Archives For Love

The Gospel in Glasses

Jason Micheli —  February 12, 2014 — 1 Comment

Jason PouringHere’s my sermon for Valentine’s Day based on Genesis 29:

Alright, so men, just so we’re looking out for each other: Valentine’s Day is in 5 days.  The last thing you want to do as a guy is forget Valentine’s Day or give the kind of gift on Valentine’s Day that implies you forgot about Valentine’s Day until the very last minute.

 

I mean, I’ve never done that, but I’ve got a friend who has and he tells me you don’t want to forget Valentine’s or give the kind of gift that says ‘Geez, I almost forgot about you.’

 

Valentine’s Day is crazy.

 

Did you know this year Americans will spend approximately 17.6 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day? It’s true.

 

And the average American will spend $126.03 on their special someone- an amount that makes me look ‘thrifty.’

 

Five days from today Americans will give 224 million roses to each other. They’ll spend 1.6 million dollars on candy, 4.4 million dollars on diamonds and the average American will spend $4.52 on a Valentine’s present for their dog.

 

And I haven’t even mentioned the Valentine’s Cards, which in 5 days will number about 145 million units- 145 million boxes of cards.

 

Hallmark alone will sell nearly 1500 varieties of cards.

 

And some will come with hearts and others with flowers. Some will be sappy and others will try to be funny.

 

And the kids cards will come laced with sugar and preservatives.

 

And all 1500 of those cards will look slightly different but behind every one they all have the same basic message.

The same basic message that the Beatles first gave us:

 

That love is all you need.     Love is all you need.

 

Now I know some of you are excited about Valentine’s Day and the last thing I’d ever want to do is burst someone’s bubble, but you know that’s a lie right?

 

It’s a nice sentiment for a pop song or a rom-com, but as biblical truth it’s what theologians call ‘complete crap.’

 

Far be it from me to be cynical, but the message that love is all you need is a lie. It’s not true.

 

Love, whether we’re talking about your love for your spouse or your love for your children or their love for you, is NOT all you need.

 

The money we spend on Valentine’s Day just reflects a culture that tells us love is what gives our lives meaning and value. We live in a culture that tells us you’re nobody ‘til somebody loves you; consequently, some of us will let any body love us.

We live in a culture that tells us if we just find the perfect person- or have the perfect child- then everything else that’s empty in our lives will be filled.

 

Love is all we need to live happily ever after.

Those are all lies.

You can call me cranky if you like, but you know I’m right.

Anyone who’s ever been married or had children knows love isn’t all you need.

 

On your wedding day you say with a twinkle in your eye: ‘Of all the people in the world, I choose you.’

 

But after the day you say ‘I do’ there are other days when you just want to pull your hair out and scream: ‘Of all the people in the world, I chose you?!’

 

Just ask my wife.

 

So, no. Love is not all you need to live happily ever after.

It wasn’t enough to keep the Beatles together.

It wasn’t enough to rescue some of your relationships.

And it wasn’t enough to keep Jacob’s life from unraveling and damaging everyone in it.

Speaking of Jacob, just as an aside, you need to appreciate the degree of difficulty I’m dealing with today.

 

A few of you may already know that I have a certain affinity for those silly, crude and even offensive parts of the Bible. So you should know that today’s scripture passage contains the Hebrew equivalent of the F-word, as when Jacob says to Laban: ‘I want to ___________ your daughter.’

In Hebrew, Rachel is described as having a ‘hot body’ while her older sister, Leah, whose name means ‘cow’ in Hebrew, is said to have ‘nice eyes,’ which is a Jewish colloquialism for ‘she has a nice personality.’

And then, to top it off, Jacob, the hero for whom the People of Israel are named, gets completely wasted and hooks up with the wrong sister.

Can you even begin to appreciate how difficult it is for me not run wild with this story and offend everyone in the process? It was all I could do not to title my sermon ‘Beer Goggles.’

 

As tempting as the silly parts of this story might be for me on other days, today I want to take the story straight up. I want to be serious.

 

Because once you push aside the preposterous Jerry Springer parts of the story, this story is more common and more relevant for our community than you could possibly guess.

 

By my conservative estimate, I’ve done about 1500 hours of counseling with couples during my ministry: couples jumping into marriage, couples struggling through their marriage, couples jumping into parenthood in order to fix what’s broken in their marriage, couples getting out of their marriage- after a long time or not long at all.

 

Confidentiality means I can’t tell you who those couples are. I can’t point to them or tell you if you’re sitting next to one of them, though some of you are.

But that doesn’t matter because I can tell you: when those couples come to my office, there’s a better than even chance their names are Jacob and Leah.

So, I think it’s important you know their story.

 

[Pull out two glasses. ‘Leah’ is half empty and ‘Jacob’ is full] 

 

Jacob and Leah’s story- it has everything to do with the stories they brought with them to their marriage. It almost always does.

The story starts with Jacob.

Jacob has an older brother.

Jacob’s Dad always preferred his brother to him. [Pour out some water from his glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

When you get past all the drama and bad decisions in Jacob’s life, that’s what it boils down to.

