Marriage is as One Long Conversation

The old philosopher said, "Marriage is as one long conversation. When marrying you should ask yourself this question: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman into your old age? Everything else in a marriage is transitory, but most of the time you're together will be devoted to conversation.” The old philosopher was right, but as with all bits of rightness, it ought to be understood in its place. 

I have always known marriage was not an easy conversation. I am of Scotch-Irish descent; men in my family love their beer and asserting opinions, and as for the women, there's a demure outside but on the inside it's all fire and spit. Most conversations were spent seeing who could talk the loudest the longest without throwing the first punch—even if the punch was merely metaphorical.

When I began to grow outside the incubator of family alone, I saw the long conversation of marriage through a different lens. These marriages were built on the scaffolding of details: who is supposed to be where and when and how, who needs to be picked up, what's for dinner, what should we do about this child or that one. There was an ordinariness to the conversations of marriage, unaccompanied by emotive, defensive jabs at the other. It seemed simplistic. I know now it's because I was not in the middle of those marriages as I was in the middle of the marriages in my family, and when we are in the middle of something all our own, we see all its inconsistencies and broken-places.

As I stepped into adulthood and was able to see my skewed perspective of childhood and adolescence both, I began to see marriage was a long conversation, but the tone of voice could change it from a pleasant one to a violent one. Armed with this newfound knowledge of tone, intention, nuance, and even love, I began to assume all the long conversations of marriage could be blissful. A constant sharing of ideas and delights and hurts and confusions, a true partnership. Whenever I thought of being married it was the long conversation I looked forward to most. 

Marriage has been that for me and Nate. The cusp of our friendship was on deep conversation, leading to dates full of long, easy talks, quiet pauses, intentional listening, and slow responses. This was the long conversation of marriage I wanted, I could see that clearly from our first date. 

The long conversations become subject to the tyranny of the urgent, though, as most things can. A few weeks ago there were twelve decisions that needed to be made and seven of them required quick conversations but the other five required depth, time, focus, and charity. We were short on all of that, though, and so if the conversations were going to be had, they were going to be had on the surface, quickly, while we multi-tasked, and were short with one another. As with most conversations built on bedrocks like that, we needed to repent later to one another. 

The urgent doesn't let up, though, does it? There is always someone who needs an answer or thinks they need an answer, or wants one. There is always something that must be signed up for or paid or responded to or agreed upon. There is always something left unfinished, unsaid, unsealed. I have learned to say to others, "I want to talk to Nate about that first," but the when of talking sometimes comes slowly or is mingled among the other conversations, never finished.

Nate and I practice (and by practice, I mean we are very unproficient at this and must practice) the discipline of saying "No," to ourselves, our minds, our friends, and the tyranny of the urgent. If, in saying no, we find ourselves disappointed or others disappointed by our lack of a quick answer—this is the discipline of the practice. This is the sacrifice, the hurt, the pain. This is where we admit to ourselves and to others that we are not God, as much as we sometimes think we would like to be. 

I think about Jesus in John 16. He says to his disciples and friends, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you." I think about how often we fill conversation simply because we do not want to feel the lack of the incarnate Christ and we do not want to wait for the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do. We are uncomfortable with the long silences, afraid the Spirit will not do what He does: move. 

Yesterday morning, in the early hours of our day of rest, Nate mentioned some conversations we've left unfinished this week, answers others expect. And then he said this: I want to pray about these things, ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, humility, and a direction, even more than we simply talk about them. And then, for the rest of the day, we didn't talk about things we could not solve on that day. We left space for the Spirit to enter in, give peace or withhold it. 

Marriage is one long conversation, but it is not, primarily, a conversation between two, but three. If we find the conversation to be focused on just two, it may go the brawling way of my family, or it may go the stoic way of my checklisting friends. But, I think, if we move ourselves away from one another for a moment, stop talking and begin listening, not primarily to one another but to the Holy Spirit, we may find that conversation more robust, full, and gentle than we could have imagined before. We may leave more things unfinished, more things unsaid, more events unattended, and more lists unchecked, but I do not think we will leave less full. 

