Tag Archives: Marriage

Michal in Perspective

Michal in Perspective (CaD 2 Sam 6) Wayfarer

When David returned home to bless his household, Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet him and said, “How the king of Israel has distinguished himself today, going around half-naked in full view of the slave girls of his servants as any vulgar fellow would!” 2 Samuel 6:20 (NIV)

Writing plays has been a great learning experience for me. One of the creative challenges that I’ve had to embrace is that every character in the play has a unique “voice” that comes from a back story the audience will never know or see. If I’m going to write a character well, then I have to understand that character’s story, person, and perspective. I’ve come to believe that I must truly love each character, even the unlovable ones if I am going to give them their true and authentic voice and words.

I’ve always said that God’s Message changes every time I read it not because it has changed but because I and my circumstances have changed since the last time I read it. As I read today’s chapter I suddenly realized that I was reading it through the eyes of a playwright. I’ve always read this chapter and focused on David’s “undignified” worship, but today I found myself focused on Michal’s rebuke of her husband. I’ve always read Michal’s words and thought, “Sheesh, what a wench!” This time through, however, my playwright’s brain began asking what was really going on between Michal and David. There’s a larger back story there that I have to consider. Michal and David seem to have been those people who had the seeds of affection doomed never to take root:

  • Michal had a young girl’s crush on the young stud warrior David.
  • Michal’s father sought to wed her to David, not because he wanted what was best for his daughter but because he saw she could be used as his pawn in a desire to follow the Michael Corleone playbook of “keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Michal obviously was not well-loved by her father. He saw his daughter as a “snare” for his enemies.
  • Despite any teenage affections between them, David initially rebuffs being betrothed to her on the grounds he wasn’t worthy to marry the king’s daughter. I wonder how that made her feel?
  • Saul gives David a “price” of earning his betrothal to Michal by bringing him 100 Philistine foreskins (Gross, I know. It was a brutal time in history). Saul figured David would be killed in the attempt, but instead, David brings back two hundred Philistine foreskins to claim Michal. Pissed off and humiliated, Saul tries to assassinate David, but his newly betrothed wife Michal helps him escape out a window.
  • David flees the area for many years abandoning Michal in the home of her mentally ill father. Saul marries Michal off to another man.
  • Many years later David shows up as the conquering hero. In a relational and political power play, David demands Michal be returned to him. Michal is then ripped away from the man she had been married to and made a home with. She is forcibly taken to David. Her husband follows in tears begging that he not be separated from her. I wonder whom Michal truly loved? Was it her husband who was begging in tears not to lose her or the man who rejected and abandoned her and was now demanding her like she was a piece of impersonal property and a spoil of war?
  • We are told that Michal had no children until the day of her death. I am ashamed to confess that in my ignorance I have always seen this fact as some sort of divine punishment for Michal. I can’t see it that way now. I hurt for Michal and the difficult circumstances in which she was placed by her culture, her mentally ill father, and her betrothed young husband who treated her with indifference and contempt. As I begin to see what a messed-up family system David creates as a tragically flawed husband and father, I begin to contemplate if Michal’s barrenness may have ultimately been for the best.

Michal’s rebuke of David’s actions may have seemed inappropriate on the surface of things, but in the quiet this morning I see how they may have been motivated by feelings of abandonment, rejection, anger, and bitterness. Given the circumstance and the backstory, I see why there was so much conflict between the two of them. Their story is a tragedy. I wish David would have been man enough and loving enough to allow Michal to live out her life in peace with the only man in her life who ever really seemed to love her.

A Note to Readers
I’m taking a blogging sabbatical and will be re-publishing my chapter-a-day thoughts on David’s continued story in 2 Samuel while I’m take a little time off in order to focus on a few other priorities. Thanks for reading.
Today’s post was originally published in May 2014.

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The Valley and the Mountain

The Valley and the Mountain (CaD 1 Sam 1) Wayfarer

There is beauty and power in today's chapter that is easy to miss if you've never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. A chapter-a-day podcast from 1 Samuel 1. The text version may be found and shared at tomvanderwell.com. — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/wayfarer-tom-vander-well/support

Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year.
1 Samuel 1:4-7a (NIV)

When I was a young man, the opening chapters of 1 Samuel were all about the special circumstances surrounding the birth of Samuel. Samuel is important. Samuel is special, as was his birth. Samuel is the name of the book. Samuel was the last of the Hebrew Judges. Samuel established the Hebrew monarchy and crowned its first two kings. Samuel established the Prophetic tradition within the Hebrew monarchy. It was all about Samuel.