 

His Dad always insisted ‘I love you both the same.’

But even when you’re a child, you know better. You notice. You notice if your parent’s are really listening, really paying attention to you, really enjoying you.

 

So Jacob grows up in his brother’s shadow, and the anger and hurt Jacob feels because of his Father gets expressed as resentment towards his brother. [Pour out some water from his glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

And Jacob’s Mom, she deals with it the way all abusive families cope. She tries to compensate for what her husband won’t do. She turns a blind eye. She pretends the problem doesn’t exist. [Pour out some water from his glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

But that never works.

 

Eventually it comes to a head. It always comes to a head.

 

So when Jacob is older, he hurts his brother- in a way that can’t be taken back. And, if he’s honest, he does it to spite his Father.

 

In just one self-destructive moment: his brother hates him, his relationship with his Father is ruined forever, and his Mother is forced to take sides. She doesn’t choose his. [Pour out some water from his glass, letting it drip everywhere]

Jacob’s never had his Father’s love. He’s lost his Mother and brother’s love. He has no sense of God’s love.

 

He has no one in his life. He has no direction to his life. He has no meaning for his life.

 

He leaves home, completely empty inside. [EMPTY his glass]

 

The next part of Jacob’s story starts at a well.

 

But it just as easily could’ve taken place at a college or a club. In an office or at a party. Or over the computer.

He meets a woman. [Leah’s CUP]

 

He takes one look at her and he convinces himself:

She can fix what’s broken in my life.

She can give me what I’m missing.

She can fill the emptiness inside me, he says. And he calls that love.

He’s like an addict, using the idea of this person to escape the pain in his own life, which makes him vulnerable to being taken advantage of.

 

Maybe he doesn’t realize it, but Jacob’s not looking for a soulmate.

He’s looking for a salve. Or a savior.

 

Jacob marries this woman, hoping she can fill what’s missing in him.

 

His need keeps him from seeing who she really is. He doesn’t see that she has an emptiness insider her too. [hold up her glass] and that she can’t possibly fill what’s empty in his life. 

 

[pour her water into his so that he’s only half-filled].

 

So after they get married, he finds that emptiness is still there inside him.

 

And that brings conflict. It’s not long before he’s shouting at her:

‘You’re not the person I thought you were.’ [Pour out some water from his glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

‘You’re not the person I married.’ [Pour out some water from his glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

‘Why can’t you be more like this….’ [Pour out some water from his glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

Eventually he stops speaking to her much at all. [Pour out some water from his glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

Until finally Jacob’s married with children and discovers he’s even emptier on the inside than he was before and he’s long way from happily ever after. [EMPTY his glass]

Then there’s Leah’s story. [FILL her glass]

 

On the one hand, she’s the causality of Jacob’s need, but on the other hand, she does to him exactly what he did to her.

 

Leah grew up in the shadow of her little sister.

 

Her sister was a knockout, always the center of attention. [Pour out some water from her glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

Compared to her, Leah was unlovely. [Pour out some water from her glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

Or at least that’s how Leah saw herself; such that, she didn’t believe anyone would ever love her because she didn’t believe she was worth loving. [Pour out some water from her glass, letting it drip everywhere]

 

 

And one day she meets a man, whose heart has an emptiness every bit as big as her own.

She meets him at a well, but they could’ve met anywhere.

 

Even though she knows he doesn’t really know her, doesn’t really see her for who she is, she marries him.

 

She marries him because she thinks he’s the only one who will ever marry her.

 

So she pins her hopes for happiness on this man, only to find one day that her emptiness is still there.

 

And that he can’t fill what’s missing in her life. [pour his empty glass into hers]

 

It’s not long before the marriage starts to suffer and strain from the emptiness both of them bring to it. [empty her glass completely]

 

So what’s Leah do?

 

She thinks children are the solution.

 

She thinks kids will fix her marriage and win her husband’s love.

So she has a little boy.

She names him Reuben, and she says to herself: ‘Surely, my husband will love now.’ [POUR water into a shot glass]

But no, it doesn’t work that way. Never does. Though you’d be surprised how many think it will.

 

She tries again. She has another little boy. She names him Simeon.

And this time she says to herself, ‘Surely my husband will pay attention to me now, will listen to me.’ [POUR water into a shot glass]

 

But with each child she’s pushed further into unhappiness.

 

She has another boy. She names him Levi. And she says to herself: ‘With three kids, now my husband will become attached to me.’ [POUR water into a shot glass]

 

But kids can never fix what was broken before they were born.

 

Three kids later, Leah finds herself still empty on the inside.

 

 

It’s not in the story today, but I can tell you how the rest of it goes because I’ve heard it too many times.

 

Leah turns to her children to bring her the happiness her husband hasn’t, to fill what’s missing in her life, to give her life meaning and purpose.

 

But no child is big enough to fill what’s missing in their parent’s life. [EMPTY the shot glasses into Leah’s glass, should only fill her 1/4 of the way

]

And no kid should have to bear such a burden. They’ll only get crushed underneath your expectations.

