold a bath towel is first in half, lengthwise, and then in to thirds, from the sides.

 

Or you think she’s sensitive and empathetic so you develop an expectation that when you communicate like this (long, sullen cavemen silence), she will understand perfectly that what you meant was:

‘Honey, your critical comments about the messy house make me feel unappreciated for making you handmade pasta for dinner.’

 

Or, let’s say, you think she’s beautiful and affectionate and so you develop an expectation for what she won’t wear to bed. And you think he’s understanding and a flannel pi’s are so comfortable so of course he’ll understand why you’re wearing those to bed now that you’re married.

(I got that example from a friend)

When we’re in love, all we see are a person’s good attributes and then we develop expectations about marriage based on those attributes.

Here’s the other thing:

When we’re in love, before we’re married, not only do we have an incomplete understanding of the other person.

We have an incomplete understanding of our self.

We bring in to marriage a self-image that’s been formed by the judgments and praise of people who don’t know us as well our spouse eventually will know us.

Consequently, as we live our lives with someone else, we discover that we’re not the same person we thought we were.

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So what happens?

What happens when you take 2 love-blind, self-blind people and put them inside a marriage?

Because in a marriage, there’s not a lot of room to hide. You’re exposed.

All the veils are pulled away.

It’s not that there’s no secrets in marriage.

It’s that there aren’t as many secrets as we would like.

In marriage, the two of you are brought into close, inescapable, day after day contact.

And now, the other’s flaws and imperfections, which seemed small or insignificant before, now that you’re inside a marriage- they appear larger and are always right there in front of you.

Where before you fell in love with an outgoing person, now that you’re inside a marriage you can see how his outgoing personality stems from how emotionally needy he is.

Where before you only saw how carefree she is and you loved it, now that you’re inside a marriage you see that she’s not just carefree she’s unreliable.

Where before you loved how confident he is, now that you’re inside a marriage you realize that confidence is actually arrogance and makes him dismissive to you.

Maybe you fell in love with the way he showed patience and respect to everyone, but now that you’re in a marriage you notice how you’re the only person he’s not patient with.

Maybe you fell in love with how much he enjoyed children, but now that you’re inside a marriage you realize he expects you to raise them just as his mother did.

You see, it’s Jason’s (foolproof) Rule:

You never really know the person you’re marrying until after you’ve been married to the person you’re marrying.

And don’t forget the corollary to Jason’s Rule:

You are never as fully known as you are known by the person to whom you’re married.

So once you’re inside a marriage, it’s not just the other person’s flaws and imperfections that are revealed. It’s your own.

Maybe, before, other people in your life had pointed out your shortcomings.

But it’s different with your spouse.

Because when you’re inside a marriage, your flaws and shortcomings are on display day after day.

And it’s different with your spouse because your flaws and shortcomings hurt them more than anyone else and, as a result, directly or passively, they’re going to point them out to you.

So whenever you put 2 love-blind, self-blind people into a confined space like a marriage, it’s not long before their rough edges start to rub against each other and knock into each other and cause friction and stress.

And even in the best of marriages, it’s not long before you’re wondering:

Are you the same person I married?

But notice, it’s not your spouse who’s unveiling your flaws and imperfections.

It’s marriage.

 

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I know this will come as a shock: I was a nerd as a kid.

One of the things I did as a boy was polish rocks into gems.

And so I can tell you that if you just put 2 sets of rocks into this tumbler and nothing else, 1 of 2 things will happen.

     The first possibility?

They’ll just bounce past each other, over and over, like strangers, without ever effecting each other.

You could leave this on for a lifetime and at the end all the rough edges will still remain, nothing about them will have changed.

They could spend a lifetime occupying the same space, but you’d never guess they’d done so because they’re still the same as they were before.

They’ve never done more than just slide past each other.

 

That’s one possibility if you put 2 sets of rocks in to a tumbler and nothing else.

     The other possibility?

They’ll just immediately start knocking into each other.

Their rough edges will rub against each other, chip away at each other.

Quickly, it will get noisy inside there.

Heat will gradually build up from the stress and the friction.

And if you try to add a few other rocks to the mix to save the situation, it won’t work.

 

Eventually, who knows when, they’ll break each other apart along with the rocks that came along later.

 

Tumbling requires this special grit compound.

It’s the essential ingredient. It’s what allows them to knock around inside there; so that, they smooth and polish and perfect each other instead of destroy each other.

