(This comes from something I sent to my congregation on 2/27/03)
Today is my fifteenth wedding anniversary. I get reflective on important dates, and this is definitely one of the biggies.
I often think marriage is a great lesson for us in spirituality. When I married my wife 15 years ago today, I barely knew anything. All I knew was that I was sure I wanted to pursue this relationship for the rest of my life. What I could not have fully realized at that time is the extent to which this relationship was going to define my life – both the way I think about myself, and what others think of me; especially three others in particular named Brittany, Kyra, and Anna, who are the product of this relationship and represent the best we have to offer this world. As I look around the office where I sit right now, and mentally project myself out into the living room, the dining room, etc., every single place I can think of is filled with the presence of this woman and these three little girls. I realize that I cannot meaningfully understand myself apart from my connection to the four of them. Though this is my fifteenth anniversary, I have been with Christy for 17 years. I’m 34 years old. Do the math! I have now been with Christy for half of my life. Memories of my life before her get increasingly fuzzy, even as they come to fit better into the picture of who I am becoming, as perspective and wisdom accumulate with the years.
Once upon a time I thought about getting married. But I could never have understood BEING married, or living as a married person. In fact the difficulty of those early years of marriage stems largely from this reality. It takes time for us to come to see ourselves in relation to another person — to define ourselves in terms of the reality they bring to our lives. We must work through issues of commitment, vulnerability, maturity, faith, and gratitude on our journey to recognizing true union and intimacy with another human being.
All these things apply also in large measure to our quest for God. When we first become believers we know very little. All we may know is that it’s time for us to step across some kind of line and enter a new kind of life. We don’t know what that will mean. Just like with marriage, God spares us that knowledge at the time, for if we could see in advance all the struggles and difficulties we would have to endure, we might never embark on this adventure in the first place. But as the difficulties come along, so come also the blessings which could no more have been appreciated at the beginning then commitment could have been understood. Like marriage, there is a day and a time. We love another person in our hearts and are committed to them, but there comes a day and time when we “call in the jury” and commit in public, in the presence of God and these witnesses, to a lifetime of devotion to another person. So too in the life of faith. We are drawn, beckoned, wooed toward God. At last the day comes when we formally give our lives to Him. We “tie the knot” with God, so to speak. We promise to learn to belong to Him, as I promised to learn to belong to my wife.
As we increasingly worship and serve God, we get to know Him better. With time comes a new way of thinking of ourselves and seeing the world. We get to where we cannot meaningfully understand our lives outside of the reality of God in them. The world becomes a very different place. Everything around us reminds us of that commitment we made to Him and, though times are still hard sometimes, we have come too far to turn back.
In the early days of marriage, every significant argument is scary and threatening. You don’t know what it means and are afraid it might be the big one that ends the relationship. But as you argue, disagree, and survive, you develop increased confidence that you will survive the next argument, even as you learn to communicate better and disagreements become less frequent as you progressively enter into each other’s worlds. As we cling longer and stronger to God, we come to realize how true is the scripture: “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any power, neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We come to believe that more and more. We come to hang our hats on it, to live within that reality. We see that our recklessness, our lack of faith, our frequent uncertainty about whether we belong in this relationship, even our times when we wonder if we WANT to believe, are all part of what God has willingly embraced in us. For God has made a promise to us. A commitment to be faithful. He has taken us into His arms and loved us — called us His bride — paid the ultimate price to be with us. He has paid too much for you to let you go.
In 1988 I was 19 years old. I didn’t know much. But I knew I loved this girl and wanted to be with her, and there was one thing I was completely committed to — being faithful to this girl no matter what. Everything else at that time was up for grabs. I barely knew myself and I didn’t have the slightest clue how to belong to another person. But I was 100% determined to learn. And I am still learning. It’s the same way with God, isn’t it? Give your heart to Him. Decide to serve Him. And be willing to keep that commitment, come what may. As you do, you will increasingly find this relationship becoming more and more central to the way you think of yourself and the way others think of you. Eventually you will produce amazing things — spiritual fruit — that will be a direct by-product of this love relationship you entered into with God.
Never forget this is a relationship. God loves you. Learn to love Him back. Be faithful to Him, because He will ALWAYS be faithful to you. Learn to let Him love you. Watch your life produce fruit. And give thanks to the one who chose you before you were capable of choosing Him in return.