Dear Sister: Real Talk

Dear Sister,

Let’s be honest, Disney hasn’t done us any favors. I know I’ve had a pretty skewed version of what love looks like; I’m only just beginning to realize how skewed. A meet cute. A perfect fantasy where life is an endless highlight reel of strolling through the park hand in hand, kissing in the rain, laughing hysterically together, and snuggling in front of the fire in winter, content in each others’ silence. Hopefully, some of those moments will materialize, but I know it’s important to remember reality as well. I think we all have some misconceptions about what exactly love and marriage are, Biblically. I’d like to consider some sections that I’ve found in some cases encouraging, in some cases sobering, and in a few cases almost overwhelmingly hopeful. The obvious New Testament passage on marriage is Ephesians 5. Won’t hurt to start there.

Ephesians 5:22-25, 28-33 (ESV)
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself it’s Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

In some ways this passage is very encouraging. The love described here is deep and selfless and passionate. I get to look for someone who loves me more than his own life, someone who will cherish me. He’s someone I’ll be able to respect. That all sounds yummy! But. There’s definitely a sobering aspect too. This marriage thing is serious, and it won’t fix everything. If I sign up for a Christian marriage I sign up for everything that comes with it, and this passage makes it clear who’s in charge (hint: it’s not me). If I’m going to do marriage God’s way, I don’t get to define my own terms. But His terms make for something truly incredible: a relationship that models and will help me understand better the love between Christ and his church. That is something worth waiting for! This particularly exciting mixture of encouragement and challenge is also apparent in the quintessential section on love, 1 Corinthians 13.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (ESV)
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, love never ends.

The amplified quotes verses 7 and 8 thusly:

1 Corinthians 13: 7, 98 (AMP)
Love bears up under anything and everything that comes, is ever ready to believe the best of every person, its hopes are fadeless under all circumstances, and it endures everything [without weakening]. Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].

I LOVE these verses. What a beautiful kind of love! … to receive. To be loved in a completely selfless way by someone who isn’t arrogant or rude or easily irritated, who never gives up on you…that’s the dream! The flip side of that is, though…I am also expected to love that way. And suddenly this passage becomes a bit more challenging. I had a friendship last summer that turned a bit unhealthy, and I remember reading these verses and being so convicted because I was failing on almost every point. I was being impatient and unkind, jealous, rude, selfish, irritable, resentful… I like to think of myself as a loving person, but in reality I was failing (and often still do fail) pretty hard. Let’s be real, since we’re sisters. What’s expected of us is tough. Of course, we’re supposed to love everyone this way, but it’s going to be hardest in a marriage/family. It’s always the people you’re closest to that irritate you and tempt you to be unkind or impatient the most. Sometimes when I think about that I wonder if it’s not easier just to stay single. It probably IS easier to stay single.

I definitely went through a bit of a crisis last summer, wondering why it is that I even continue to want marriage. A lot of the old cherished hopes and fancies had fallen off. I knew Disney love wasn’t real. I knew companionship and community were things that I could get elsewhere, if need be. I realized, selfishly, that I could continue living exactly how I wanted to if I remained single, not have to consult with anyone about where to live, what to do, how to spend my time. I even realized, after losing a very dear father-figure who left behind a widow and three kids my age and younger, that getting married doesn’t even protect you from heartache. It actually sets you up for the greatest heartbreak of your life. So why even bother??

I had a similar crises a couple of years back, when I was in YWAM. I was having such a good time with my Father that I told Him I’d rather stay single so no one could come in and ruin this good thing we had going on. I thought I had everything sorted out until He started talking to me about my future husband in the shower one day. About how we would be gifts to one another and how we would help each other understand His love better. There, my friend, is the reason to get married. If we want to truly understand this love of God, we have to experience it. Not just receiving it but giving it. Which means NOT living selfishly. Which means not just chasing fun but having that other person that requires more of me than I want to give and choosing them. The truth is, the main reason I want to get married now is because I want to grow. I want to get better at this love thing, and I think marriage and kids is the crash course.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think marriage will just be a learning experience. I imagine it will be rich and deep and worthwhile. Take the following verses from Song of Solomon.

Song of Solomon 8: 6, 7 (ESV)
Set me as a seal upon your hearts as a seal upon your arm, for love is as strong as death, [ardor] is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.

Strong, fierce, passionate, unquenchable, worth everything. God is the originator of being in love, so I can only imagine that commitment to one person, getting to love them for (the last ?? of years of) a lifetime is going to be an amazing experience. But, sis, the point I want to leave you with today is that it might be time to knock marriage off its pedestal. It has a somewhat weird place in the mind of Christians. It’s almost set up as the ultimate attainment of a Christian. All of us singles are just in limbo, playing a waiting game, wondering when our other half will come along and our lives can start. We have study series where we read books about how to find the right man and prepare ourselves to be good wives. We put ourselves through the agony (!!) of online dating. We talk in terms of our relationship with God being good preparation for our future marriage. Woah woah woah! The relationship with GOD is the ultimate end here, and a marriage will either enhance that or be unhealthy. Marriage is going to be nothing more and nothing less than another way to glorify God. I can only guess at the ins and outs, but I know this: a good, healthy marriage should make you more in love with God than you have ever been. That’s my main reason for wanting to get married anymore – because God told me it would be His gift to me and that it would help me love Him more. If you’re not sure that’s your main motivation, I encourage you to press pause and re-evaluate. I believe and hope and pray that there are many fun and exciting and passionate and sweet and lovely things to look forward to in a marriage. But I think the best of all will be seeing God in a brand new way, with and through the eyes of another person, and from the perspective of someone who has experienced what it is to give entirely, selflessly to someone else.

Yours,
Allison

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