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If you're married today, what might it look like to still the conversation—even about the rudimentary things or the things that seem pressing and necessary—and begin to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in this longest conversation of your life? 

If you're not married today, what might it look like to trust the Spirit is still at work in all the seeming silences of your life? In the lonely places where you long for conversation, how can you exercise listening to the Helper, learning from him, and obeying him as he perhaps prepares you for the long conversation of earthly marriage and definitely prepares you for the long conversation of eternity? 

Living the Whole Life

I am working through two books concurrently (three, if you count fiction, which I do, but not for today's purposes). One is Eugene Peterson's As Kingfishers Catch Fire and the other is Curt Thompson's The Soul of Shame. Both were gifts to me from friends who read them and knew I would need them or love them, or both. 

For many years I thought of myself first as an artist, a spinner of words. I lived in a place full of natural beauty, with never enough words to describe the way the blue heron dipped his head into the quiet riverbed, amidst lily pods and sodden sea grass. Waterfalls and mountains and quiet piney woods and apple orchards were mere minutes away, ripe for inspiration. I drew my cues from poetry and the contemplative. 

Then I moved to the other side of the country and my mind began to be captured by the intellect of theology, ideas, concepts, and I began to think of myself as a thinker, and lost the artist within. I was valued for my mind and ideas, and less valued for art. And I thought myself okay with this because I thought intellect was better than art. 

A friend turned 30 a few weeks ago and felt the things we all feel when we pass a marker in life: fear, anxiety, inadequacy, the question of "Have I wasted my life?" I remember feeling all of those same things on the eve of my 30th and in some ways those feelings have increased, but really it's just that I think myself more aware of their presence and less aware of their power. Turning 30 was hard, but being 30 wasn't. There is hopefully a settling sense of growth, maturity, and the temporality of life that no longer frightens you as much as invigorates you. If being in my 40s or 50s or 60s only brings an increase of that, I await it eagerly. Age brings the disparate pieces back together again, I think, or it should. All the scattered feelings and identities and questions come more into focus with a quiet, settled yes.

So I am reading Peterson and Thompson and both of them wrote about the union of these disparate pieces, namely the body, spirit, heart, and mind. How when we only address one of these, or address it more than the others, we begin to live lopsided lives. I am thinking of a man who skips leg day at the gym, whose body is strong on top and meager on the bottom. Or a comic illustration I saw many years ago of a man who only lifted weights with one arm so it was bulky and disordered from the other which was skinny and limp. We laugh because it's laughable but we also do it more than we like to admit. At least I do. I exercise my mind because it's easier than exercising my body. I engage my spirit because it's easier than engaging my mind. I entreat my body because it's easier than giving my heart. I am lopsided piecemeal. 

The growing awareness of these malnourished pieces came into focus over the past year in the void of anything to feed them (affirmation is such a powerful feast and we are such hungry paupers). We have been trying to begin seeing ourselves as whole creations intended for wholeness, instead of limping along at breakneck speeds without the equal use of our limbs. What does it mean to slow the growth of one part of us, in order to give attention to another? What does it mean to set aside the mind for the flourishing of the spirit, or to prioritize the health of the body when the spirit is strong? Not to neglect the other at its own peril, but to acknowledge that we are more than one appendage and therefore must attend to all of them? 

We are by nature legalists, always adding to the laws of God because we fear he will overlook us otherwise. But what does it mean to trust the Creator made us for wholeness and not half-ness? I cannot answer that for you and most of the time cannot even answer it for me. It takes time and trust and some times are easier than others. But I know I want it. 

I wonder, sometimes, if one of the reasons we're constantly searching for meaning in everything is because we're discontent with our under-exercised limbs. I read this recently and it's funny because it's true: 

"It’s easy to believe that if we look good enough, perhaps it might be true that our lives are meaningful or even blessed. Everywhere we go, we can see evidence of this. Walking along the Seine, one sees dozens of people from all over the world standing with their backs to the view, smiling hopefully up at their iPhones. Millions of selfie sticks are purchased out of hope and fear."