Because if you look to your children for validation, to fill an emptiness inside you, you’ll need them to be perfect.

 

And when they’re not-because no child is- there will be conflict. [EMPTY Leah’s glass completely]

 

And it’s not long before everyone is left feeling empty inside.

 

And a long way from happily ever after.

Love is NOT all you need.

 

 

Psychologists call this a lack of differentiation, a lack of the ability to be a complete, fulfilled individual within the context of a relationship.

 

But Christians-

 

Christians call this idolatry: Looking to others to give you what only God can give.

Let’s not beat around the bush. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how long you’ve been married or whether your kids are young or grown.

 

For a lot of us, this is the primary way we break the first commandment.

For a lot of us, this is the primary way we break the commandment: You shall have no other gods but God.

 

Scripture says God is love; it doesn’t say love is god.

 

You can’t replace God with your spouse or your partner.

And you can’t replace God with your child.

 

No spouse or friend should have to love you that much and no kid can.

Until you realize that, you’ll always be frustrated with your kids and you’ll never stop complaining that you thought you were marrying Rachel only to discover you’re living with Leah.

 

For some of us, our relationship or our children play too big a role in our lives precisely because God plays too small a role.

 

I mean, we forget that the first vows a bride and groom make aren’t to each other but to God.

 

If we make too much of our marriage, or of our relationship, or of our children, we make too little of God. And when we put too much pressure on our marriage and children, we depend too little on God.

 

I’m not saying you should love your spouse or your kids less. I’m saying you should love God more. Because the bitter irony is that when we make too little of God in our relationships, we cut ourselves off from the source of Love.

 

Trust me, this is just on-the-job knowledge: focusing too much on your marriage or your relationship or your children is the best way to undermine them.

 

I mean, some people need Jesus Christ to come in to their hearts not so they can go to heaven when they die but so their relationships here and now will stop being a living hell.

 

Because you can only be generous with what you’ve got in the bank to give. If your only source of meaning and love and purpose and happiness and validation and affirmation and worth is another person, then you can never really love them.

 

The only way to say ‘I do’ and keep on saying ‘I do’ day after day is to first be able to say: ‘I’m a sinner saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.’

 

When God has the proper, primary place in your life-

Your friend can let you down, and sure it upsets you but it doesn’t undo you.

Because you know God will never let you down.

 

When God has the proper, primary place in your life-

Your spouse can speak the ugliest truths about you, and you don’t have to run away.

 

Because that (the cross) has already spoken the deepest, darkest truth about who you really are and from that God said: ‘I forgive you because you have no idea what you’re doing.’

 

When God has the proper, primary place in your life-

You can have patience with- and even forgive- the flaws and sins in someone else.

Because you know God has been gracious to you.

When God has the proper, primary place in your life-

Your spouse or your friend can take you for granted, and yes it will disappoint you, but it won’t demolish your self-image.

Because you know to God you are infinitely precious and worth dying for.

 

 

     [Pull out another glass and baptismal pitcher.]

 

There’s another story.

 

Jesus was on his way to Galilee, and along the way he stopped in Samaria.

 

At a well.

 

Jacob’s Well.

 

Jesus meets a woman there. She’s carrying an empty bucket.

 

But it’s the emptiness insider her that Jesus notices. The emptiness has carried her from man to man to man to man to man…

 

And Jesus says to her: [Pour water into glass, let it fill up and then overflow out on to the floor until pitcher is empty.]

 

I am Living Water.

 

What I can give you is a spring of water that never stops gushing, never stops flowing, never dries up.

 

I can fill you, Jesus says.

With love. With meaning. With purpose. With value and healing and worth and validation.

 

I can fill you, Jesus says.

So that you can give love, not need it.

 

And she left that day, gushing to everyone about what Jesus had done for her.

 

She learned that day what the Beatles never did and what Hallmark still hasn’t:

 

The only way to live happily ever after is to first be happy with who you are in Jesus Christ.

 

lightstock_74897_medium_user_2741517When planning a wedding liturgy with a couple, one of the crueler instruments in my priestly bag of tricks has been to rule out any possibility of 1 Corinthians 13 being the scripture reading.

I’ll often scratch that off the list of negotiables, telling them that 1 Corinthians 13 should be reserved for a later time…

when their love for each other is genuine instead of just lustful.

Then I like to dispatch the future Mr and Mrs to scripture, suggesting they go and find a less cliched passage for their nuptials. One more suited for where they’re at in their relationship.

They usually return, having waded through the dysfunction of the Old Testament marriages, the X-rated content of the Song of Songs and the misogyny of Paul (‘…wives submit to your husbands…’), all the more determined to have ‘love is patient…’ for their special day.

But I still don’t let them.

And not only because wedding ceremonies fool us into forgetting that the love Paul names in 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t the love of man and woman but the love of Christ:

Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind, Jesus is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Jesus does not insist on his own way.