Then Wendy and I spent years on a journey through the Valley of Infertility.

I will never read the first chapter of 1 Samuel the same way.

There are things that couples experience on the infertility journey that are unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced in this life. I learned along the way that it is an incredibly nuanced experience based on multiple factors in that journey. It makes a difference whether a husband is truly all-in (physically, emotionally, spiritually) with his wife for the long haul. The fact that I’d been previously married and had experienced the pregnancy and birth of our daughters was a factor in the relational equation. It’s also a very different experience for those who walk through the Valley of Infertility and find the path that leads to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood compared to those whose journey languishes in the Valley of Infertility seemingly destined to never find the ever-desired pathway to that mountaintop.

The first chapter of Samuel is about a woman named Hannah who is on this journey through the Valley of Infertility and the particular nuances that were unique to her experience.

Polygamous marriages among Hebrew “commoners” was relatively rare in this period of history. One of the exceptions was when a man first marries a woman who turns out to be barren. Having children, especially sons, was so important to the perpetuation of families and culture in those days that a man who finds his wife to be barren would be encouraged to marry a second wife so as to bear him sons. It’s likely that this was Hannah’s reality. She was not only shamed that she could have no children but shamed that her husband married another woman to do what she could not.

Not only did her husband, Elkanah, marry another, but he also married a woman named Peninnah who saw Hannah as a female rival. Although Elkanah was empathetic and generous toward Hannah, he was never “all-in” with her. His loyalties would always be divided between her and Peninnah, and Peninnah had plenty of children with which to claim and maintain her favored status as the wife who gave him sons.

When Elkanah and his household go to Shiloh for the annual prescribed sacrifices it was a harvest festival celebrating God’s abundant provision of fertility via life, crops, and children. As if Hannah’s everyday experience wasn’t hell enough having “mean girl” Peninnah rubbing salt in the wound of Hannah’s infertility, attending a national festival of fertility and harvest would be like descending to an even deeper ring of hell.

At this point in today’s chapter, Hannah is an emotional and inconsolable wreck. With Peninnah and all her children standing behind Elkanah as a reminder of Hannah’s shame, Elkanah says to her “Aren’t I worth more to you than ten sons?”

Oh, you stupid, stupid man.

A husband who has walked with his wife through the Valley of Infertility knows that words must be chosen wisely when consoling your wife in her grief. In fact, it was in the Valley of Infertility that I learned to embrace the truth that sometimes there are no words. In the same way, there are no shortcuts to making the pain of infertility “all better.”

In this context, Hannah’s prayer and commitment to give her son to the Lord takes on a whole new level of meaning. After all those years in the Valley of Infertility, Hannah finds that pathway to the mountain top of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. She should rightfully enjoy clinging to her boy and soak up the blessings of raising him along with the justice of being able to daily show him off to Peninnah and tell her to go take a long walk off a short pier.

But, Hannah doesn’t do that. She literally gives her son to the Lord, handing him over as a baby to be raised by the High Priest and the Levites in God’s tabernacle.

She becomes a foreshadow of what God will one day do when He “so loves the world that He gave His one-and-only Son.”

That is the beauty and power of today’s chapter.

It’s easy to miss if you’ve never trekked through the Valley of Infertility. Wendy and I never found that path to the mountain top of pregnancy and childbirth. We did, however, find a different path that led to a mountaintop called Joy. The view from there is pretty amazing.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Sticky Wicket

The Sticky Wicket (CaD Matt 19) Wayfarer

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”
Matthew 19:3 (NIV)

I married as a young man with every intention of never divorcing. I was blessed growing up that I didn’t experience it in my own family. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have feelings of shame and failure when it actually happened seventeen years later.

Divorce is a sticky wicket among many Christian persuasions. Among some more Fundamentalist branches divorce is leveraged as a major litmus test to distinguish the pure and the unpure, who is “in” and who is “out,” who is “holy” and who is not. When my first wife and I were amidst our divorce I received a handwritten letter of some 8-10 pages from a “friend” who felt it important to explain to me why I was going to hell in no uncertain terms and would be forever sealed with the scarlet letter “D” for the rest of my days. According to him, divorce was an unpardonable sin. There was no grace, no redemption, and no going back. What was really interesting about it, however, was that this friend’s wife had left him many years before that, divorced him, and got remarried though he steadfastly refused to acknowledge that they were, in fact, divorced. He continued to wear his wedding ring and live in denial.