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in my car waiting for someone and a girl sat on a park bench alone nearby. For nearly twenty minutes she posed herself with her phone camera, shooting image after image, and deleting, I'm sure, all but one. There were probably wrinkles or glints of light or too much chin or not enough hair or someone in the background or any number of reasons why being a whole person with wrinkles and frizzy hair and among others would not do for her. I don't know her, but I wanted to sit with her, make conversation, distract her from the myth of Narcissist inside her for one moment. Tell her she is not less than a body, but that she is certainly more than one. 

Someone asked me recently how we help young teens not obsess about perfection and I don't know the answer. I think it starts with teaching them they are whole people, whole image bearers, that their hearts, souls, minds, and bodies are all made by God and he called all of creation good. I think that's where we start, by not neglecting what God called good—even if it's frightening to engage. I don't know what you'll find there, when you begin to stop counting calories and running incessantly, when you begin to engage your mind instead of only your body. I don't know what will happen when you set aside the books and papers and themes and dig out the painful occurrences of your childhood, ways your spirit was crushed and hasn't ever recovered. 

Yesterday morning I sat on the couch with my husband and confessed some shame I've been feeling about something that happened when I was nine years old. I had wronged and been wronged and couldn't differentiate the shame I felt from doing wrong and being wronged in the same scenario. All I knew is, years later, confessions later, I still feel the clinging shame of those moments. Most of that is because I've neglected that space, have been afraid to enter into it for fear of what I'll find there. It's easier to engage my mind or my body than it is to open the door to my heart. But I must go there, I know I must, because wholeness cannot happen when only half-ness thrives. 

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

When the Words of my Mouth are Pleasing Mostly to Me

I've always been a fast thinker, deducing concepts, abstracts, illustrations, and material quickly—on almost everything except math. Sadly, that quick thinking gave me a smart mouth and I don't mean a studied, intelligent, and wise mouth, I mean the kind that got slapped, taped shut, and soap in it on the reg when I was younger. I could not bridle my tongue. I was a melancholy girl, prone to long spouts of reading and ruminating, and saving up zingers to drop at the moment of maximum potential. One of my parents favorite disciplines was to make me write the book of James by hand in a series of black and white composition books. I wish I'd saved them. To this day I both shudder and cling to the book of James because it holds so much gold for a wily, unbridled tongue like mine. 

Beginning in my late teens and into my twenties I began to realize the way to gain friends and influence people was to not speak words of death to or about them. I have always been interested in outcomes and results, especially when they seem to benefit me. I learned to unbridle my tongue with good ideas, principles, formulas, and carnal wisdom. If there was a question, I wanted to have the answer. If there was a weakness, I wanted to be the healer. If there was a puzzle, I wanted to figure it out. I wanted to be the go-to girl—if you need wisdom, gentleness, friendship, pity, a listening ear? Go to Lore. 

I didn't realize how pervasively this pride had grown in my life and heart, though, filling all my joints and marrow with the belief that I had enough of the answers or the right amount of gentleness or the perfect principles for someone's problems. I was okay if people saw me as the solution, even as I pointed to Christ as the ultimate solution. I was the conduit, but he was the water. Surely folks could see that? 

The problem is, folks don't see that, not unless you hit them over the head with it and I wasn't about to do that and lose their respect. I wanted to tickle their ears, not box them.

One of the things that drew me to Nate, before I even met him, was his Bible. I walked past him often enough in our coffee shop, he always sat there with his open Bible counseling men. His Bible was so underlined and scribbled in I thought, "Well, here's a guy who loves the Word." One of our first conversations was about a heated and polarizing issue, and he sat across from me with his Bible gently responding to all of my questions and points with scripture. He just never wandered far from what the Word said about anything

As I began to know him and move toward marriage with him, I saw this come out in the way he led our relationship, the ways he interacted with others, the ways he spoke and didn't speak, the ways he shared his sin and the brokenness of his former marriage, the ways he ministered to men, the ways he walked in discipline situations, the ways he submitted to our pastors and elders, and so much more. He was a man who for many years simply read the Word or about the Word, but in the past few years he had become a man who was empowered with, immersed in, captured by, and full of the Word of God. 