Jesus bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. “

And not only because the love of Christ so described by Paul finds its embodiment not in marriage but in membership to the Body of Christ.

I don’t let them because in the euphoric context of a wedding it’s too easy to suppose that 1 Corinthians 13 describes a sentiment that already presently exists between bride and groom.

But it doesn’t.

Paul isn’t describing what is today.

Paul is demanding what you will do tomorrow. Ad infinitum.

However patient and kind bride and groom are towards each other the day they marry, they’re still a far cry from the genuine, Christ-like love Paul exhaustively catalogs for the Corinthians.

That’s because genuine, Christ-like love is not the recognition of a feeling, sentiment or emotion that exists between two people.

Genuine, Christ-like love is the recognition between two people of their obligation to always love the other.

Come what may.

And ‘obligation’ is about the last word in the minds of brides and grooms on their wedding day.

Indeed if ‘love’ is the spontaneous, overpowering emotion that catches two people up into each other lives, then ‘obligation’ sounds like love’s antonym.

It’s not though.

The obligation of genuine love makes 50 Shades of Grey seem as dull as Popular Mechanics.

But usually a marriage needs a little mileage before that becomes clear.

Whereas I hate being but one cog in the billion dollar wedding industry, no more or less important than the caterer and videographer, I’m actually grateful to be able to preside when couples wish to renew their wedding vows.

I love officiating renewal ceremonies because it’s only after a marriage has a lot of mileage on it that the enormity of a couples’ vows comes into focus.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Whoever said that?

Married.

For sure.

For example, their vows contain no ‘if-then’ clauses:

If you love me this way, then I’ll love you in return that way. 

If you do this for me, then I’ll do this for you. 

But if you do that to me, then I will cease doing this to you.

They’re not conditional.

They’re irrevocable.

They offer the future- eternity- to the other.

And hope and pray the present leads them there.

When couples make their vows, they’re promising to figure out a way to love the other no matter where life takes them, what the world hands them or who one or the other turn out to be.

Often it’s only when couples revisit these promises decades later that both the absurdity and the holiness of such an obligation becomes obvious.

And often it’s because they’re revisiting these promises after their life together has turned out differently than they had imagined it on their wedding day.

Their marriage hasn’t been as happy or as easy as they had once expected. One or other of the couple is no longer the person they once were or, just as challenging, they’ve remained the same person.

They’ve had their ups and downs. They’ve lost possessions, arguments, jobs and maybe children.

Feelings have fleeted and then returned as of old or in a different form or maybe not at all. They’ve inflicted wounds and licked others.

They’ve forgiven and forgotten some things and just chosen to forget others.

On these only occasions, do I encourage a reading from 1 Corinthians 13.

I do so because in such a context it’s crystal clear that Paul isn’t waxing poetic about the feelings between two people; he’s describing a summons to our future behavior towards the other.

He’s naming our obligation to love.

In the name of Christ.

Who loves us the selfsame way.

Genuine love for your spouse is the recognition that you’re obligated always to love them.

 And if that sounds unromantic to you, then perhaps you’re not married.

Or haven’t been married long enough.

Because as someone who’s stood in front of couples revisiting their vows after 40, 50, and 60 years together- years that were not always happy, easy or seemingly worth it- I can tell you there’s something deeply moving about two people who know the other’s every flaw and foible promising to figure a way to move forward and work it out.

More so than that moment when I say ‘You may now kiss the bride’ there’s something applause-worthy about two people who truly know each other promising each other the future- but still possessing nothing more than the hope that the future will be a happy one.

Genuine love is realizing you’ve promised the other such a future and thus you’re obligated to do everything you can to get there.

It may contradict the arc of every romantic comedy, but people do not marry out of genuine love for each other.

That’s because only marriage makes genuine love between two people possible.

Such a genuine love is powerful, I suspect, because it’s exactly how God loves us.

God in Christ obligates himself always to love us. God vows the future- eternity- without knowing if we will ultimately reciprocate God’s love, return God’s fidelity with fidelity of our own.

And if that’s how God loves us in Christ, then the vow we make to our spouse is the holiest thing we ever do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_MeYesterday, I concluded a series of posts I’ve been writing on Marriage. And in my church we’re in the midst of a sermon series on Counterfeit God. In a way, this seemed like an appropriate Post Script to both those series.

While I’m not in a congregation or a denomination that harps on sexual purity, abstinence and what not, because I’m a pastor, I do know for a fact that young people, particularly women, still struggle with guilt and self-image problems as a result of being sexually active. Particularly when those relationships don’t work out or when bad choices get made. And, because I’m a pastor, I know many married couples struggle with their sexual relationship and often because its predicated on unrealistic expectations.

Tony Jones has a thoughtful piece written by an anonymous commenter, pointing out how both pornographers and abstinence-only Christians turn sex into an idol, giving it far importance and power over our lives than it has in reality. Ultimately both can create illusions and expectations that are destructive. Here’s a clip from his post:

1. That the world fetishes (as in ascribing magical powers to a mundate object) sex, but then so does the church. If there’s any wisdom in the worldly teenage rush to rid oneself of virginity, it’s that it unmasks the object and robs it of some of its power. Meanwhile teenage Christian guys struggle with porn because sex is mysterious and powerful, and God cares just as much about sexual “purity” as he does about people getting tortured and killed or going hungry or without shelter, apparently.

