All Marriage is Hard Marriage

Whenever I officiate a wedding, I ask the couple if, during the ceremony, I can say something akin to the following:

There is something that you’ll run into – something about your spouse that you can’t stand – something dark and unattractive about them.  When this happens, you’ll be on the fence for awhile, thinking that you’ve made a mistake, that you’d be happier alone or happier with someone else.  If you get past that stage you’ll be tempted to change the other person.  “If I can just get them to be different everything will be ok.”  But if you can learn to love your spouse, darkness and all, you’ve entered into a deeper love.  It’s easy to love when everything’s perfect.  But to love without condition is to step into a deeper world, a place where most people won’t go.

For the couples that let me get away with the above (understandably, not everyone’s comfortable with it), I end with a charge to pursue this unconditional love.

I don’t do it for the benefit of the couple (newlyweds don’t listen to anything), but for the people in the audience.  Most marriages aren’t going well, especially for people in their late 30’s and early 40’s.  We’ve somehow gotten it in our heads that when we get married it’s some kind of picnic.  If not it’s because we married the wrong person.  People who stay in bad marriages either spend a good chunk of their energy trying to change the other person, or live, day-to-day, for the rest of their married lives, bitter about their situation, pining away for their soul-mate.

I’m an Evangelical pastor, so, culturally speaking, it’s verboten to divorce.  But let me tell you that I’ve entertained the idea.  So has my wife.  So has every one I know.  Years ago I sat with a friend, someone who I respect very much.  He was pushing me about some areas of laziness in my life.  “I have a high maintenance marriage” I said, shifting blame like a 3 year old.  “So do I” he immediately fired back.  “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.”  This shit’s hard.

My wife and I have navigated some difficult things.  We’ve walked through hell. Together.  For some reason, when two people experience hardship, even if it’s at their own hand, they grow closer.  Elaine is my best friend.  I know that she’ll grind whatever grist the mill requires to stay with me.  There’s not enough room on the internet to list the crap she’s had to put up with.  The older we grow, the more thankful I am for her.  The more attracted I am to her.  We’ve learned how to fight, to express our issues with humility, to listen, to apologize – when to stand firm and when to let things go.  We’ve learned how to love each other.  I’d be a fool to do anything but learn to love her more.

The difficulties of our marriage have forced our hand, pushed us into a deeper ocean.  A better life together.  I know it sounds weird, but the other person’s difficulties/darkness/imperfections, well loved and accepted, are one of the fundamental elements of a great marriage.

 

A Revisionist’s Take on David, Goliath, Kids, and Marriage

There’s a story in the Old Testament that isn’t translated correctly in our English bibles.  When I read it “right” for the first time, it changed everything about the way I think about God, and the way I think about the way God thinks about me – and ultimately the way I engage the difficult things of my life.

Our bibles tell a story of an underestimated, highly skilled underdog defeating a giant.  If you’ll let me, I’d like to tell you a different story.  The following interpretation is taken directly from a collection of Hebrew manuscripts commonly used in the creation of our modern bibles.

The armies of the Philistines and the Israelites face each other but won’t engage.  King Saul, who’s described as the most qualified soldier in the army, shudders in his tent, afraid to face the giant who has walked onto the field with a challenge. “Send someone out to fight me.  If your man wins we’ll be your slaves, If I win you’ll be ours.”

The author of this story has alot to say about the giant.  He’s really big, covered from head to toe in about 120 pounds of armor, carries a spear that most of us couldn’t heft, much less throw, and is so important/experienced in battle that he has someone to go before him to protect him with a shield.  He’s large, strong, experienced, and impenetrable.

David shows up and is so small and young that he’s ripped to shreds for even showing up on the scene.  He somehow weasles his way into Saul’s tent and claims that he can kill Goliath.  In a very sick moment, Saul places his armor on David. David removes the armor and engages the giant.

Goliath says, “Am I a dog that you come at me with a stick (later manuscripts have “sticks” but it seems the original (older) writing is “stick”)?”  David reaches down and grabs 5 sling stones and a stick, probably thinking something akin to “I have no idea how this is going to go down.  If five rocks don’t work, maybe I can beat him with a stick.  Let’s do this.”

As Goliath moves in for the easy kill, David lets fly with a baseball sized rock travelling about 90 mph and hits Goliath in the….

This is where the story gets really interesting in my opinion.  The Hebrew word for “forehead” and the Hebrew word for “shinguard” or “greave” is the same.   Long ago, interpreters had to figure out which one it would be.  “Greave” never appears in the Old Testament in the singular form, but “Forehead” does, many times.  So, interpreters went with precedence and gave us the story we now have – David issued a shot with pinpoint accuracy.

But let’s go with “greave,” ie, Goliath was hit in the leg.  If he was hit in the forehead with a rock that big travelling that fast, he would have been thrown backwards.  The author goes out of his way to tell us that Goliath fell forward.   If you’re hit in the leg with a baseball sized rock travelling 90 miles an hour, you’ll at least lose your balance.  If you lose your balance wearing 120 pounds of armor, you’re going down – doesn’t matter how big and strong you are.