Divorce brings out all sorts of emotions in all sorts of people.

In today’s chapter, the fundamentalist religious leaders approach Jesus with the motivation of testing Him. If you want to “test” someone, just ask the person to take a stand on a controversial issue knowing that you’ll make at least half your audience angry. Politicians and journalists do it all the time. It’s a tactic from a well-worn playbook.

The test for Jesus was the sticky wicket of divorce, though modern readers may not comprehend the full context of the matter in Jesus’ day. Among the Hebrew religious lawyers at that time, there were two schools of thought when interpreting the Law of Moses in Deuteronomy 24:1-4 in which a man who “finds something displeasing” about his wife “because he finds something indecent about her” then he can write a certificate of divorce and send her from his house. One legal camp focused on the term “finds something displeasing” and contended that any man could divorce his wife for any displeasure no matter how small or trivial. He might simply divorce her for burning his steak. The other legal camp focused on the phrase “because he finds something indecent about her” and believed that divorce was confined to some kind of indecent sexual immorality.

In Jesus’ day, divorce was a much larger social issue. Women had no rights. Women had no legal standing. Women had virtually no means or opportunity to survive and provide for themselves. Thus, a widow or a divorced woman was placed in the precarious position of having very few options available to them. They could find another husband (good luck finding a husband with that scarlet “D” on your tunic), they could live off the charity of family or friends, or they could become sex workers. A man who dismissed his wife was not only placing her in an impossible position but was also adding to a larger social problem for which there were few good answers.

Jesus, of course, pointed back to the pattern of creation as God’s intent: one man and one woman who become one flesh for life. I find it intriguing that polygamy was not a heated religious issue given this fact and its prevalence throughout history.

In the quiet this morning, I guess you could say that I’m wrestling with my demons. Shame is a constant for me. Jesus certainly pointed to the ideal as God’s desire for us, though my experience is that the ideal is rarely seen or experienced on this life journey in any context. In this fallen world, divorce is a human reality as old as humanity itself. It will never be ideal. At the same time, my personal experience is that God was never absent during the breakdown of my marriage or during the time of my divorce. And, my experience through it all was ultimately that of God’s love, grace, restoration, redemption, and the germination of new life in multiple ways. Old things passed away, and new things began.

There are so many sins and mistakes that wreak havoc on lives, families, and, society. Divorce is one of them, but certainly not the only one. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my 40 years of following Jesus, it’s that the very heart of His entire mission was to take broken things and to redeem them, to make them new. Wendy and I have seen this and experienced it in countless ways, despite the pit to hell that my “friend” dug for me in his letter all those years ago. I can’t help but remember the words of Corrie ten Boom: “This is no pit so deep that God’s grace isn’t deeper still.”

Note: I will be taking a break next week while I’m out on a business trip and focusing on my client. Feel free to use the Chapter-a-Day Index to go back and read some old posts. You can also scroll back through old episodes on any of the podcast platforms. Have a great week!

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

#13: The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy

Top Chapter-a-Day Posts #13 (CaD) Wayfarer

Note: I’m on a holiday hiatus through January 9, 2022. While I’m away, I thought it would be fun to reblog the top 15 chapter-a-day posts (according to number of views) from the past 15 years. Cheers!

Originally published September 27, 2013

My lover tried to unlatch the door,
    and my heart thrilled within me.
Song of Solomon 5:4 (NLT)

One of the things that I love about the Song of Solomon is the way the relational give and take develops between the young man and the young woman in the duet. Like all relationships, there is a progression of the relationship from the beginning of the song to the end. There is the initial infatuation with one another as they look upon one another and are impressed with what they see. Then there is the growing desire for one another as they seek to be in one another’s presence. In today’s chapter we feel the growing desire and anticipation of sexual intimacy.