2. The message of the Christian sexual ethic shouldn’t be “save sex for marriage and everything will be great,” because it won’t.

3. Virginity doesn’t have the moral value attached to it that we think it should have. If that really weighs into how you value a person, you’re not even seeing that person. In fact, your view of other persons is depraved.

4. No one ever talks to Christian youth about how lame sex in marriage can be. (See also 1 and 2) Sure it can be great, but for many, many people at some greater or lesser time, because of stress/kids/sickness/etc. it isn’t. No one ever talks to them about how or why affairs happen. I think it’s cruel to let someone go about building their life on completely unrealistic expectations because no one cares to mention to them that the story might be different.

 

Click here to read the rest.

Myth_of_You_Complete_Me#1 Dust Jackets

Many engaged couples I meet have only vague goals for their marriage:

We want to be happy. We want to have a family. We want to be best friends.

That’s all well and good but how in the Hell do you measure goals that airy?

Likewise, I’ve met with many married couples who describe their marriage as ‘stagnant’ or ‘stuck.’

And you know why?

Because they have no idea where they’re trying to go.

You only put your car in Drive to head towards a destination. Otherwise you leave it in Park. Or Neutral. 

And if you’re not headed to any particular, specific destination, it’s not long before you’re wondering why you’re wasting your time sitting in a car that’s not moving. 

And it’s not long before you get annoyed with all the commotion the kids are making in the back seat.  

Theologians use the term ‘telos’ to describe human life. It’s Greek for ‘end.’ By it they mean that, having been made in God’s image, a life well-lived is one with a trajectory that points to and proceeds towards Christ and his Kingdom. Sin is literally something that gets our lives off track.

Just as our individual lives should have a specific trajectory so too should our marriages.

Husbands and wives should have specific, concrete goals for their marriage. Not only should couples have micro goals for each stage of their marriage, they should have macro goals for their marriage as a whole.

It’s just common sense. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can end up anywhere but there. And if you don’t know where you’re trying to get to, it’s very easy to get hung up on things that don’t matter and to compromise on things that do.

I tell engaged couples to imagine their married life as a story or memoir. As a book.

What do you want the dust jacket to say?

What do you want the summary of your story together to be?

And I tell them to be damn specific. I tell them I don’t want to hear something like ‘Dick and Jane were just so happy together because they loved each other so much.’ That’s usually what their first drafts will say.

I tell them they should choose, together, 3-5 things they want to accomplish in their marriage and weave that into dust jacket summary:

Dick and Jane built their dream house at X.

Dick and Jane traveled to Y.

Dick and Jane worked to make sure their relationship was always characterized by Z, that nothing ever changed blank about them. 

And, sure, those 3-5 things can change as life happens and things change, but you’ve got to be intentional about identifying what the new 3-5 things are when that happens. You’ve got to be intentional about what the rewrite on the dust jacket says now.

This isn’t about married people having a bucket list.

It’s about married people having a compass to steer by.

You have to have an agreed upon basis by which you’ll make decisions and set priorities as a couple. You have to be able to say as a married couple: ‘These are the 3-5 things we compromise on in our marriage.’

Because, the truth is, if you have those goals in your marriage upon which you won’t compromise, it’s less likely that other things will compromise your marriage.

So that’s it. That’s number the 1 thing I’ve learned about marriage.

You’ve got to know what you Dust Jacket says. 

For a marriage to be successful, you’ve got to know what you’re marriage is about. 

 

I waited patiently for Jason to post his last sermon – the one with the glasses of water.  I immediately sent it to my son and his fiancé who are recently engaged.  While their relationship is amazing and beautiful and their commitment solid, I want to make sure they have the Great Bridegroom right in there with them.

Not unlike many of us, as they begin to plan the wedding, they start with the easy stuff.  Choosing flowers and a menu is so much more pleasant than dealing with the expectations and questions of where and by whom they should be married.

It seems they are both bringing some pretty complicated religious baggage and like many of us don’t fit neatly into a denominational box.

I was moved to tears by an email that I received from him recently asking me how I felt and if I had any advice about finding someone to marry them.  (Most priests and many ministers won’t marry couples unless they go through some sort of pre-marital counseling process, which makes complete sense to me.)

But, with all the demands of life, school, work and family, they are just as comfortable going to a Justice of the Peace.

Wow….where do I start on that one?  

You see he grew up as a Methodist….kind of….with a father who is Catholic and a mother who grew up Mormon.  I say kind of because it wasn’t until he was older that I decided that making the effort to go to church was worth it.  That helping him learn about a loving and merciful God might be important.  (The consequences of which is an entirely different post).  By then I had to compete with hockey practice, all sports, girls and any number of things I already had working against me in the get to church department.