None of this changed in our marriage, in fact, I've seen even more up close and personal how he doesn't offer counsel, wisdom, good ideas about anything unless they're drenched in the Word of God. He has learned the way to truly bridle his tongue is to put on the reins and bit of the Word—to let the words of God direct, lead, and guide him in the direction he goes. 

I am so challenged by this. I want to be more like this. I know at the end of every day when he asks me about my day, the folks I saw, the people I prayed with, the counsel I gave, the counsel I received, we're going to have a conversation about whether and how Scripture influenced the words spoken. 

I have spent decades trying to figure out how to bridle my tongue, going from one extreme to the other, from utter silence to rampant zingers. This discipline of letting the Word of God be my bit and reins for a bridled tongue is the only thing that's changing me really, from the inside out. 

Practically speaking, if this is a struggle for you, what does that look like? 

Read the Proverbs. I've been sitting in the Book of Proverbs for weeks now, originally because I'd encouraged a friend to get in it, but now because I'm just so convicted about my tongue in my own life. You can't read five verses without stumbling across one dealing with the mouth, wisdom, the tongue, speaking, or being foolish. I've been getting wrecked in my own heart about my tongue and the pride in me.

Read the book of James. Write the book of James. Get the book of James inside you. Eat the book of James. 

Ask the Holy Spirit to convict you immediately when your words are coarse, unkind, gossipy, idle, unforgiving, or rooted in pride. And then, this is important, repent for your actions in the moment. This is really hard for me. I feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit seventy times a day and can't even count on one finger how many times that actually drives me to repent in the moment. 

Trust the Holy Spirit to do the work, not you. It's not your job to share the tidbit you think will make all the difference especially if your desire is simply to be heard. Zack Eswine said, "It's not our job to finish what Jesus has left unfinished," in regard to our desire to sweep up, clean up, tie up loose ends. Leave room for the Holy Spirit. 

Before giving counsel, ask a lot of questions. Ask what in Scripture is comforting, convicting, teaching, leading, guiding the person with whom you're speaking. Ask how the Holy Spirit is comforting them. Often times your questions will lead them to remembering the power of Scripture and the ministry of the Holy Spirit—the sources to which and whom they can always go. 

If you're someone who is quiet and only thinks the zingers, find some Scripture that is life-giving and speak it in the situation. Sometimes opening your mouth is the way your tongue is bridled. Ask the Lord to increase your empathy and love for people, to help you be patient, even in your listening. Sometimes your courage to speak Scripture in a situation will be the thing that changes you and the person with whom you're speaking.

If you're someone who is not quiet and says the zingers, maybe a fast from speaking is in order. A time of intentionally crafted silence, full of reading the Word, studying the Word, repentance, asking the Holy Spirit to convict you, change you, and help you to see your words are not the answer to everything. 

Friends, I'm convicted as I write this even more. I want the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart to be pleasing to God. I want to see my words and heart meditations as they are, being heard by the God of the universe, the Father who loves me, the Son who died for me, and the Spirit who is saying things too deep for words on my behalf. My zingers and smart-mouth and good ideas are like filthy rags to this God. I want to please my Father and the best way to do that is to fill my mouth with the words he's given me in his Word. I'm praying for you and me and all our friends today in this. 

 

 

High Noon and Our Hiding Places

I have always known the woman at the well came there at high noon when the fewest other women would be there. This is the first clue. Next is she is a woman at all and to do most anything by ourselves takes courage most often borne in fear somewhere down there. This is the second clue. The third is the way she stands by the well when Jesus reads her life before her, like a judge reading the charges. Her head high and drooping at the same time, the way pride and shame go hand in hand: the paradox of being both not enough and too much that plagues almost every woman I know. 

Perhaps it is that Jesus speaks to a Samaritan that should surprise us, or that she was a woman at all, or even that he knows her life as if he lived it beside her. But what catches my breath in recent weeks is that he met her at high noon in her loneliness, shame, and pride. He entered into the uncomfortable. 

It is often that I fear Jesus doesn't want to see or encounter my sin, that it is too much or I am not enough. I slink around the corners of confession, repentance, fellowship with him, thinking if I don't show up, he won't read the charges. 