Either way, Goliath’s now face down in the sand and has to get up, which is a little tricky when you’re bearing so much weight.  His enemy is an almost naked boy running at speed.  Goliath has dropped his sword and is now struggling to get up – take a guess who’ll get to the weapon first.  What this story really tells us is that David’s not that good with a slingshot, and that Goliath’s trust in his armor actually decided the battle.

The most difficult thing about our English translation of this story is that the biblical authors, whether you agree with them or not, didn’t write stories about people entering the battlefield and deciding the outcome with their great skill.  The Bible, over and over again, ad-nauseum, gives us stories of losers, ill-equipped and outnumbered, winning because God is on their side. You might be an atheist, or someone not interested in the Bible, and that’s fine, but when interpreting this particular ancient text, we have to understand that our white, Western, kick-ass-and-take-names, Evangelical interpretation doesn’t fit in this ancient Hebrew Bible.

David didn’t win the battle because of his skill, but because of his willingness to simply walk onto the field and face a giant – he believed that there was something that would fight for him – but nothing would happen until David engaged.

A very powerful truth when we apply this to our lives.

Here’s an example of how this story has changed my life.  Over the past 7 years, I’ve adopted 3 kids who were all abandoned, spent too much time in institutionalized care, and who now deal with a significant amount of PTSD.  Parenting them is the hardest thing I’ve ever done – my own personal “Goliath.”  I’m ill-equipped for this, naked, and armed with little more than a few rocks and maybe a stick.  But I also believe that God is on my side, unconditionally and without reservation.  Even when I’m acting like a jackass, He’ll help me here – taking care of the things I can’t handle.

But if I disengage, bad things will happen.  As weak as I am, my presence is required here.  We all have battles to fight, giants to face, most of them we can’t handle – that’s a fact regardless of what you believe.  The only thing we have in our power, the only thing we can control is whether or not we stay on the field.

I’ll close with something that might sound really cheesy, but I need to write it – not for you, but for me.

Sohpia, Amara, and Hannah – my life is yours.  I gladly left my career for you and would do the same over and again (thanx mommy for making that possible by the way).  I’m sorry for the hurt and fear that you carry inside, and for the ways I’ve added to it in my weaker moments.  I know that you’ll lash out at me so many times, and that I’ll be paying someone else’s bill for years to come.  As ill-equipped as I am, the only thing I can promise you is that I won’t disengage. I’ll face your giants, and mine, until God throws them to the ground.

Elaine, same goes for you.  I’ll be a jackass of a husband at times, playing the victim, feeling cheated, sorry for myself, betrayed, etc.  But this is my pledge to you and to the rest of the interweb that I’ll never leave the field.  There are so many beautiful things about you and about our life together that I don’t want to miss.  But when I’m blind to that, when I feel like marriage is some giant, insurmountable thing,  I’ll simply stay put until my eyes are open again.

I love you guys so much.  God help me.

 

 

A Revisionist’s Take on Adam and Eve

This might make some people grumpy, but the gist of Adam and Eve has nothing to do with God communicating to us what marriage is supposed to look like.  The message goes way deeper.  But, since the author wasn’t a white Evangelical, the meaning can get easily missed.

The story goes like something like this: God creates some stuff, then sits back and says “Wow, that’s good.”  Then He creates some more stuff and sits back again and says “Wow, that’s good.”  This happens a few more times, then He creates Adam, sits back and says, “not good.”  The author has set us up to expect God to really pat himself on the back at Adam’s advent, but we get the opposite.  Very strategic.

What’s not good is the fact that Adam is “alone.”  So the author brings in Eve (in Hebrew “Ish,” not sure how we got “Eve”).  Then God declares that she will be Adam’s helper.  This is traditionally interpreted as “Adam’s the leader, Eve’s the follower” and has been used throughout history to bolster the philosophy that the husband should always be in control – never questioned, always followed. People also mistakenly use this passage to defend the idea that everyone’s supposed to be married.  I’ve been a part of too many churches where single folk are looked down upon.

What’s actually happening here is that God doesn’t want Adam to be the only person on the planet, so he brings in Eve, to co-labor with Adam (ie help him) to bring in more people.  What’s fascinating is that this is the first time that God ceases to create by Himself.  From this point forward, – throughout the remainder of the Ancient Jewish and Christian Scriptures (commonly referred to as “The Bible”) – God doesn’t make a move without people being involved on some level.  Whenever God creates, moves forward, develops something, etc., He’ll be doing it with people from now on.

So again, this wasn’t written to serve as some kind of blueprint for marriage, it’s given to make two very important, often overlooked points.  God’s first act was to make a place for people, then make people. He’s still making people and we can infer from other areas of Scripture that these people are important to Him.  God’s really serious about this apparently. God’s also really serious about working with us, including us in what He’s doing, so much so that if we don’t respond, it doesn’t get done.

This is God’s first order of business – so it should be ours.  We should place people- the importance of people – at the center of our understanding and at the center of our religious life – and figure out what God’s up to so that we might join Him. Whatever it is, it’s going to have something to do with people.

Religious activities that put traditions, behavior, facilities, places of influence, affluence, etc. at their core have sorely missed the point.  Adherents of this type of religion are typically folk who place importance on almost anything but people, and can, many times, find themselves fighting for the wrong side. Alone.  Not good.