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Marriage: A strong house with no back door

blog-marriage-strong-house-pictureAt this point, our kids are grown and my wife and I are closer to sixty than fifty. Not much is written about love between people like us, and we rarely see ourselves portrayed in movies.  Most of the great love stories focus on relationships before marriage, or on unrequited love that is never consummated, or on adulterous liaisons filled with intrigue and excitement. Real love like ours, though, is tough; its substance is a covenant, and it is more likely to grow into contentment rather than buzz with exhilaration.

Christian marriage is radical in its absolute commitment. We enter the relationship and promise before God to have no other lover. When I made my vows, there was no rider that exempted me from those “’till death do you part” pledges if I became bored, restless, stressed, depressed, or simply found someone I thought might be prettier or more entertaining.

At its core, the covenant of marriage is a decision to love, which runs deeper than mere emotion. This love doesn’t ask how I feel; this love demands that I act, but for me this commitment has resulted in emotion and contentment beyond simple romance that often amounts to little more than narcissism with a sense of novelty.

This married love is not always exciting, at least not like the danger and rebellion and raw emotion of young love expressed in secret rooms and backseats of cars parked in deserted places. This is love of another kind, a love that holds my spouse above all others. In a room full of people, there is everyone else, and then there is my wife.

I used to quote a line from a T-Bone Burnett song to her: “All the other girls look the same standing next to you.” This statement is true because there are the other several billion females out in the world, but she is the only one for me. All the rest are in a mutually excluded class.

At this point, my wife isn’t the same girl I married, nor do I expect her to be. She is a fully mature woman, one who has borne my children and raised them well. She has loved me, supported me, and served me for years, and she has been the recipient of my love as well. There is no one like her.

Images of beauty surround me, but I ignore their siren song and find it sad when older men leave their wives for younger women, or even that they find them overly alluring. Youthful beauty, sex, and even romantic love are transient, but God’s love is eternal, and that ultimately must be the strength of any marriage.

There have been times when my wife and I have looked at each other and wondered what we had in common, but there has always been Christ, and He has always been enough. He is our common ground regardless of our differences. Individually and together, my wife and I seek Him and desire His will, part of which involves us continuing together in love, whatever may come our way.

Real Christian marriage is a brave long shot that works its wonders all the time, even in this age of selfish desire. Two people who have said “yes” to God say “yes” to each other, and they exclude all others to celebrate this most intimate of human bonds.

Marriage is a strong house we enter that has no back door exit, and therein we learn to truly love with the unrelenting grace that God lavishly provides.

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Missing the point in love and romance

We tend to get the whole quest for love all wrong and look for that special someone to fulfill our deepest needs, so we date, go steady, experiment with other people, and test them to see if they work for us.

Unfortunately, the lovers we seek have the same agenda, and like sailors in a shipwreck, we cling to each other and drown. Only when we have sufficiency in Christ can we hope to really love anyone. Otherwise, we are basically using people, and that is sin in the first degree.

I never intended to use anyone, but from the start, my relationships were self-centered. The summer after seventh grade, my first “real” girlfriend met me at the local elementary school playground where we’d hang out, talk, and generally waste summer evenings.

Once we stopped walking around, looked at each other for a seemingly interminable moment, and kissed. We liked it enough to give it another try and wound up having a major make out session.

That evening I went home feeling like I had come into a new territory, a place where I was someone different. The realization that I wanted to kiss someone who also wanted to kiss me back was a major boost to my ego. No longer was I a loser without a girlfriend.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized this truth: much of what passes for love is merely our need to be affirmed by someone else. True love, however, is always focused outward because it is a gift from God in Christ, the one through whom we all can find true acceptance.

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Sin and tangled shoe laces

Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about sin. One of the big lies passed around the Church is that sin is no fun. On the contrary, sin can be a blast. Unless you’ve committed an act of fornication, gotten really stoned or drunk, or beaten the snot out of someone just for kicks, you just don’t know what I mean. Sin offers a type of transcendence to this life, a rush of exhilaration and pleasure.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, I’d also like to say that sin can kill not only your body but your soul. Once the pleasure wears off, there is the relentless quest for more and more sin to satisfy that urge, but the urge is never satisfied. Sinners are horribly discontent, and that discontentment makes us sin all the more.

By its very nature, discontentment is contrary to real faith, and all sin, at its core, is a violation of love. Murder, theft, and adultery are all born out of a desire for something other than what we have, and the damage from that discontentment often goes beyond the initial person we offend. Sin has a ripple effect, hurting a person’s family, friends, and even the community at large. Even worse, all of it offends God personally. Sin and love do not mix.

As I get older, sin has less and less attraction for me because it destroys my ability to love God, and only this experience of love lets us build a life worth living. While I did spare them the sordid details, I let my children know that my earlier years were steeped in transgression. I tried to impart to them that they could be “better than Daddy” because I spent twenty years messing up my life, and God had to straighten me out before he could do very much with me.

When my daughter Janie was about seven, I asked her if she understood what I meant by all that, and she explained back to me that sin was like putting knots in your shoe laces. You have to work hard just to get them unlaced. Then you have to put them on and lace them up again before you can even go anywhere. I thought that was a pretty profound little spiritual metaphor, and I suspect she possessed more spiritual insight back then than I did when I was three times her age.

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