The young woman is having another dream, and this time she hears the young man attempting to unlatch the door of her bedroom. Her heart is thrilled (and, I suspect, other parts of her as well). When she gets up to let him in, she finds him gone. Disappointed, she runs through the streets in a frantic search for him. The night watchmen find her and beat her up. You can see in the dream the anticipation of intimacy, the disappointment that it has not happened, and the intense feelings of personal pain and injury that she has not been able to consummate her love.

I have learned over time that sexual intimacy in marriage is best built with anticipation, just like the progression in Solomon’s song. While sex occasionally occurs at the spur of the moment, motivated by a surprisingly sudden surge of hormones, the truth is that there is typically a subtle song and dance that happens between me and Wendy. A glance and casual touch at the breakfast table hints at the possibility that this day may come to a passionate end. Hints are dropped by the wearing of things that the other has commented pleases his or her eye. A dab of cologne on a day that none is typically warranted. There is the casual touch in public that lingers a moment longer than usual. The mind is engaged. The eyes are engaged. The sense of smell is stimulated. The ears hear coded messages: “I shaved my legs today.”

Playful thoughts flitter in and out of each other’s minds during the day. Anticipation builds. A regular evening dinner takes on new layers of sensual meaning as each become aware of what I mentioned in yesterday’s post: There is a connection between senses. The feeding of one appetite will invariably lead to another. The main course tastes so good. The wine seems downright decadent, and savoring the dessert feels almost sinful.

One of the things that Solomon’s song subtly conveys to me is that the climactic, sexually intimate event of the day does not typically just happen. It happens when husband and wife learn and know one another’s subtle, sensory dance. It is me learning how to slowly feed multiple senses of my wife during the day in the ways she best responds. It is my wife learning just how to tease the deliberate build up of anticipation that will lead to a successful, intimate feast after dinner that night. There is an art to the intimacy between husband and wife that takes on the unique characteristics of the two artists involved in creating the intimate moment.

In contrast, I find that popular media (especially pornography) likes to portray sex like it’s most awesome when easily cranked out like one of those ultra high-speed photocopiers at Kinko’s (yes, pun intended): Get it fast. Get it often. Get it easy. Everyone gets a copy. Sure, you get the picture – but it’s monochrome, impersonal, and unoriginal. Each one is just like the one before. It quickly becomes meaningless and lifeless. You crank out more copies hoping for something different in the output picture, but it will never be an original work of art.

My experience is that sexual intimacy does not become a breathtaking original work of art unless there are two people learning to create something together over time, learning to work together, make mistakes, erase errors, try something new, explore, play, complement one another’s individual style, and develop their own unique style as a couple over time together. As Solomon’s Song suggests, there is a progression. It gets better, deeper, more refined, and even more powerful in ways neither husband nor wife could scarcely imagine, even in the intoxicating infatuation of the early relationship.

Sexual intimacy between husband and wife is a work of art.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Different Times, Same Journey

Different Times, Same Journey (CaD Gen 38) Wayfarer

As [Tamar] was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law [Judah]. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Genesis 38:25 (NIV)

I have blogged often in my posts about my maternal great-grandmother, Daisy, who was the celebrated matriarch of my mother’s family. The untold story of Grandma Daisy is her complicated relationship with her husband, Will. As heralded as Daisy was for her faith, joy, strength, fortitude, Will was remembered by his family as a tragically broken man who, from birth, was trapped in circumstances that were not of his own making, and from which he would never truly escape.

One of the challenges for modern readers of Genesis is to understand the social customs and mores of the tribal Near Eastern Mesopotamian cultures in the time of 1900 B.C. There are aspects of humanity and human behavior in which “nothing is new under the sun.” At the same time, the matters of daily life, systems of family, marriage, commerce, religion, government, survival, and culture are largely foreign to a 21st-century reader.

Today’s chapter is a fascinating lesson in the roles of men and women with regard to marriage and widowhood. It was a true patriarchal system. A woman had no status but for her husband and/or sons. She could not own land or inherit an estate. Widows were in a particularly vulnerable position. Unless her husband’s family agreed to marry her to a relative and she produced male offspring (called a Levirate marriage), she could either return to her father’s household (if he would have her) or try and survive by prostitution or the generosity of others.

Once again, the recurring theme of deception crops up, now in the fourth generation from Abraham. In yesterday’s chapter, Joseph’s brothers deceive their father into thinking his favorite son had been killed by a wild animal. In today’s chapter, Judah’s eldest two sons die, leaving him to care for his daughter-in-law, Tamar. He promises to marry her to his third son once he was of age, and sends her back to her family as was the custom of that day. He didn’t keep his word, however, and married his youngest son off to another. Judah knew he was not keeping his pledge to Tamar in yet another deception.

