Last fall my wife and I completed our private celebration of a very brief 35 years of Christ-centered marriage, with some flowering shrubs for the front lawn, some new porch furniture, and a dinner out overlooking the river with the trees on the hillside turning spectacular colors reflected on the water.
Here are some of the reflections that this perspective has given me:
- We constantly encounter a deep duality: the depth of our broken-heartedness, and the depth of His compassion, kindness and love. Our broken hearts do not think our thoughts straight, feel our feelings straight, nor do they choose our choices straight. So we are in regular conflict with each other. Like two drunken sailors, sometimes we struggle to conduct the simplest conversation, or arm-in-arm we navigate our wobbly selves across the room, colliding with the furniture. Falling down together, we struggle an inordinate amount of time to simply stand again, and bruise and slobber on each other in the process. Our broken hearts twist feelings of disappointment into feelings of anger, and confuse our thoughts with faulty logic and bizarre assumptions. We imagine choices to be wise and good, and only discover over time how foolish those choices are. And yet in all this we see His hand at work, relentlessly binding up our broken hearts as a surgeon gently (but firmly) wraps shattered joint and bone. His wrappings have both comforting softness and annoying rigidity. But the rigidity is the very thing our brokenness cannot supply for itself, and what enables us to operate as well as we do. And (to our amazement) this is apparently well enough to provoke a neighbor to say to my wife, “I’ve never seen a marriage like yours.”
- The experience of Christ-centered marriage is an exotic alloy of our desires and His imperial calling; husband and wife are divinely appointed roles, energized by His love for us. I constantly recall the deep impression that occurred on a spring morning nearly forty years ago, when our conversation over breakfast first revealed that her heart was fully oriented toward me. As this pleasant shock began to sink in, I did not hear words, but the impression came clear and unmistakable, like feeling the ground heave in an earthquake: “She is Mine; I love her with My deep and everlasting love. I have loved her from the foundation of the universe. I appoint you to her care.” (Me? You trust me to care for Your Beloved? This delicate and lovely creation in my clumsy and wicked hands? Are…are You out of Your royal mind?) The ensuing deep silence I understood: “I have spoken. Stop babbling and get on with it.”
- The experience of a Christ-centered marriage will never be like its pagan caricatures, in that woven in among the daily tasks of faithful life together we regularly discover profoundly supernatural surprises. It is like paddling along in a tandem kayak, and suddenly becoming aware of a strange ripple at arm’s length; looking down you see swimming along just beneath you (and pushing the kayak) there is a whale. Or hiking along, handing each other over the tricky footing, pulling each other out of thorny bushes, you break out of the trees with a grand vista of rolling hills, silver river bends and a blue horizon lit with crepuscular rays piercing the clouds. I’m sure there are pleasant surprises in pagan marriages, but the surprises I’m talking about are the kind that stun you until you can only say “I’m sorry, God—I didn’t know You were this real.” (This phrase has stuck with me over the years since I first heard Becky Pippert say it. No other words capture so well the essence of these surprise experiences.)
- There is a sense of being hobbits from the Shire like Merry and Pippin, both of us together caught up in some great story, the magnitude and significance of which we can only guess. So we just do whatever good work presents itself, moment by moment, but all the time we are awed by the larger narrative unfolding around us and somehow building on our little deeds.
- The experience of a Christ-centered marriage is not a form of patriarchy with some evangelical holy water sprinkled on it. Patriarchy is a curse on women (we read in Genesis 3). It will always be a curse on women, no matter how much we sprinkle it, and I have been a part of that curse. Nor is Christ-centered marriage a 50-50 divvying up of decision authority, or alternating the decision power, with silent stalemates over the tough decisions. Over the years, we have been learning a third way, which at this point I can only describe as mutually submissive joint authority. This third way is the supernatural work, I am convinced, of the Holy Spirit doing His extraordinary thing in our otherwise thoroughly ordinary lives. It is amazingly pleasant and satisfying.
- There is a recurring sense of being new characters in an X-Men movie. At odd intervals, we look at each other: “That was amazing! I didn’t know you could do that!” and “I didn’t either!”
The adventure continues.