Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

RebekahAbraham is old, really old, and decides to once again, take matters into his hands to find a wife for Isaac, who must be around forty by then. Abraham sends his highest ranking servant (unnamed throughout the story) to the land of his ancestors to find a wife. The servant puts out a kind of “fleece” to determine which maiden is the one. Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel, passes the test. And off she rides, maids & nurse in tow.

Genesis 24:67
Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

I’m sure there are a number of wedding rituals that were still in place even in those times but unfortunately, these are not shared through this story. Rebekah agrees to travel right away (which smacks of “get me out of this family,” an escape route that many young women take) and takes on the adventure of a lifetime.

Rebekah is going to an unknown land just like Abraham did those many years earlier. She only has the promise from a servant, an array of fine gifts and gold, and the hope of a future. She had tremendous courage, I think, as well as curiosity. Rebekah embraced change.

I wish I knew more of what must have happened within the summary text, “Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother.” Was there a ceremony? Or was it merely a matter of having relations with the woman to secure their marriage bond? Is there significance to it being his mother’s tent, or did that simply signify the tent for women? Was it a harem like situation where all the women of the household lived together?

And more interesting still is that Rebekah became the woman who brought comfort to Isaac at the loss of his mother. I cannot help but think that Isaac was estranged from his father Abraham after the great testing on the mountain. At least, I don’t believe they were close. Instead, Isaac gave his heart to his mother. And when she passed, he felt alone and engaged in the building of his own herds and belongings. And although he did not take a wife, I’m pretty sure he was no “40 year old virgin.” There were slaves and concubines undoubtedly and maybe even children, but these would not inherit the promises of God. They were of such insignificance, they are not named or identified. Even Rebekah came from some wealth, since she traveled with her own entourage of nurse and maids.

And so it is, that the progression of God’s plan for building a nation is finally moving again. The entire process had stopped at Isaac’s apparent reluctance to take a wife.

But once Rebekah arrives, he accepts her, he marries her, and more importantly, he loves her. This love statement could have been excluded but it is here for a reason. At this point in the story, Isaac loves, that is, he cares about his new wife more than himself. He is sensitized to her needs and her desires. He wants to please her. He wants to nurture her. He wants her to thrive and be happy. He loves her.

How often does the story begin this way? My story did too. What happens? How do we lose that adventure and love? Did God change his mind? It was a match made in heaven. So was mine. How do we lose sight of God’s gift to one another? Why do so many life events cool our ardor, our belief, our joy?

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What is a promise? I know what it should be. I know that it should be binding and carries with it an expectation. If I promise to do something, the person expects me to follow through. A covenant is the next step up and just below law. Our culture has never mastered covenant.

II Chronicles 15:12
They [Asa and the people of Judah] entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul.

Covenant is harder. Despite the promises and the expectations and outward signs of agreeing to a covenant, it can be broken with no apparent ill effects. At least that’s what people seem to think. The most controversial covenant is the marriage. Couples stand before witnesses and make vows, they agree, they promise, they share ritual, and yet, divorce statistics range near 50% for first time marriages and higher for second and third marriages.

I am one of those statistics. I married for the first time at eighteen. And although I was “in love,” I also had this reasoning in the back of my mind: if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just get a divorce. It’s not a good start to a promise.

As a parent, I have tried to avoid the “I promise” phrase because I know how easy it is for things to go awry, for circumstances to change, for promises to be broken.

But today, as I traverse then Lenten time, I feel compelled to make and hold to some promises. I have committed time to God in prayer, meditation, and writing. I have promised to seek God throughout this journey. And I feel the weightiness of this agreement in a way I never have before.

When I was twelve, my mother had tried to find a new spouse by answering personal ads in the Latvian newspaper. One of those men invited us to visit him in Niagara Falls, Canada. I didn’t like this man at all and one night, when the two of them had gone out on a date and stayed out very late, I prayed fervently and made many deals with God if would break up this couple. I believe this was a girl’s version of a foxhole conversion. My mother never remarried, but I didn’t follow through either. Or did I? Was my rediscovered faith at 28, a consequence after all? Did my promise bear fruit?

Sometimes, I think it does work out that way.