Tamar, left in a vulnerable position with no recourse, shrewdly beats Judah at his own family’s game of deception. Eerily similar to Judah’s father’s deception of Isaac, Tamar disguises herself, pretends to be a prostitute in order to get Judah to sleep with her and impregnate her. Having birthed a son by Judah, he is forced to bring Tamar and his son into the family or risk public humiliation.

Which, in the quiet this morning, brought me back to the story of Will and Daisy who, like Judah and Tamar, lived in a culture of intense social pressure. Their divorce left Daisy alone and scandalized with five children to raise on her own with whatever meager means she could scrounge in that day. She even graciously agreed to marry Will a second time as he attempted to redeem himself and pull himself out of his endless cycle of poor choices and unfortunate circumstances. His death was a sad metaphor for his life. He was run over in the street. Not surprisingly, no one in my family talked about Will. I only learned his story because my great aunt investigated and wrote a short biography of her father. I believe it was a daughter’s attempt to understand and reconcile with a father who brought so much pain into her life.

And thus, I return to the fact that humans of every time and place in history are human. In that, there is nothing new under the sun. In Judah and Tamar’s story, in Will and Daisy’s story, are two human beings navigating their own life journeys complete with the obstacles of personal failings, generational sin, relational struggles, and cultural obstacles. Sometimes we’re hampered by our own choices. Sometimes we’re stuck with circumstances that were not of our own making. Sometimes we struggle against the systems of culture, religion, community, and society that are lined up against us. It’s all part of our journeys and our stories. How I walk that journey will impact the legacy and the journeys of my physical and spiritual descendants.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Chip off the Ol’ Block

Chip Off the Ol' Block (CaD Gen 29) Wayfarer

When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”
Genesis 29:25 (NIV)

Lately, I’ve been posting old family photos on social media in a series I’ve dubbed “From the Shoebox.” I have received a number of comments telling me how much I look like my father. It’s become more and more common the older I get, and I’m fine with being a chip off the ol’ block.

In yesterday’s post, I began the discussion of the way that very different family systems can create chaos when they are merged in marriage. I want to take that conversation another step deeper today because of the events in today’s chapter.

Jacob is sent to live in exile because he, and his mother, conspired to deceive Jacob’s father into giving Jacob “the blessing” as heir apparent to the family and its fortunes instead of Jacob’s twin brother to whom it rightfully belonged. Believing that Esau would kill Jacob out of vengeance, he is sent to live with his mother’s family, and it’s important to remember that it is mother’s family with whom he is living.

Jacob (whose name means “deceiver”) was a mama’s boy from the beginning. She was the parent who had the greatest influence on him. It was his mother who prompted the conspiracy to steal Esau’s blessing and ensure that Jacob would run the family and inherit the family fortunes.

Upon arriving at his uncle Laban’s settlement, there are two important things that happen. The first is subtle. The second is blatant. Uncle Laban initially greets Jacob by saying “You are my flesh and blood.” Ancient cultures of that area would use greetings such as this as a way of saying “you are being brought into the family” and will be treated as a family member. But then, a few verses later, Laban strikes a contractual deal with Jacob to work for seven years as the bride price for his daughter, Rachel. The gracious “you’re family” switches to “you’re a contract worker.” It’s a bait-and-switch that Jacob, in his infatuation with Rachel, does not question.

Seven years later, the wedding night arrives. The family feasts, but instead of sending Rachel into Jacob’s tent as agreed, he sends her older sister, Leah. We’re not told how it was that Jacob did not notice, but he wakes up to a big surprise. Laban tells Jacob that it’s “custom” to marry off the older sister first and he offers Rachel in exchange for another seven years of labor.

Rebekah sends Jacob into his father’s tent and pretended to be Esau.

Rebekah’s brother, Laban, sends Leah into Jacob’s tent pretending to be Rachel.

The “deceiver” is deceived.

What comes around, goes around.

Guess where your mother learned it, Jacob?

Welcome to the family.