I walk a fine line here not wanting him to regret asking. I want to look him in the eye and beg him to bring in Jesus NOW in any and every way possible. He is your Hope. He will hold you together as a couple and as a man.

If I tell him less than that I dishonor Christ.

I have to give him an answer that has some meat.

The Answerer.

None of us need one more thing in our lives to let us down, to disappoint.  If we come to Christ with less than all of our hearts, we will get less of Him.

And less just isn’t enough.

Less will always bring us to our knees.

I love it anytime Jesus offered truth so simply.

“If it were not so I would have told you”

“I tell you the truth”

As Keller put it so beautifully, “His are the only arms that will give you all your heart desires”.

Not your beautiful, wise and loving girl.

She will have her bridegroom Christ as well!

I know his beloved as a wise woman already:  She listens to her mother.

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_MeI’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.

 

#3: The Finish Line

In the Roman Catholic tradition, marriage is one of the Church’s seven sacraments. Husband and wife are right up there with bread and wine, and water.

 

A sacrament, in case you didn’t know, is what St Augustine defined as an outward, visible sign of inward, invisible grace.

 

During the Reformation, Protestants pushed redact the sacraments according to their principle of sola scriptura. For Protestants only those sign-acts which were clearly instituted by Christ in the scriptures count as sacraments. Jesus told us to baptize and he spent the night he was betrayed making himself our Passover.

He didn’t marry anybody.

Therefore, in the Protestant Church, marriage hasn’t been considered a sacrament.

It’s a covenant.

A covenant, in case you didn’t know, is the term the Bible uses to convey a promise.

A contract.

Sacrament vs. Covenant.

You may be wondering what difference it makes. Why quibble over arcane theological terms?

Here’s the deal.

Tragically, I know a lot of couples, whether they realize it or not, who have a ‘covenantal’ notion of marriage; namely, they think the goal of their marriage is to cross the finish line of life together. As long as they stay together ‘til death do us part’ then they’ve kept the covenant- they think. To divorce would be a breach of contract. 

And/or a sin.

Of course, people’s lives and marriages are more nuanced than this suggests. Nevertheless, there’s a truth in the generalization that I see all the time.

Thinking of marriage in contractual terms leads to couples who define ‘success’ in their marriage by staying married. By remaining together. By crossing the finish line. By holding their breath and pinching their noses until the clock runs out.

You can imagine the sorts of marriages this produces.

Homes where couples pass by each other as ghosts.

Words- or rather, tones of voice- you’d never give a stranger spoken without second’s thought.

Children playing proxy or needing to fill what’s missing.

Couples determined to stick together even though they couldn’t be further apart, convinced they’d have too much to lose in a divorce but not realizing something more important has already been lost.

A sacramental notion of marriage couldn’t be more different.

If marriage is a sacrament, if the purpose of marriage is for husband and wife to love each other in a way that makes visible the way Jesus loves us, then just keeping the contract and sticking it out does not count as success. Theologically, it doesn’t even really count as marriage anymore.

Here’s what it boils down to.

 

If you regularly treat your spouse in a way Jesus never would or if you allow yourself to be treated in a way Jesus would never treat you, then your marriage is a far cry from being a sacrament.

And if you or your spouse can no longer muster the interest or energy to recover the sacramentality of marriage then you probably shouldn’t be married. Just like water stripped of its baptismal context or bread and wine on a shopping rack instead of on an altar, your marriage no longer signifies what it was intended to do. It’s lost its purpose and thus its meaning. 

Sadly, that’s one of the things I’ve learned in life and in ministry. Some people shouldn’t stay together. Some marriages should come to an end. Because marriage is about so much more than crossing the finish line.

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_MeI’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.

 

#4: The Power of One

Married couples rarely come to my office when their marriage is in a good place.

That’s a shame because- let’s face it- it’s when neither spouse is hostile, defensive or bearing grudges that both of them are most likely to hear honest feedback. It’s only in the absence of threat that people are willing to change their habits and try out new skills.

Nonetheless, like an overweight 55 year old who waits until it feels like an elephant is standing on his chest to go in for a routine check-up, most couples wait until their marriage is about 5 calories away from quadruple bypass to seek counseling.

When couples wait that long, no matter the issues in their marriage, the conversation usually plays out the same way in my office. I feel like a referee at a tennis match, watching the accusations and hurt volleyed back and forth with neither willing to stop until someone declares the match in their favor.

Marriages can get like that, tit for tat, tit for tat, tit for tat. The resentment and recriminations build until you feel powerless NOT to respond. The hurt becomes habituated and before you know it the tit for tat just is your marital banter.

The Apostle Paul has verse about marriage in his letter to the Ephesians. Because it’s been used to endorse traditional- even oppressive- gender roles, it’s not a scripture that most Christians turn to anymore. But there IS wisdom in it.

Paul says that “husbands and wives should submit to one another…out of reverence for Christ.”

A lot of times couples stuck in the tit for tat will contend that they won’t change until the other changes. While that may sound like equity and justice in another context, in the context of a marriage it’s insanity. It’s mutually-assured destruction. 