The things we say, the words we speak, have power, particularly if they are heartfelt. In that other world, inhabited by spirits and angels and so forth, what happens to the promises we make?

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If love is a type of submission, as I believe it is, then that is the best place to start with this controversial passage about wifely submission. You see, if ALL are to submit to one another, why must the “wife to husband” submission be “greater” or more submissive as some people imply?

Ephesians 5:22, 24
Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. . . . Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

I’m still taking baby steps when it comes to loving as Christ loved others. Here’s my theory: if I can love/submit to my husband a fraction of what Christ models for me to love/submit to everyone, we’ll have a transformed marriage.

The same habitual sins I experience with others in my daily life are magnified at home. For instance, if I judge others, even people I don’t know in the grocery line or sitting in a restaurant, is there any surprise that I judge those closest to me?

Probably, the love/submission relationship was supposed to be easier with our mates, after all, we’ve made a promise to love them, to cherish them, to stand beside them through joys and sorrows, to create families, to build a microcosm of the Church (i.e. Body of Christ). Instead, we build mini-cultures that reflect the culture in which we live. In some families, that means an environment of greed, ambition, violence, mistrust, disease, and manipulation.

I missed something along the way and forgot that my own husband is “sacred other.” He is Holy Spirit illuminated too. And that is the One to whom I am to submit within him. It is not the veiled man, but the core that is holy. And it is the core of man that is more than worthy of love and yes, even submission.

Some of his veil I caused. When two people hurt each other or become estranged in any way, the darkness covers the light within on both sides. I have been looking through two layers of sin: my own and his.

It’s a uncertain business to begin peeling the layers of “outer self” in a relationship while the other is fully clothed and protected. But I am pretty sure that “outer me” cannot love/submit to anyone in the way of Jesus.

Today, I have intention and mindfulness with love and submission for the Holy Spirit.

(FD 9)

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This is what a lot of contract lawyers get paid to do: one to make the covenant and another to find enough loopholes to break it. What contracts or promises do we have to today that are truly binding? Partnerships? Marriage? Last Will and Testament? BFF? Pinky swear?

Galatians 3:15
Brothers, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case [between God and Abraham].

The covenant promise between God and Abraham happened 430 years before the laws were established through Moses. But we are told, it was still rock solid after all that time. In fact, of the three parts of the covenant (land, blessings & a Messianic descendant), it is the third part that created the expectation or anticipation of a savior.

There are two kinds of covenants: conditional and unconditional. In the conditional covenant, both parties must agree and both must live up to their agreement. If either side breaks the covenant, then it is no longer binding. An unconditional covenant only requires the completion or fulfillment of the covenant by one side. The Abrahamic covenant only required God’s participation. Abraham just had to “show up.”

Once this covenant was completed with the arrival of the Messiah, he entered into yet another binding, unconditional covenant: Grace, which would manifest in eternal salvation (our sins covered by the blood sacrifice of the Christ).

Like Abraham, I just have to show up. I just have to say yes to this covenant. This is the contract of redemption.

But for me, the excitement is not in showing up. It’s taking full advantage of the covenant. It’s participating in the process. It’s being present in the story. It’s having a relationship.

Like a marriage, the wedding ceremony is nice and the symbols of rings, kisses and blessings are edifying and even memorable. But it’s what happens later that really counts.

Unlike a marriage, God is willing to take me back again and again when I fall away or stray. Though I be like Gomer [Book of Hosea], my God is patient, and gracious, and loving. This, then, is the covenant of hope.

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I think most people want to be married, to be in a committed relationship and to build a family. This is the norm of our culture. But in that light, Paul says there will be divided devotion; it comes with the territory. I think it’s time to stop beating myself up on this issue of a divided heart.

I Corinthians 7:33-34a, 35
But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. . . . I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you [single people] may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

Additional references to the idea of a “divided heart” might be Matthew 6:24 (two masters), James 4:8 (double-mindedness), Psalm 86:11 or Hosea 10:2. Bad, bad, bad, that’s all I read and the condemnation rains down upon me. Enough.

The undivided heart state is an amazing ideal, but I need to be more realistic about attaining single mindedness in this time of my life. If I only focus on the undivided heart scriptures, I lose sight of the other tasks God has placed before me: namely, my family.

