The meaning of marriage

In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll describes a conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty on the topic of words and their meaning. It goes like this:

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory’,” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!'”

“But glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument,'” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “Which is to be master—that’s all.”

One of the points being made by Humpty Dumpty is that the person who controls what words mean is also the person who controls the conversation.

I have been thinking a lot about “marriage” lately and what the word means.

Marriage has been defined as, “The social institution under which a man and woman live as husband and wife by legal or religious commitments.”

Dig a little deeper and you discover that our English word comes down to us via Latin and French and it has given rise to a number of humorous quotes on marriage such as marry in haste and repent at leisure and never marry for money, but marry where money is!

Based on the above, it would be easy to conclude that marriage is simply a contract, with possibly a few religious rites thrown in and depending on the person you marry, it could be a glad or sad experience!

God describes marriage as something far grander!

First, He paints us a picture of marriage being grounded in friendship and companionship.

“It is not good for man to be alone!” He declares, and so He creates Eve as the perfect counterpart for man in their journey through life together.

What is clear here is that it is God Who brings men and women together – It is He Who provides Eve for Adam.

I am deeply thankful for the hand of God in my life as He led me to my wife Karen. As a young man I remember well a church leader praying for God’s provision for me of the woman He had prepared to be my wife. Less than two months later Karen walked into my life, a brand new Christian and I have never doubted that she was God’s answer to my prayer.

Marriage has a different meaning altogether when God is in it!

God also gives us an inspiring portrait of marriage as the foundational pillar of any successful society.

Through Moses, God speaks of the importance of Dad and Mum raising their children in His ways and the direct flow on this has for society – the community that is built around God’s principles “will live long and be successful.”

It is a portrait that specifically highlights the crucial role that fathers play in raising their children.

I read recently of a study that has found that there is a direct connection between a child’s physiological development and the absence of a father.

In other words, remove Dad from the scene and a child’s physical development is negatively affected.

So when I reflect on God’s vision for marriage I discover that the word means so much more than a mere “social institution” between “a man and a woman”, consisting of legal and religious requirements.

God’s vision for marriage is that it both undergirds and transforms our society and it is a vision that I think we need to re-capture.

It is a divinely inspired vision that lifts marriage out of the mire of what we think it is and instead, is grounded in a conversation which God began in the first place.

Bringing the best you to your relationships

Becky Turney will never forget the day she married Kelly, the man of her dreams.

The two were married recently in Alaska but the day would contain some sadness for Becky because in October 2015 her 19 year old son, Triston was killed in an accidental shooting.

On her wedding day, in honour of Triston, a chair was set aside for him where the family sat with a piece of prose indicating that he would be “watching from heaven”. It was a touching tribute but it paled into insignificance as a result of what happened next!

At the time of Triston’s death, Becky shared on Facebook that her son’s passing “was a tragedy and senseless (but) Triston was an organ donor and will be able to help someone else’s life…”

Becky had no inkling of what was to come on her wedding day.

Kelly (the groom) flew a young man named Jacob to Alaska to be one of his groomsmen and then stopped the ceremony to introduce him to Becky for the first time.

Why? Jacob had been born with a rare heart condition, had undergone a number of open heart surgeries and by age 19 was in desperate need of a donor so that he could undergo heart transplant surgery.

Becky’s son, Triston, was the donor of Jacob’s life saving heart!

Becky was overcome with emotion, hugged Jacob and was also able to listen to her dead son’s heart, courtesy of a stethoscope and now beating strongly inside Jacob’s chest. One of the photographers for the day later wrote, “…nothing prepares you for the beauty of this moment. Everyone was so moved by this and I had to share this amazing story.”

And this moment happened because a man named Kelly simply loved and cared enough for the woman he was about to marry.

“This is a man at his best!” I thought to myself as I read this story. He showed his bride that he truly cared for her and was prepared to go to great lengths so she would know he was truly concerned for her deepest needs.

We men are capable of truly great moments that demonstrate our courage, passion and love.

And we are equally capable of the worst of moments when we reveal only selfishness, pride and ambition.

King David was just such a man!

As a mere teenager he takes on Goliath when the rest of the Israeli army stands paralysed by fear and intimidation.

“God will give me the victory!” he declares and in a single moment his faith in God inspires a nation to glory as Goliath crashes to the ground.

When he ascends the throne he heals the divisions that exist and makes Israel the most powerful nation in the region.

When he learns of the death of his enemy Saul he is struck with grief and leads the mourners.

This is David at his best – gracious, filled with faith and generous.

But there are low moments – adultery, murder, a divided family and revenge.

This is David at his worst.

But in spite of his weaknesses, his love for God ultimately triumphs and he is remembered as “the man after God’s heart.”

God knows my weaknesses and He knows yours.

He sees our great moments and our not so great moments.

And he also sees our hearts.

What, then, are you bringing to your relationships – to your wife, your children, your colleagues and your friends?

Are they getting the best of you or the worst of you?

Don’t be discouraged by this – God does forgive our failures but He also wants us to step up and to bring our best. And the best we can bring Him is “a heart after His heart”. Everything else will flow out of that.

So come on men – we need a few more Davids and Kelly Turneys!

Finding the path to ‘oneness’

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!