Monday, August 26, 2013

Full-Fat Marriage

Nick, my husband, and I are writing parallel posts on marriage. Nick's is titled "Marriage: What's the Point?". You can read his blog here: I'm writing on the discipleship implications for Christian marriage.

We had the joy of returning to Chicagoland for two special occasions: a wedding, and a wedding vows renewal. Nick and I enjoyed talking through memories and thinking through the reality of marriage for us at 5 years, especially when this weekend included day 1 of marriage for one couple, and 35 years of marriage for the second! It seems too soon to write that June 8 was our fifth anniversary!

For the average American, celebrations like weddings and anniversaries often involve cake. Cakes from scratch require milk, eggs, sugar, butter, and so on. The title of this post is intended to juxtapose low-fat desserts and ‘thin’ marriages. The brain cannot be fooled: removing fat from the dessert equation cannot be balanced with added sugar. Our taste buds and bodies crave that powerful triumvirate of salt-fat-sugar. Wouldn’t you agree that a certain level of bliss is achieved when those three are well balanced? Like in salted caramel?? Or sugar cookies with a pinch of salt in the batter?? Today’s research even shows that low-fat foods have helped worseNYTimes). The problem is, without fat to help signal fullness, added sugar runs amok over our insulin tolerance and more. Luckily, for most, the body takes note of fat in those delicious desserts and will signal satiation or fullness after a reasonable amount. That’s satisfaction.
n the obesity epidemic among Americans (

Similarly, marriages without the vital and active ingredient of the Trinity -- Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit -- cannot fool the souls of the couple. Marriage without God is unbalanced. Rather than being satisfied by God, couples search elusively for satisfaction themselves.

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Can I have cake and eat it too? This saying means, "Can I taste and enjoy cake, without simply having it on the plate?" In your mind, what would make a 'thin' marriage? It strikes me that low-fat desserts are a human attempt at getting satisfaction in large quantities without added guilt or heaviness, pun intended. Well, ‘thin’ marriages would be a human attempt at the same goals. Let’s broaden marriage to ‘monogamous relationship,’ and it’s easy to see widespread guilty/guiltless problems: throwaway relationships; living together like in marriage, but without vows before your community; sex without the intention of children. Let’s dig deeper into those three areas.

Throwaway relationships: Quick, single slice

In my household, quick recipes free up room in daily schedules. They are quick, but with purpose. Cake is a special dessert, which should be eaten on an occasion where there is lots of time available! Cake is slow food! Throwaway relationships are akin to quick eats, or fast food. Imagine those single slices of cake at the grocery store: sugary, delicious, instant gratification, in a box. In a throwaway relationship, someone serves a purpose in my life, and then I move on. There's no need to work on patience, long-suffering, faithfulness, or any other virtue that draws me out of myself and toward another.

God, like my husband, is not a relationship to treat casually or with a what's-in-it-for-me attitude. God's faithfulness to me in this season of being a parent and being in a new town and state are so evident. Can't I spare him a little time each day? Yes! God, like my husband, is a relationship where we slow down and linger.  Likewise, people are made in God's image.  They aren't there to be consumed and discarded.  They are precious in His sight and should be in mine.

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Marriage without community: "All by myself"

Genesis 1:26-28Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.
They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”

The Trinity (God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit) existed in loving community before the world was created, and the Trinity created humans to extend loving relationship.  In other words, we were created from God's love to share God's love. He even made two perfect partners, male and female, and gives them a formal blessing (some point to this as the first marriage). More than that, he walked in the garden with them (Genesis 2:8). God taught Adam and Eve about complete, transforming union like he has in the Trinity through the following: relationship with God and relationship in marriage.

Can you imagine a run to the grocery store between work and dinner? Your stomach is already rumbling, and you're hoping to find something quick and healthy before going home. Right there, next to the produce is the bakery section. You're eating a healthy meal, so a slice of cake would be okay, right? Wait! Cake is large - it's meant for a celebration with lots of friends and family!

Relationships and marriages that aren't rooted in community miss out.  Without the binding, public vows of marriage the relationship ends up without a context to give it meaning.  Without a community to support it, much like that single slice of cake, the relationship is just calories to be consumed in the moment.  No accountability, no guilt, right?  It's like a single slice of cake and no friends to party. Couples who opt to live together without marriage, or couples who marry before a justice without vows before God and Christian family are missing out on a support network. For Christians, this network goes deeper than simply friends who will be there for you in the tough times: Christians should actively pray for one another. Similarly, couples should pray together and alone, helping each other lean into following God with pure hearts. James talks about the power of prayer, and centers it in community.

James 5:13-18
Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray.
Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.
Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.
Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.
Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.
The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.
Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops.