Here’s what I’ve learned about Paul’s verse.

For marriages stuck in the tit for tat spiral, it only takes one to begin the process of change and healing. That is, for marriages experiencing strain and sadness, marriages bowing under the weight of bad habits, healing can begin with only one of the spouse’s buying in out of reverence for Christ. 

I’m not suggesting that a spouse should tolerate abuse to keep the marriage together.

No, I’m saying that love for Christ can motivate and empower a spouse to decide by themselves to act differently, to shed habits, to refuse to return the tit with a tat.

If being a Christian means thinking of yourself less and if being a Christian means turning the other cheek (again, don’t freak out on me- I don’t mean literally), then certainly being a Christian within your marriage means not having to be right all the time. Not having to win. Not having to respond to the tit. I mean tat.

One of the things I’ve learned about marriage, one of the things I’ve seen with my own eyes, is that, yes it takes 2 to make a marriage, but it only takes 1 to start the process of healing and change.

And sometimes just getting that process started is enough to change the dynamic and break the logjam in a relationship.

Sometimes.

Because of course, the math has a corollary.

 

It only takes 1 to prime the healing pump. 

But it also only takes 1 to end a marriage too. 

And therein lies one of the reasons I believe it’s important for couples to have- or be working towards- a shared faith. Because if ‘reverence for Christ’ isn’t a shared value, then it becomes harder, I think, for the 1 + 1 to forever be 2.

After all, without Christ I’m predisposed to worry most about, to protect, guard and defend the 1. As in, myself.

 

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_MeI’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.

#5: Do Over

I’ve done a few vow recommittals over the years. I’m actually surprised more people don’t do them. I can tell you I like them 100x more than I like performing weddings. They have a simple, tender elegance to them. No ridiculous flowers, pricey DJ or annoying photographer humping the floor to wiggle his way to the exact spot I told him I didn’t want him during the ceremony.

 

And I like recommittal ceremonies for the wrinkles, warts, and wisdom the couple bring with them to the moment, all of which somehow seem to breathe new life in to the ancient vows.

 

For example, I usually hate- and refuse if possible- reading 1 Corinthians 13 (‘Love is patient, love is kind…’ at weddings. It always gets heard and quickly dismissed as sentimental schlock, the scriptural equivalent of the Gibrain’s ‘The Prophet.’

But when 1 Corinthians 13 is read for a couple who want to renew their vows after 20, 30 years…suddenly it sounds like Gospel- because after a life lived together the couple knows only Jesus really measures up to the love of which Paul writes. And only Jesus makes such love possible in us.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned from both recommittal ceremonies and simply watching couples’ marriages change, grow and sometimes deteriorate. Marriage requires you to say ‘I do’ not just to the person standing in front of you on your wedding day. Marriage requires you to say ‘I do’ to whomever and whatever that person will become, something unknown on your wedding day. 

 

On the one hand, that’s the great risk a person makes by marrying someone. You don’t know who they’re going to be 20 years hence. All you CAN know is that they won’t be the same exact person. On the other hand, that risk is what makes weddings beautiful and marriage an act of faith.

 

Marriage requires spouses to recommit- either informally or liturgically but always intentionally- at key junctures along the way of their lives together. Your spouse won’t be the same person at 45 they were at 25. They won’t be at 65 who they were at 30.

 

I’ve seen too many couples throw in the towel because their spouse has changed yet they never took the intentional steps of determining how they can best love their spouse as they are now and help them grow in to the person God wants them to be.

 

I’ve seen even more people’s marriages whither on the vine because they assumed what got their marriage to the 10 year mark will get them another 10 years. They never develop new habits, new skills, new goals, new ways of relating and emoting for the place they find themselves now in their marriage. And the marriage atrophies until the couple are no longer truly married so much as they’re cohabitating.

 

You’d never plant a seed in the ground, water it a little, and then walk away assuming the rest will take care of itself and that little seed will grow in to mighty impressive tree. 

 

But I see people all the time treat their marriage that way. 

 

Marriage requires you to say: I Do. And then: I Do.  And later: I Do. And probably a few more times along the way: I Do.

 

Myth_of_You_Complete_MeI’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.

#6: You Don’t Love Your Spouse For Who They Are

As a pastor I’m often in the position to ask couples: ‘Why do you want to get married?’ You’d be shocked- then again, maybe not- how few people can answer that question beyond some vagueness about how ‘we’re just so deeply in love’ or how the other person ‘completes me.’

The answer I get most often though is this one:

‘He/she loves me for who I am.’

To be fair, I suppose I couldn’t articulate much more than that when Ali and I got married.

Just as often as I get that response, I do my best to quash it:

 ‘Well, that’s no good because once you’re married it’s going to be his/her job

to make sure you don’t stay who you are.’

 

That comment usually meets with equal parts confusion and disgust. But dammit, it’s honest-to-goodness bible true. Pop culture has convinced us that true love accepts us exactly for who we are and- goes the rest of the unspoken assumption- leaves us exactly who we are. Pop culture has convinced us that true love doesn’t expect us to change.