Actually, my devotional practices are better than ever, single or married. My sensitivity to the Holy Spirit, my desire to please God, my trust in a sovereign God, all have grown in the past few years and continue to grow. I am studying the scriptures systematically and I am praying daily. I am seeking God’s will.

But much of my prayer time is on behalf of my husband and and particularly, my children, whose spiritual lives are quite unformed still. There have been so many missteps, so many truths I have not managed to share convincingly, so many outright failures. Our marriage, although laced with kindness and cooperation, is not particularly trusting or intimate. I need to reach a much deeper place of humility there.

And what of my other relationships? These too are an intrinsic part of loving God, that is, loving others. But don’t these relationships also take a piece of the heart? They take energy and time and thought. They require concern and devotion. They, too, divide the heart.

I wonder if it’s not a huge paradox. Maybe divided devotion for love actually comes together as ultimate devotion to God. After all, what is given (time, energy, love) to the “least of these” is given unto God [Matthew 25:40].

What if it’s not divided love that is a problem but mis-directed love: idol worship, loving without God, loving carnally, loving selfishly, or loving for gain.

Like a shady bookkeeper keeping double books, two complete sets–one the truth and one a complete fabrication–this divided devotion will fail. This double heart cannot live. Unfortunately, the black heart of deceit is strong and will prevail unless there is help, confession, and truth.

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Other translations of this phrase are “this present distress” or “this present trouble.” The entire discussion on not marrying or marrying is about that moment in time. Paul believed the time was short. But we’re still here. And what is the application for us?

I Corinthians 7:26, 29a, 30b
Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. . . .What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. . . . For this world in its present form is passing away.

The commentaries are numerous on these passages and the emphasis is almost entirely on the attachments to worldly comforts and the responsibilities of a mate and/or children (I presume). And certainly, much can be said for being unattached to any of these things. But alas, I am neither. I am a wife, a mother, and culturally, I confess, I’m tethered to the conveniences of my world.

But for me, it’s the phrase about timing that intrigues me the most. Paul was pretty sure that Christ would return within his generation, if not within his lifetime. This, in itself, does reflect on the human-ness of Paul. He was wrong on this point, and in a big way. For him, the times were bad. Later, they got worse for that part of the world when the Romans besieged Jerusalem and destroyed it. That was certainly the end of the “their world in its present form.”

And what about our own crisis? What about our culture’s troubles? What would help? Only one thing, single or married, could make a difference. The practice of the presence of Christ. Nothing else. It is this presence within that has the power to change our responses to the world. It is the Christ spirit that is perceived as light. It is the love of God that transforms situations. When that is present, then the attachment to the world becomes less by default. Marriages remain whole. Singles remain trusting.

We cannot take on the outer trappings of Paul’s recommendations and expect change. For me, it must begin within.

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Acts 18:18b
…before he [Paul] sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.

There is a small difference between taking a vow and making one. I believe taking a vow is accepting an existing agreement such as taking a vow of celibacy (how that is done is already established). While making a vow is something you create yourself, like making a vow to stop or change a particular behavior.

In modern times, more and more couples are “making vows” (that is, they are creating their own marriage vows) as opposed to taking on a traditional vow. In an age of casual divorce, many couples remove the “til death do us part” bit. It’s easier that way.

In ancient times, vows were serious business. There was often an outward sign that a vow had been taken to alert the community (like the cutting of hair). These practices may have served as another form of accountability for the person making the vow. Historically, the wedding ceremony was similar: a public voicing of the vow and then a symbolic exchange of rings to signify the vows were made and accepted.

But the seriousness of vows has been lost in our age. We have softened vows into “promises.” And somehow, promises hold less power and are often broken. How often do we say, “I promise … I will …” and then don’t. There is no apparent result. There is no cost.

I maintain there is a cost however. The cost is within. Broken promises break the heart of the one to whom the promise was made and hardens the heart of the one who made the promise and broke it. The effects of broken vows is even worse.

If a vow is made before God, then the breaking is not only between the people, it’s a triad vow and includes God in the mix. Broken vows give pain to God as well.

Keep me mindful this day of my words and thoughts. Oh God, keep me in the circle of your covenant with me.

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