Sometimes being “a chip off the ol’ block” has less to do with looks and more to do with how we think, behave, act, and react within a family system. We spend years unconsciously playing a role within one family system and learning how to relate and interact within the family system. Suddenly we find ourselves living in another family system. We don’t wipe the slate clean and get a do-over. We bring all the mess of one system and merge it with a completely different one.

Merging flesh is quite easy. It’s quite another thing to merge souls, habits, traditions, and systemic thinking that I’m often unaware I’m even thinking. I’ve learned that successfully making that work requires two individuals willing to be introspective, honest, gracious, forgiving, patient, and persevering.

Thank you, Wendy.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Me and Messy Family

Me and Messy Family (CaD Gen 28) Wayfarer

Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.
Genesis 28:8-9 (NIV)
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”
Genesis 28:20-22 (NIV)

I’ve written a couple of posts recently in which I touched on the fact that the Bible really doesn’t specify any type of ritual or tradition around marriage. In fact, the closest it gets is right in the second chapter of the Great Story. A man leaves his father and mother, is united with his wife and two become one.

As I’ve meditated on this over the years, I’ve come to observe that the focus is almost always on the two becoming one. But rarely do we think about or discuss the pre-requisite of leaving the parents, which happens for both spouses even though only the male is specified in the text.

In today’s chapter, we find the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob, on divergent paths. Esau is already married to two Hittite women who have brought chaos and conflict within the family system. Having been cheated out of his birthright and blessing by his twin brother and mother, Esau is understandably bitter. Realizing how much his parents hate his wives, Esau decides to double-down and marry two more Hittite women and bring even more disruption into the family system.

Jacob, on the other hand, goes into exile with his mother’s family in order to find a wife from within the tribe. While on his way, Isaac meets God in a dream, receives the blessing God gave his grandfather and father, and chooses in. He makes a vow to follow and worship God and embraces Abraham’s covenant.

Welcome to the mess.

There was a specific stage of my own life journey when I thought long and hard about what it meant to be my own person, establish my own house, and separate from the family system of my childhood. I made a couple of key discoveries during this stage of my life:

It’s hard not to play the role one has developed as part of a family system. I leave home. I do my own thing. I follow my own path. Then I go to my parents for the holidays and I find myself thinking, acting, and behaving within the family system as I always have since I was a kid. This isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but neither is it necessarily healthy. I discovered that it was important for me to see it and work through it myself.

Parents are part of the entire equation. Both Isaac and Rebekah played a role in the conflict between the brothers. Parents can help or hinder their children’s “leaving” and the establishment of their own lives, homes, and family systems. The past decade has been crucial for both Taylor and Madison as they are in their own stages of establishing their lives. It’s not always easy to let go. It’s hard to watch them stake their own claims and feel the separation that naturally happens when one becomes independent of the system I established and controlled for so long. I am constantly having to have talks with God, myself, and Wendy about how best to bless our children by repeatedly choosing to let them go.

While Isaac, Rebekah, Esau, and Esau’s four foreign wives live in the messy consequences of Isaac and Rebekah’s own meddling, I have a feeling that twenty years of exile from that family system will be good for Isaac. He needs time and distance to establish his own relationship with the God of his forefathers, to become a husband, to become a father, and to make his own way.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about this life journey. Once I was a child learning what it meant to leave home, to be one with another, to be a father, to establish my own family system. Now I’m a parent learning to let go of daughters who are one with another and establishing their own family systems. It’s all part of the journey with its mess, mistakes, chaos, crazy, blessing, joy, laughter, and beauty.

I just want to do each stage well, and I’ve learned that I give myself some grace because I’m always a work in progress. I want to progress. I want to bring more sanity than insanity to the lives of our children and grandchildren. I want to make relational choices that will allow for more health than dysfunction. I desire that I can be more gracious and less demanding. I pray that I can increasingly trust God with the lives of my adult children so as to avoid meddling in their lives out of my personal fears and mistrust.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Wisdom in Knowing the Difference

Wisdom in Knowing the Difference (CaD Gen 24) Wayfarer

Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
Genesis 24:67 (NIV)

I was in my late twenties and early thirties when I first began to ask a lot of questions about the systems and roles that influenced the child I was, the young adult I grew into, and the adult I became. For me, it is a worthwhile journey of self-discovery and understanding that continues as I progress into new stages of life. There are so many formative pieces of self that I did not, and do not, control. At the same time, there are so many pieces of life that I do control. As the Serenity Prayer so aptly requests, I have found that wisdom is required to know and embrace the differences.