That may be love as Taylor Swift defines it but it couldn’t be more different than how Jesus loves people. Yes, Jesus accepted everyone for exactly who they were: Zaccheus, Matthew, the Rich Young Ruler. But accepting them as they were, Jesus’ style of love never left people as they were. Never left them unchanged. 

And, don’t forget, married love is meant to be sacramental. We’re supposed to love each other in a way that makes visible and tangible the way Jesus loves people.

Therefore, marriage is all about changing the other person. 

And it’s not simply a by-product of marriage. It’s the vocation of marriage. It’s what marriage is for. 

St Paul wrote to the Corinthians that anyone ‘who is in Christ is a new creation.’ Anyone who’s a Christian can tell you that doesn’t happen in an instant or even very quickly or easily. It’s a long, hard, slow process of throwing off sin and growing into who God intends us to be, who God has always intended us to be, who we will be in God’s New Creation.

The purpose of marriage- it’s Christian calling if you like- is to offer the sort of friendship that helps your spouse grow into their best self. Their future, new creation self.

 

It’s the vocation of marriage to see in your beloved the work God is doing in them, the promise in them of new creation, and to join God in that work.

 

Put another way, marriage- Christian marriage- is analogous to how Michaelangelo described the craft of carving David: ‘I looked inside the marble and just took away the bits that weren’t David.’ 

 

Marriage is about trusting another to see and notice how God is taking away the bits in you.

It’s about trusting another to join God in taking away those bits, to help turn your raw material into something magnificent.

 

#6: You Don’t Love Your Spouse For Who They Are.

You Love Them For They Will Be(come).

Myth_of_You_Complete_Me#7: Love isn’t a Feeling

If love is a feeling, how in the world can you promise to love someone forever?

Of all the things in our lives our feelings are the part of us we have the least control over. You can’t promise to feel a certain feeling every day for the rest of your life. If love is a feeling- love for a friend, love for a husband or wife- if love is a feeling, it’s no wonder the odds are better than even that it won’t last.

When you turn to the New Testament, love isn’t just something you promise to another. It’s something you’re commanded to give another. When the lawyer asks Jesus for the key to it all, Jesus says: ‘Love the Lord completely and love your neighbor as yourself.’ The night Jesus washes his friends’ feet, Jesus tells them: ‘I give you a new commandment: love one another just as I have loved you.’ And when the Apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians he commands husbands to love their wives and wives to love their husbands.

Those are all imperatives.

Jesus doesn’t say like your neighbor. Jesus doesn’t say you should love one another. Paul doesn’t tell husbands and wives to try and love one another.

They’re imperatives. They’re commands.

Here’s the thing.

You can’t command a feeling. You can’t command an emotion. You can only command an action.

‘Love one another’ Jesus commands.

Jesus takes a word we use as a noun, and he makes it a verb. In scripture, love is an action first and a feeling second.

Which is the exact opposite of how the culture teaches us to think about love. We think of love as a noun, as a feeling, as something that happens to us like measles, something we fall into like a pool and out of like chair.

The culture teaches us to think of love as a noun, which means then we think that its our feelings of love that lead to acts of love. So if the feeling we felt for someone is no longer there, all too often we assume we must be with the wrong person. So all too often we give up and get out, looking to find that feeling with someone else. Or, even more often, you stay together but you don’t stay in love.

In 10 years of ministry I can’t tell you how many couples I’ve met who treat love as a noun, who’ve let the culture convince them that they must feel love first in order to give it. And that’s a recipe for a broken relationship, and, oddly enough, one we would never practice on our children- we do loving things for our children every day whether on a given day we feel like it or not.

Because when you think you must feel love first in order to give it, then when you don’t feel love towards the other you stop offering them loving acts. And of course the rub is the fewer loving actions you show someone else, the fewer loving feelings there will be between you.

In scripture, love is an action first and a feeling second. And I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Un-Romantic.I know that its a feeling that sparks a relationship, but the basis for an enduring relationship, the basis for a relationship that can last a lifetime is making love…a verb.

Love is something you do- even when you don’t feel like it.

That’s how Jesus can command us to love our enemies. Jesus can’t force us to feel a certain way about our enemies, but Jesus can command us to do concrete loving actions for our enemies knowing that those loving acts might eventually transform how we feel.

The key to having love as a noun in your life is making love a verb.

Jesus says: Where your treasure is that’s where you heart will be also. In other words, where you invest loving actions, loving feelings will follow. You do it and then you feel it.

So, in your relationship you may not feel tender but you act tender.

You may not feel sympathetic on a given day but, just as you would your son or daughter, you listen and show them your sympathy.

You may not feel patient and kind tomorrow evening but tomorrow evening what you do is muster up some patience and kindness.

You may not feel very forgiving the next time the two of you fight but forgiveness is exactly what you offer.

You can’t promise the feeling of love. That’s not the covenant. The covenant is that you promise the action of love every day. Love is something you do and you trust the doing to transform your feelings.