35 years ago today, we made a covenant with each other. A mere two years after making it, we were on the verge of breaking it. Selfish, self-centered, focused on our own agendas, completely ignorant of how to work toward unity, we were headed in a very dangerous direction. But God in his infinite mercy turned us around. It is rather terrifying to think what life would have been like had we not been rescued by the overflowing love of a gracious God. Through the joys and vicissitudes of marriage, through children and moves and job changes, through happy seasons of ease and light, through times of uncertainty and dark seasons of pain, we have walked and grown and learned what it means to be one.
I am more me and he is more him and we are more us than we have ever been. Unity in marriage has not diminished our personalities in the one, but made us more completely who we are as individuals as we have experienced the perfecting work of submitting to each other in love.
This is hard work. The flush of young love wore off long ago. It has been replaced by the patina of years of coming through together, of looking back after traversing a particularly treacherous passage and realizing we'd made it in one piece, we were stronger, and we could actually laugh in joy and triumph together.
This is rather a mystery, how you can become more yourself, more who you are meant to be, as you become more united with another. But then, the God who rescued us as a young, headstrong, foolish, selfish couple tells us it is not just a mystery, but a profound mystery. I have pondered often this image of marriage as a reflection of Christ and the church. Christians are not subsumed into the Godhead; the church, the body of Christ is not obliterated by union, but sanctified, made more complete, more who she is meant to be.
I am a complementarian. Some of you will know, or at least think you know, what I mean by this. For those of you who don't, I simply mean that I understand marriage in the way it is described in Ephesians 5. (Go read it). There is a headship and submission in marriage that is a reflection of the headship and submission between Christ and the church. I run the risk, I know, of being lumped in with the caricatured version of this picture. The macho, demanding, unswerving, harsh "head" husband and the timid, weak, mousey, victimized, "submissive" wife. But this is merely a caricature and could not be further from my experience or further from what I think the biblical picture truly is.
I have come to see that the caricature has arisen because people have not truly understood unity; not truly understood that the goal in marriage is not to be good at performing some sort of role, but that the goal is to be one. I am thankful for that insight that became more clear after teaching together on marriage at a seminary in a small town in Cameroon in 2001. I am thankful for that insight that we found so beautifully described by Tolstoy in Anna Karenina (I'll copy that selection to the comments in case you'd like to read it).
We've been married now for 35 years. There were some wonderful things that we did in the first two years, but they were mostly tearing down and learning by mistake years. Since then, for the last 33 years, Coty and I have set our hearts and minds and wills to work toward unity. By God's grace and with his enabling, we will continue to strive for it.