Today’s chapter is fascinating on multiple levels. It tells the story of Abraham sending his trusted servant back to his family and tribe; The family and tribe he left when God initially called him to his faith journey back in chapter 12. The intent of the mission is to secure a bride for his son Isaac from his own tribe. The chapter describes this mission in detail and with it, we get a glimpse into the marriage customs of the ancient near east.

Perhaps it’s because I have officiated a host of weddings along my journey, but I have always been interested in marriage customs and rituals. What’s fascinating to me is the genuine lack of specificity given in the Great Story regarding marriage ritual or customs, and the genuine, legalistic rigidity with which institutional churches, denominations, and members become entrenched despite there being zero biblical support for most all of it.

Once again, I’ve found it helpful to be honest about what is essential (e.g. sacrificial love, spiritual union, honor, intimacy, fidelity, consideration, separation from the childhood family system and the origination of a new family system together) and what is completely absent in scripture (e.g. engagement rules, betrothal rules, and/or wedding ritual, and what exactly determines the moment and reality that two people are “married” to one another). In today’s chapter, Rebecca leaves her family, is led by her fiance into the tent of his deceased mother. BOOM they are married.

Was there a ceremony? Doesn’t say.

Was the act of sexual intercourse a determining factor? Doesn’t say.

Is it possible that the spiritual union of a man and woman that transforms them into husband and wife can and does happen without a marriage license from the county, a church official making a pronouncement, and a public wedding ceremony? Doesn’t say.

Is it equally possible that a man and woman can get a marriage license from the county, have a church official pronounce them married at a public ceremony in front of many witnesses, and yet never experience the spiritual union that transforms them into husband and wife? Doesn’t say.

And yet, along my spiritual journey I have observed many human religious rituals that don’t appear to have any transformative spiritual effect. I’ve also observed spiritual transformations in individuals that have nothing to do with any institutional religious ritual or involvement.

Today’s chapter describes how families arranged a marriage in ancient Mesopotamia which bears little resemblance to the free will engagements two people make in modern American culture. There are no specifics about what exactly made the marriage other than an agreement, two people entering a tent, and the fruit of love.

So in the quiet this morning, I find myself asking a lot of questions that don’t have specific answers in the Great Story. And, while I don’t have a lot of specific answers, I find myself comfortable with the conclusion that marriage as described in the Great Story is not about paperwork, cultural tradition, and religious ritual. It’s about sacrificial love, spiritual union, honor, intimacy, fidelity, consideration, separation from the childhood family system and the origination of a new family system together. There’s wisdom in knowing the difference.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Blood and Covenant

Blood and Covenant (CaD Gen 9) Wayfarer

“Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you…”
Genesis 9:8-9 (NIV)

As my maternal grandparents entered the home stretch of their earthly journeys, they faced difficult financial circumstances that led to a difficult decision. My grandfather’s medical needs were draining their savings which was threatening the financial security of my grandmother, who would most certainly survive my grandfather, possibly for years to come. A social worker suggested that one solution would be for my grandparents to legally divorce so that their finances would be legally split, allowing my grandmother to retain their savings under her name while my grandfather’s needs would be provided for by the State.

I was quite a young man at the time, and I have a vivid memory of my grandmother asking me what she should do. I remember it because it was the first time that I’d considered both the legality, spirituality, and the tradition of marriage. That led me to realize, perhaps for the first time, that while the institutions of both church and state are involved in the process of a couple getting married, there is absolutely no detailed prescription for marriage in the Bible other than addressing it as a basic, assumed relational construct of human familial relationship and cultural systems. So far in our chapter-a-day journey of Genesis the husband and wife relationship has been assumed but no where has there been discussion of ceremony, process, or particulars other than a man and woman leaving their respective homes and becoming “one flesh.”

So, the relational agreement between husband and wife is assumed and its process is not specifically prescribed in the Great Story. What the Great Story does address is the agreement(s) between God and humanity. In the ancient times they were called “covenants.” Once again, since we’re in the beginning of the Great Story, we are going to keep running into firsts, and in today’s chapter we come across the first “covenant” between God and humanity since expulsion from the Garden. God initiates and makes the covenant never to destroy all earthly life by natural catastrophe.