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You can’t put 2 people and nothing else inside a marriage anymore than you can put 2 sets of rocks and nothing else inside a tumbler.

You can’t put 2 love-blind, self-blind people and nothing else inside a marriage and expect them to ever do anything but bounce past each other for a lifetime or destroy each other.

Something else is required.

Grace.

When we speak of God, the word ‘grace’ refers both to God’s unconditional love towards us, and the straight, ugly truth about us.

You can think of St Paul: ‘While we were yet sinners because God loved us Christ died for us.’

Just as when speak of our relationship with God, the word grace refers both to love and truth, when we speak of our relationships with each other, the word grace also refers to love and truth.

Grace is an important ingredient for any relationship, but it’s essential inside a marriage.

     Grace is about clarity and charity.

     Grace is the ability to tell the truth about your spouse to your spouse in love.

Grace is the ability to tell the truth about your spouse not to your coworker, not to your best friend, not to your counselor, not to someone in your small group, not to your mother.

Grace is the ability to tell the truth about your spouse to your spouse in love.

Grace is the ability to tell the truth about your spouse to your spouse not in spite, not to settle a score, not to get back at them for something they said 9 days ago- and, by the way, isn’t it interesting you’ve been counting.

Grace is the ability to tell the truth about your spouse to your spouse in love.

     Which implies you’ve already forgiven them in your heart before you ever speak the truth from your lips.

    And, perhaps more importantly, grace is the ability to hear the truth about yourself from your spouse and trust their love.

Grace is the ability to hear the truth about yourself from your spouse and not get defensive, not retaliate, not explain yourself.

Grace is the ability to hear the truth about yourself from your spouse and trust their love.

It’s is an important ingredient for any relationship, but grace is the essential ingredient inside a marriage.

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For instance,

I can be self-centered.

And selfish.

And egocentric.

I know that will come as a surprise to all of you who assumed I’m an easy person to be married to.

It did to me.

I didn’t know.

Until Ali told me.

It was a few years ago.

She told me not in anger- okay, a little bit of anger. But not in spite or malice. Not in the moment of a disagreement or when I had my defenses up.

She told me after she’d already forgiven me.

She told me, she said, because she loved me.

She told me what she saw. The flaw in me.

And how it effected her. And us. And the family.

And how it effected me, from being who I could be.

 

And I tried to hear her. And not get defensive. Not get angry.

And not joke it away, which, you’ve might’ve guessed, is another flaw I have.

Sometimes marriage shows you a really unflattering reflection of yourself and you’re tempted not to look at it or take it seriously.

But I did.

And I said I’m sorry.

And then I said thank you.

And she just looked at me as if it were the most obvious thing in the world and said: ‘That’s my job.’

     pastedGraphic_7.pdf

That’s just it- it is.

Her job.

     Grace- truth with love- it is her job.

And it’s mine. And it’s yours. It’s part of our baptism.

St Paul says that each of us is being transformed.

We’re moving, Paul says, from one degree of glory to the next and from there to the next degree of glory.

We’re being ‘unveiled’ of all our sin and pretenses until we meet God face-to-face.

The way John Wesley puts that: Each of us is a sinner by grace moving on to perfection.

The way Jason puts it: We’re each of us rough-edged rocks, with flaws and imperfections, being polished into the gems God always intended us to be.

St Paul says that each of us is being transformed.

Moving from one degree of glory to the next.

And St Paul says that happens through grace.

Truth with love. Love with truth.

     Truth without love isn’t grace.

Telling your spouse the truth you see about them without love- that’s not the essential ingredient. It will just add to the friction.

 

And love without truth isn’t grace.

Loving your spouse without ever telling them the flaws you see in them- that’s not the essential ingredient either. It just leaves everyone as rough and flawed and unperfected as they were at the start.

      And perfection- turning rocks into gems, moving from one degree of glory to next- is the whole point of life.

     And it’s the purpose of marriage.

     Perfection of the other, turning rocks into gems, moving the other from one degree to the next degree of glory and them moving you- that’s the purpose of marriage.

That’s why what can be scary question at the beginning of a marriage: Are you the same person I married?

Is the the very best thing a husband and wife can ever say to each other at the end:

‘I’m not the person you married. Thank you.’

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* A few of the above jokes were taken from here. For further reading, I highly recommend Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage

 

 

 

 

Jason Micheli

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2 responses to Marriage: Someone Better

  1. A most excellent sermon, especially for “young marrieds” – but we old folks can learn a thing or two, as well. Thank you, Jason.

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