This is based on a homily I recently delivered at my friends’ wedding. There’s a lot here to reflect on about marriage, how it changes us, and what it calls us to become.
The Judeo-Christian marriage is much more than a legal union. It’s a spiritual joining that, in it’s very nature, is designed to change people—mature them. It is so central to the spiritual DNA of life that it’s one of the major themes in the creation story.
Genesis, Chapter 2, is the first narrative story in both the Hebrew Torah and Christian Pentateuch, and it sets the framework for the relationship between God and humanity. These verses contain the story of Adam and Eve and the first marriage.
It’s the story of a man and a woman who were literally made for each other. And it’s the story of a God, who in pure love, can’t help but create an image of that love and relate with it and through it.
But it’s not a love story; it’s an origin tale.
It’s not a romance; it’s a story of beginning.
It’s the story of three people beginning a relationship with each other.
Adam with God.
Adam with Eve.
Eve with Adam.
Eve with God.
Considering the true spiritual nature of marriage, there is so much to draw from Genesis 2 and it’s implication for marriage. We could consider:
· How it’s good for you both to steward, care for, grow, and respect what God has given you.
· How it’s not good for a man to be alone . . .
· How, no matter what, Adam couldn’t fulfill his emptiness on his own terms—God did for Adam what he could not do for himself.
· Or how Adam’s response to meeting Eve was poetry, singing, and worship in gratitude to God. He was moved to creative delight—in Eve’s presence and to God’s provision, he responded with gratitude and awe.
But, let’s consider the end of this story—one of the last two verses. Gen 2:24.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
Let’s look at those three things: Leaving; Holding Fast; Becoming One.
Leaving is really important.
To the extent someone leaves well, they will get to know the joy of marriage.
Being married well requires that you say goodbye to your old alliances.
It requires that you break old bonds and realign your interest with each other.
In marriage, no one has as much claim on your heart as your spouse. No friend, family, place, or institution.
And within marriage, your claim is also no longer for your Self but for each other. For a marriage to thrive, your allegiance to your self-interest must shift to include the best interest of the other.
But, leaving well does not just mean readjusting your loyalty from our selves, our families, friends, institutions, and places. It also means being aware of how the past has shaped us.
Leaving orients the eyes of our hearts on the past and encourages us to take account of our stories and the forces that have shaped us.
It invites us to take stock of the wounds that our hearts have endured, to honor the blessings we have received, and to see the fingerprints of God’s authorship in our lives.
This is why the essence of leaving is Faith. Stepping away from our comfort zones and stepping into something new takes great faith.
Faith is not a set of beliefs. Faith is always lived out in action in our lives. It is much more about how you live and love than what you think you believe.
The core of leaving well is an act of Faith.
Synonyms for hold fast are: adhere to, abide by, be loyal to, be faithful to, cleave to, be emotionally attached, be sealed together.
There’s a great scene in the movie, “Braveheart,” where William Wallace and his ragtag army are facing the calvary of England. As the calvary is charging, William steadies his men by encouraging them to “hold.” Over and over, he says “hold.”
In marriage there are certainly seasons like this. We are stressed out. Feel overwhelmed. Sometimes even besieged or betrayed. Holding fast is about being still. Patient. Open to possibility. Paradoxically, this stillness, holding fast, is about hope. Being still requires great hope because our fear of the past happening again tends to make us want to control life and each other.
The more stressed we are, the more likely we are to act out of anxiety, rage, or contempt than we are to act out of love. The harder life gets — the more we need to hold fast to hope.
The spiritual paradox is that the longer we hold fast and wait, the more hope is revealed.
In marriage (and in life), hope is about leaning, moment by moment, into the unfolding future with each other.
Hope is about being transformed in life by the truth that things could be richer tomorrow than they are today.
Marriage is a seed bed of hope.
The hope to forgive. The hope to say, “I’m sorry.” The hope to try again. The hope to let what can be mean more to us than what has been.
Hope lifts us out of the false security of the ego (false self) and elevates our hearts toward living life to the full. Hope beckons us to dream and desire and become more and more of who God created us to be.
Surely the Scriptures are talking about physical intimacy, and they are talking about so much more.
Becoming one is a folding of your life into each other. It’s the interweaving of your emotional, physical, and spiritual Selves.
It’s the interlocking of your hearts. In this way, the essence of becoming one is intimacy.
And intimacy is most often experienced through the bravery of vulnerability.
Vulnerability transforms the human heart. Intimacy forged in vulnerability opens the door to giving and receiving love like nothing else.
Becoming one is letting love do its work on you in the present moment because love, like no other force in creation, overcomes the darkness and the despair of shame.
Shame whispers to us all, “If you really knew me, you would hate me.”
Becoming one is letting the power of love illuminate the dark corners of your hearts. Intimacy in marriage, (physical, emotional, and spiritual) is the experience of really revealing yourself to the other— both the beautiful and the profane — and hearing in response, “I choose you.”
So, when Genesis 2 is talking about leaving, holding fast, and becoming one—it’s orienting us to having lives of faith, hope, and love.
Marriage is one of those rare places where we see these recurring trinities of spiritual truth —
· faith, hope and love
· past, future, and present
· me, you, and God
These truths are like rings on the surface of water where three stones are thrown into a still pond at the same time and create ripples that affect many areas of your life.
Stephen James, MA, LPC-MHSP, NCC, is the Executive Director of Sage Hill Counseling in Nashville, TN. He is also a best-selling author of five books, including Wild Things: The Art of Nurturing Boys. He is active in training other mental health professionals as well as to speaking to audiences around the country on the topics of living fully, servant leadership, family relationships, and spiritual authenticity.