I love Jesus in this passage because he is there, at high noon too. He is in the uncomfortable place  to meet the uncomfortable person. Not to read her charges, either, but to read her life and give her water that satisfies. I love that he doesn't demand her repentance, but offers it to her as if the gift of her repentance is one he gives. Another paradox of faith in him. 

I suppose we all have high noons in our lives, places we're hanging out alone or people we avoid or environments where we feel our shame the least and the most at the same time. And I also suppose Jesus is hanging out there too. It's strange, isn't it? She thought she was hiding and really she was standing out, being what she actually was: alone, ashamed, fearful, prideful, and empty. She came to the well in the heat of the day with all she ever did cloaked around and within her, sticking to her like her sweat and the day's dust and the scorching of the sun's heat in the red of her face. Unable to hide where she thought she was hiding. 

“He told me all that I ever did,” she said to her fellow townsmen.

And Jesus met her there. 

I love this. 

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Eugene Peterson, Homosexuality, and Theology from 30,000 Feet

Edit: Today the good journalists at Christianity Today did what good journalists do and followed up on this interview, publishing Eugene Peterson's clarification and affirmation of a "Biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman." Deeply grateful for that, though it changes almost nothing of my position below on the theology of marriage based on Scripture—which is how, I think, our theology ought to be. 

This morning a religious site published the conclusion of their three part interview with Eugene Peterson, in which he said he would perform the ceremony of a same-sex couple. The Internet has responded predictably since the voices on it are made up of humans and humans are predicable. As for me, predictable as well.

I'm sad for a few reasons, none of which I'm going to talk about much today. Eugene Peterson has been an example of a pastor who walked faithfully, steadfastly, and humbly in quiet places for the past fifty years and I want no less for my own life. I know thousands could have opinions on how each of us does that, but if I reach the end of my life with a quarter of the humble faithfulness Pastor Peterson has, I will die happy. 

It does occur to me, though, that speakers, teachers, and writers who endeavor in faithfulness and yet do not lead in issues like these (and many others) will fail in some respect. There may have been clues along the way that Peterson would capitulate in this way, but his voice never landed too strongly on one side or another. I mourn that in some ways because if I am honest with you, I struggle, deeply, with this issue and I need to know where to look sometimes. Many conservatives lack empathy and many liberals lack theology. I want both. 

I am a relational person and high on empathy, so my natural inclination is to side with marginalized. My natural inclination is to listen, hardly speak, love those who are struggling and  love those who are happily indulging. My gay friends are happy people mostly. They love their partners, they seem to feel at peace with them, they enjoy them—much in the same way that I love, feel at peace with, and enjoy my husband. It's hard to argue with joy. It's actually impossible to argue with joy. And when that joy is accompanied by a certainty that their relationship is God-blessed and God-ordained and within the bounds of Scripture as they understand it, well, it's even harder to argue with that. I'm just being honest with you, friends. It is hard to argue, disagree, and draw a hard line here while at the same time loving, laughing with, and enjoying my very human friends who also happen to happily identify as gay.

But, when I read Scripture saying things like, "In this life you will have sorrow," and "Deny yourself and take up your cross," and "He must increase, I must decrease," I remember, "Oh, it is hard. We were warned it would be. But we still endeavor on in loving people all the way through even though it's hard, even when the source of their joy is rooted more in earthly fulfillment than it is in God's good design and the point of it all: the gospel." 

In the moments when I've found my faith in these things weak, I've found it so helpful to redirect my heart and mind back to original design and gospel implications for marriage instead of centering my theology and love in experience. I don't know if that will be helpful for you, but here's where I'm meditating today: 

Because we are human, and God gave us a full gamut of emotions and experiences, we will always be tempted to build our picture of the gospel and marriage on those things. Experiences are real, tangible, and felt. And emotions are raw, deep, and inexplicable. The union of these two can produce a powerful force when it comes to theology and it's easy to do it. I do it all the time. It's why slogans like "Love is love," and "How can something that feels so good be wrong," are invented. How can my experience coupled with my emotion toward something be considered wrong? 

