This message was preached at Woodvale Baptist Church on Sunday the 6th of August 2017.
There is something very special about seeing an elderly couple who have been married for many years still walking hand in hand with each other.
For me, it is a beautiful and symbolic way of declaring that they have taken the journey of life together and they still choose to do so.
At some point in a marriage ceremony words along the lines of these will be made: “and they shall become one flesh.” It is an ancient way of describing the marriage relationship and it is filled with promise, potential and possibility.
Promise because when two people marry they begin a lifetime journey together toward “oneness”.
Potential because two people come together with different gifts, personalities, ideas, abilities and backgrounds that can be fused together to achieve what they could not do alone.
And possibility because of all the good that they may achieve together!
It is important to understand then, that oneness is not something that is immediately achieved once a couple has said “I do”.
Oneness is a lifelong journey, taken together and toward which couples progressively move.
I have been thinking about this for some time and recently I came across this description by Chuck Swindoll concerning the topic of oneness. (It’s always nice to find an author who agrees with you!):
Becoming one flesh suggests a process, not an instant fact. Two people with different backgrounds, temperaments, habits, scars, feelings, parents, educational pursuits, gifts, and interests don’t immediately leave a wedding ceremony in perfect unity. It is a lifelong project requiring wisdom, understanding, and knowledge … The whole idea of mutual acceptance, giving, listening, forgiving, belonging, and direction was implied. It is two individuals willingly blending into each other’s lives, desiring to share with and thereby complete the other.
‘One Flesh’ also has to do with the physical aspect of marriage. The sexual aspect of marriage is essential to the marriage as much as the leaving and cleaving. The success of the sexual relationship between husband and wife is directly proportionate to the success of the other areas of intimacy in marriage — emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and social.
What I am aware of though, is that many marriages do not experience this idea of oneness at all, even less are they moving towards it.
The question arises, in spite of the definition just given, what exactly is oneness in marriage?
It is certainly not some “mystical” experience that a couple has and which lifts you to a higher plane in your marriage!
Oneness is essentially a strong bond of unity that is built between a man and a woman as they grow in their love, experience and support of each other through the many changing facets of life.
Interestingly, when Jesus said that He and His Father were “one” it was the same word used to describe a couple when they become one.
In other words, oneness flows directly out of a deep relationship of truly knowing one another.
If this is the ideal for marriage that is held up for us, then how do we get there?
It is tempting to think of oneness as the goal of marriage, but to me that reduces it to one more thing to do in life. Authentic and fulfilling marriage is not about ticking off a list of KPIs to ensure a successful relationship any more than it is about following the “10 Steps to a Successful Marriage” kind of approach.
Oneness in marriage is best seen as a journey or trip that a couple makes together over a lifetime toward a destination of security, wholeness and freedom and it will be a journey that is never quite fully reached because the couple will always be discovering something new along the way!
I describe this journey as the pathways to oneness and I will share some of these with you over the next few months!
By the time you read this article Karen and I will have celebrated 36 years of marriage and as I write these words I realize how far into the fourth decade of our life together we are!
When we embarked on our journey of marriage all those years ago we were inspired by the words of the poet, Robert Browning who wrote:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be…
It wasn’t a pipe dream that we shared. We had a genuine desire expressed through our marriage vows to continue to grow in our love for each other through every stage of life.
And there have been many stages!
There were the early years where we did not have much money but somehow (with God’s help!) we managed to get by.
Then came the parenting years where we learned to juggle work commitments with the demands of growing children as well as carving out time for ourselves.
Navigating the teenage years was never dull. Everything from staying up until 2.00am, waiting for your child to get home from camp, he or she having driven there for the first time, through to meeting the young man who would like to date your daughter. (Always an interesting experience!)
Then suddenly, you find that all of your children have either married or left home and you enter the phase known as “empty nesters”. I have learned that this term is actually a myth because grandchildren start arriving and they all seem to find their way to Gramps and Grammy’s house!
Our nest is rarely empty these days!
Here’s the thing. I can honestly say that I love my wife more deeply now than I ever have and she can say the same about her feelings for me.
I do not say this to boast or to gloat.
Because of the nature of my work I come into contact with many marriages where couples are living lives of “quiet desperation” and there is no sense at all of deep connection with each other.
The last thing I want to do here is to give the impression that we have it all together, because we do not.
So despite our imperfections, why can I say that our love continues to grow?
The following thoughts come to mind.
From the outset of our marriage we decided that after God, the most important relationship in our lives was our marriage.
We love our children, grandchildren and our friends. But none of those relationships has ever taken precedence over ours. (This also includes our work life).
Far too many relationships come to grief because couples pour all of their energy into these other areas only to realize, too late, that when these are gone, they are left with a husband or wife that they barely know.
We have made time for each other.
Whether it was time at the end of each day catching up with each other or going out together, quantity and quality time as a couple has been a priority for us and we reap the benefits of this today.
We have also prayed together.
This has become a sharper focus for us in more recent years and we have found through sharing with each other about what God is doing in our lives, our intimacy has grown deep.
Praying for each other about “life stuff” always enhances intimacy.
Simple things like these have enabled us to walk the path happily of growing old together.
It can happen for you as well and it doesn’t mean that you have to do what we do. Discover what will work for you and above all, start doing it!
Because Robert Browning was right – the best is yet to be!
This message was preached at Woodvale Baptist Church on Sunday the 18th of June 2017.
Towards the end of this message you’ll be encouraged to fill out a ‘spiritual audit’. The details are below.
It is helpful to think of the level of our loving union on a continuum that ranges from 1-10.
Use the brief assessment that follows to get an idea of where you fall on the continuum.
It is helpful to think of the level of our loving union on a continuum that ranges from 1-10. Use the brief assessment that follows to get an idea of where you fall on the continuum.
1 ——— 2 ——– 3 ——– 4 ——— 5 ——— 6 ——— 7 ——– 8 ——— 9 ——– 10
Not at all True ———————– Moderately True ———————– Completely True
Next to each statement, write down the number between 1 and 10 that best describes your response.
• ____ I am relaxed and unhurried.
• ____ I am deeply aware of God’s great love.
• ____ I appreciate and love one person at a time.
• ____ I am content amidst suffering and setbacks.
• ____ I praise and promote others easily and joyfully.
• ____ I am generous with my time, money, and gifts.
• ____ I listen for God’s voice and will throughout the day.
• ____ I forgive and let go of hurts.
• ____ I am prudent in conversations and discernment.
• ____ I am playful and able to laugh easily.
• ____ I get up quickly when I fail or fall.
• ____ I respond to criticism graciously.
If you scored mostly ones, twos, or threes, you are likely doing too much, perhaps more than God has asked you to do. You may be overloaded. The fact that you took the assessment is a grace from God. What might God’s invitation be to you today?
If you scored mostly fours, fives, sixes or sevens, then you are making progress, but you are likely still out of balance with not enough being with God to sustain your doing for him. Ask yourself: What adjustments might God be inviting me to make in this season?
If you scored eights, nines, and tens you are in a good place. Your doing for God and your being with him are well-integrated and balanced. Be encouraged.