Amazingly, it wasn't supposed to stop there. The Trinity produced life, making humans in the image of God. Marriage is meant to reflect the dynamic love relationship in the Trinity, where life goes forth. We reflect the image of God when our marriage produces love and life: children. 
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Sex without the intention of children: A Tub of Frosting 

When Nick was a kid, he had this terrible habit of eating spoonfuls of frosting straight from a tub! When he had a case of the munchies, he wanted great stuff... quickly. But frosting is never meant to be eaten by itself.  Not only does it give you the world's worst headache, but you end up missing out on the broader picture.  Frosting goes on a cake.  A cake is eaten on a special occasion with friends and family.  When we settle for the frosting, we're robbing ourselves of the greater pleasure for a quick fix that eventually fades.  Likewise, sex is much richer than dipping into a fun spoonful when the urge comes.

While our surrounding culture gets that sex is unitive and pleasurable, they miss out on the fullness. God meant sex to be 1) unitive, 2) pro-creative, and 3) sacramental, as written about by Lauren Winner in Real Sex.  In Genesis 1, he blesses them, "Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it." We see here the union of the Trinity doesn't just lovingly extend to make humans, God expects the fullness of love and union in marriage to expand and result in children. Accepting the natural blessing of sex as both for the couple's union and for procreation creates a lot of unknowns, a lot of good and bad knowns, and a lot of opportunities to see God's awesomeness. My plan does not often happen, but He always can be counted upon.

Before I continue, I want to write that too many couples experience the heartbreak of sex without the result of children. That is a complicated reality today that was never part of God's intention in Eden, and my heart goes out to these families. When I write "sex without the intention of children," it means couples who choose to have a childless marriage, as TIME magazine noted with their recent article The Childfree Life. It means couples who by choice delay starting a family for years, stacking up the cards of sowing oats, graduate degrees, career advancement, purchasing a house, world travel, and so on.

Let me be clear:  I understand this temptation.  I am just as guilty as anyone of attempting to imagine (read: plan) the future, forgetting to be present in this moment and stage of life. My heart is moved as I encounter couples who wrestle with the tensions of fear/trust and self-reliance/dependence too. None of our marriage's big milestones have turned out like Nick and I would have planned! It's been a lot of work on our part, and a lot of trust in God has been necessary. I don't always immediately like some details, or succeed fabulously as a parent, but ultimately, God shows me a lot of himself in the process.

Thankfully, God does the hardest work, gives us good blessings, and shows us true faithfulness. In Hosea, God speaks of tenderly loving a willful, self-absorbed Israel. She has been like a unfaithful wife, chasing her own desires while blind to present blessings. She's been thinking of herself, and not at all of her husband or three children. The longer passage (Hosea 2:14-20) was part of our wedding ceremony's readings:
I will make you my wife forever,
     showing you righteousness and justice,
     unfailing love and compassion.
I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
     and you will finally know me as the Lord.
Hosea's own wife and family were a living parable of God's love to Israel. So much so, that one child's name meant, "God plants - Jezreel." The above passage from Hosea 2 goes on to talk about how God will plant lots of blessings and restore the land and relationships. This passage from Hosea reminds me of God's faithfulness, and encourages me to lean into faithfulness to God, to Nick, and to our kids. Celebrating a 35th wedding anniversary last weekend is also a good reminder of what future blessings come because of God's faithfulness to us, and faithfulness in gratitude to God and each other!

Psalm 127
Unless the Lord builds a house,
the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.

Children are a gift from the Lord;
they are a reward from him.
Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!
He will not be put to shame when he confronts his accusers at the city gates.
Becoming a wife, and then a parent, and following God's path through twists has been hard work and a joy. Ultimately, God uses the blessings of sex and the children that come from it to grow us closer to himself, to each other as spouses, and to our children and their friends and families. Nick and I are currently praying that playground connections we make with our kids' new friends will enable us to share Jesus with these families, making newly adopted children of God! The union of the Trinity expanded to make humans, who fruitfully multiply, and fill the earth; God's plan through Jesus included redeeming all of the world. His scope is expansive!

60th wedding anniversary!
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Full-Fat Marriage

The wedding we had the joy of witnessing last weekend was the only one we've been to in six years of attending weddings to include passages from Revelation like this one:

Revelation 21:1-5Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”
And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”
Here is a wedding feast, with all of God's children present. When Christ comes a second time, he's coming for his Bride, all of the people in the New Jerusalem. Marriage is full-fat when the couple has the vital ingredient in marriage that creates a lot of bliss, Jesus. He actively lives in our hearts to: restore us to good relationship with God and others; transform us into the likeness of God; and work through us to bring more children into God's eternal family.

1 comment:

  1. I like the analogy to the full-fat idea of marriage. As someone who cooks everything from scratch I rarely get away from "full fat" recipes and definitely see a great parallel. As always, great insight.