Just before this covenant, God establishes the sacredness of human life, and it is metaphorically established in blood, or “lifeblood.” The ancients recognized that when blood poured out of a person, they died. They made connection between blood and life.

So in today’s chapter God establishes the sacredness of “life,” “blood,” and “covenant.” And just as I mentioned that the flood was an earthly foreshadowing of what would be the spiritual sacrament of baptism, today’s events are an earthly foreshadowing of the spiritual metaphor in the sacrament of Communion:

Then [Jesus] took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. Matthew 26:27-29 (NIV)

In the quiet this morning, I am once again awed by the connected themes of the Great Story from the very beginning. God is proactive, from the very beginning, in initiating a committed (a.k.a. covenant) relationship with humanity that will bring life in contrast to the death which came through disobedience and the breaking of relationship. And, God is still doing it as I remember each time I choose to step up and partake of the bread and cup as Jesus prescribed for his followers.

As for my grandparents, they chose not to take the social worker’s suggestion. My family helped to find other alternatives for them. That said, I told my grandmother that I did not believe a legal divorce on paper from the State of Iowa could ever nullify the spiritual bond of covenant and spiritual oneness or the chord of three strands woven between them and God. I believe that still. Matters of Spirit are deeper and more eternal than the reach of any human legal system on earth.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Ezer Kenegdo

Ezer Kenegdo (CaD Gen 2) Wayfarer

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
Genesis 2:18 (NIV)

For whatever reason, God saw fit to surround me with women most of my entire life journey. My eldest brothers are twins, my sister came five years later, and I brought up rear. Most of my childhood the sibling dynamic in my family system was two pairs: the twins and Jody and me. When I was very young, I can remember times when dad and the twins would be off doing something and I was home with mom and Jody. It made an impression on me.

Further down life’s road, I find myself the father of two girls, and then was blessed to have Wendy’s sister live with us for a few years. I always seem to find myself in situations in which I’m surrounded by women. About four years ago I wrote a post with my first words to my grandson, discussing this very phenomenon.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I rather enjoy it most of the time. In fact, the experience has significantly changed my view and understanding of women along my life journey. For most of my early journey I loosely held a fairly fundamentalist view of the roles of men and women, husbands and wives. And, I confess that many of my views early on were downright misogynistic. My life experiences, my spiritual journey as a Jesus follower, and the amazing women in my life, have led to embracing what I consider to be a deeper understanding of women and all the incredible things they are in creation.

In today’s chapter, God looks at Adam and makes a “helper suitable for him.” The Hebrew words are ezer kenegdo. Ezer simply means “help” or “assistance.” Kenegdo is made up of three words. The study text I read this morning stated that it suggests: “someone God fashions for the man who would correspond to him.” This does not imply inferiority, weakness, or submission, but rather one who “uniquely his counterpart and uniquely suited for him.”

And that brings me to Wendy, the woman who is the definition of my ezer kengdo. We couldn’t be more different in so many ways, and the Enneagram Institute describes relationships between Fours (me) and Eights (Wendy) “the most inherently volatile” of combinations, though it adds the combination can be “one of the most creative relationship couplings.”

Wendy and I do everything together. We work together out of our home, we serve together, and we play together. There are certainly things each of us do and enjoy alone, but for the most part we are around each other 24/7/365 in our daily lives. And that’s a good thing for me. It’s a great thing for me.

I had a member of my company’s Board of Directors once ask me if I could imagine doing my job without Wendy. My response was immediate: “Absolutely not.” In fact, I can’t imagine doing it without her. I can’t imagine doing anything without her. She’s “uniquely suited” to make me better at everything I do in life, in community, and business as I like to believe I am uniquely suited to make her better in the same.

Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. We’re not perfect. We clash. We have flashes of volatility as the folks at the Enneagram Institute describe. Sometimes sparks fly. Yet that, I believe, is inherently a by-product of ezer kenegdo. Not alike, but uniquely suited.

So, in the quiet this morning, I think there are a whole host of things that I could have blogged about from today’s chapter. It is chock full of truth on multiple layers. Yet, on this chapter-a-day journey, I often find that the thing that is most meaningful to me is the thing that rises to the top of mind and soul. To me, this day, that is ezer kenegdo; that is Wendy, and all of the women with whom God has surrounded me my entire life journey to teach me about manhood, and to make me a better man.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.