I'd argue you're right, actually. The problem is the experience and emotions to which you refer are only the tiniest tip of the iceberg—there is something far greater and far better and far more profound to be both emoted and experienced below, and this is the Love of God toward his creation and the act of Christ on the cross. 

The whole work of creation is a symphony of harmony. Two very different entities, coming together, making one, and this is a picture of the gospel: God and man, reconciled, united, together for eternity. Tim Keller said this,

"In Genesis 1 you see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together: heaven and earth, sea and land, even God and humanity. It is part of the brilliance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes that generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships. As N. T. Wright points out, the creation and uniting of male and female at the end of Genesis 2 is the climax of all this.

That means that male and female have unique, non-interchangeable glories—they each see and do things the other cannot. Sex was created by God to be a way to mingle these strengths and glories within a lifelong covenant of marriage. Marriage is the most intense (though not the only) place where this reunion of male and female takes place in human life. Male and female reshape, learn from, and work together. 

Therefore, in one of the great ironies of late-modern times, when we celebrate diversity in so many other cultural sectors, we have truncated the ultimate unity-in-diversity: inter-gendered marriage. "

I wrote this a few years ago, 

"God, in beautiful ways, makes it clear to His people that He and they are wholly different from one another. Though man was created in God's image—a likeness in part, a reflection—intrinsically they are not the same. This is not a simple love story, though, here is the most sacrificial love possible: this is two entities, completely distinct, absolutely different, and intrinsically separate—brought together to form an eternal union.

A homosexual union cannot be, by its nature, a reflection of Christ and the Church because Christ and the Church are intrinsically and holistically different from one another. For the Christian, the bride of Christ, a homosexual marriage cannot reflect that which marriage is intended to display: their union with Christ.

It is not about biology or parts fitting together, or feelings of love, or a fullness of emotion, or unalterable attraction—it is the definition of a love story, legislated by God, for the good of all men. It is the greatest love ever known. Earthly marriage between a man and woman is meant to be a profound mystery, but it is meant to be a mere illustration of what happens when two holistically different entities are joined together.

The kingdom is made complete."

In order for me to love all my friends with disordered loves (and to know myself with all my disordered loves), I have to return again and again to two things: The original design of marriage and the mystery of marriage. The design was to take two different entities to illustrate the love between Christ and his bride, the Church. The mystery is that a man and woman preach the gospel over and over and over again simply by being married to one another. 

Seeing how this is God's original intention with marriage helps me to see it from 30,000 feet, enabling me to better love my friends and our world, while still saying, in full faith, that two people of the same sex cannot participate in the mystery of marriage to one another as God intended marriage. They might be partnered, they might live together, they might engage in sexual activity, but it is not marriage as God designed it: complementary and mysterious

I felt a little sad today, all day, having read the article from Peterson this morning. I know he isn't deity. He's not God. He's been an inordinate help to me through the years and my shelves are full of his books. He's not infallible, though, and I'm not surprised by his answers. But here's what I'm most sad about: it seems that if we're at all inclined to be like he is and like what I've admire him for: empathy, gentleness, a listener, one who practices compassion, one who aches and joys with those who ache and joy, it seems, at some point, there is a great temptation to so enter into that mourning or joy, that we believe it is the most true thing about a person. I don't believe that. I believe the most true thing about a person is that they were created in the image of God but also they are not God, and, as much as possible, I want my mission to be mourning with those who mourn with a sorrow that leads to life without regrets, and joying with those who rejoice with a joy that lead to life. And I can't do that if my eyes are on them instead of on God. 

I don't know where you are today in this whole discussion. I used to write about this a lot more years ago and for the sake of my soul had to take most of these conversations offline. But I didn't know if you're where I find myself a lot: aching with my friends who are attracted to people of the same sex, and wanting to ache with them in a way that gives them what they want. I find it helpful to remember again and again and again, that my beliefs about God and man come from the greatest emotion and greatest experience of all time: the Love of God and the sacrifice of His Son, and these are found in Scripture alone, giving us all we need for life and godliness. 

If you'd like to read some of the archives on this subject, start here: 

What God Has Joined Together

Delaying Marriage and Same-Sex Attraction

Bearing the Burdens of Brothers