Saturday, November 12, 2005

Marriage and Community

Marriage is often used as metaphor in Scripture. From Hosea and Gomer, to the Ephesian letter, God uses marriage as a description of His relationship with us. Spouses are intended to so act as One that we are told a "man is to leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife." God considered Adam incomplete and so made him a helpmeet - from his own rib. Marriage is a melding of two people into one entity.
Are we suggesting that the two people lose their identities and become the other? No. And yes. A marriage is not designed so one partner is totally subsumed by the other, but rather both partners maintain their own identities and form a third. They build on one another's strengths and support each other's weaknesses.
They are to create a safe place. A place where each can reveal their dreams, their fears, their failings, and expect their partner to accept, challenge, and love them. During the dating game, each partner wears a mask that makes them seem the perfect catch. They always smell good, dress well, pay attention to each other, make each other laugh, and spend as much time as possible with one another. All this is an act of sorts - one that can be kept up only for so long and usually stops within a few months of the wedding. Only now do they allow each other to see parts of their real selves, and they begin to ask "was this the right thing to do?" The problem is that both partners behave this way - some more than others, but all to some degree. In a few months we have two people, married, but wondering what in the world possessed them to do this.
But the game playing doesn't stop there. All people want to be valued and accepted by the important people in their lives. Humans throughout history have gained those emotional reinforcements by being successful, being the "best," being confident. None of us though, are always successful, or the best, and many times we aren't all that confident. And so we create new masks, beautiful masks, to make us appear all those things to the people we are with, including our partners.
How great it would be if we could find a place where, even though we may have failed, or come in second - or fifteenth, or somehow weren't completely sure of who we are, we would be loved and accepted just as we are, without pretense. Marriage is intended to be that place. A safe, welcoming, and warm place where people banged up by the world can be loved for who we are rather than for who we portray. In maintaining this safe space, couples recognize each other's faults but support each other as one entity. Be proud of your partner because of who they are...with all the warts, and protect them from barbs and attacks from outside. Face the world as one!
That safe place is probably why God uses marriage as metaphor for His people, for church. Communities of Christians are intended to be places where we can accept, nurture, and heal people who face the world day in and day out. The community of faith is intended by God to be such a place where we can fail and still be encouraged, where we can stumble and be picked up, where partners can take off their masks, admit they aren't as strong, capable, and sinless as they pretend to be and still be accepted, loved, and nurtured.
There is a saying that "God has made someone special just for you." That's not quite right. It is actually that God has made you special for someone else. You are intended to bless your partner. If you are blessed in return, so much the better!
Marriage is an intimate microcosm of the Kingdom of God where God accepts us and we have need of nothing. Treat your partner like you would want a church member to treat you, and vice versa - accepting, loving, and supportive. Doing so creates real community, strengthens marriages, and builds churches.

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