Monday, December 29, 2014

Happy anniversary to us!

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  It has been replaced by the patina of years of coming through together, of looking back after traversing a particularly treacherous passage and realizing we'd made it in one piece, we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.


beth said...

This is the selection from Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy that illustrates an understanding of unity, that feeling of knowing that when you hurt the other, you hurt yourself, because you are one.

"Levin had thought there could never be any relations between himself and Kitty other than those based on tenderness, self-respect, and love: But the first month of their marriage showed otherwise.

Their first quarrel arose because Levin had ridden over to inspect a new farm. He returned half an hour late because he had attempted a short cut and got lost. He rode home thinking only of her, of her love, of his own happiness, and the nearer he came to the house the warmer grew his tenderness for her. He rushed into the room with a feeling that was even stronger than the one with which he had gone to propose to her, yet was all of a sudden met with a grim expression he had never seen on her face before. He tried to kiss her, but she pushed him away.

"What's the matter?"

"You're having a nice time . . ." she began, trying to appear calm and venomous.

But the moment she opened her mouth, she burst into a flood of reproaches, senseless jealousy, and everything else that had been tormenting her during the half hour she had spent sitting motionless at the window. It was then that he clearly understood for the first time what he had failed to understand when he led her out of the church after the wedding. He understood that she was not only close to him, but that he could not now tell where she ended and he began. He realized it from the agonizing feeling of division into two parts which he experienced at the moment. He felt hurt, but he immediately realized that he could not be offended with her because she was himself. For a moment he felt like a man who, receiving a sudden blow from behind, turns round angrily with the desire to return the blow only to find that he had accidentally struck himself and that there was no one to be angry with and he had to endure and do his best to assuage the pain. . . .
It took him a long time to recover his senses. His first impulse was quite naturally to justify himself and explain that she was in the wrong; but to show her that she was in the wrong meant to exasperate her still more and to widen the breach which was the cause of all this trouble. One impulse quite naturally drew him to shift the blame from himself and lay it upon her; another much more powerful feeling drew him to smooth over the breach and prevent it from widening. To remain under so unjust an accusation was painful, but to hurt her by justifying himself would be still worse. Like a man half awake and suffering from pain, he wanted to tear off the aching part and cast it away, but on coming to his senses he realized that the aching part was himself. All he had to do was to try to help the aching part to bear it, and this he did."

Peg said...

Thankful for you guys! Happy Anniversary!

Kathie said...

And so I must re-read Anna Karenina slowly - it's a sad book but so beautifully written. Thanks for sharing that profound passage. And a very Happy Anniversary with many more!