Tag Archives: Marriage

The Mess of Relationships

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.
1 Corinthians 7:17 (NIV)

My friend Matthew is a marriage and family therapist here in our small Iowa town. This is a great little community founded in 1847 by a Dutch pastor and his devout group of Jesus’ followers. After 170 years our community retains a strong culture of Christian values, and I would daresay that a majority of our town’s citizens would claim to be believers. Nevertheless, I’ve noticed over the years that my friend Matthew never ceases to be booked solid with clients. My quiet observation is that even among those who sincerely seek to follow Jesus, relationships are a never-ending challenge.

Today’s chapter reads like a modified bullet list from Dear Abby as Paul advises those who are married, those who are single wishing to be married, those who are widowed, those who are separated from their spouses, and those who are married to unbelievers. He weaves in and out of stating what he knows from Jewish laws and tradition, and what he believes in his own opinion as the first century believers struggle to determine what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in a rapidly developing faith tradition. Based on what he has already established earlier in his letter, Paul is addressing a fledgling group of Jesus’ followers from diverse cultural traditions living in what is primarily a pagan Greek town in the first century Roman Empire. Most of what the Corinthian believers knew of Jesus’ words and teaching was transmitted orally by the Apostles. It is likely that none of the Gospels had even been written when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians.

I’m an amateur student of history, I’ve come to accept that every generation of believers in every culture have struggled with all of these relational and marital issues. Courtship, sex before marriage, marriage, sex within marriage, infidelity, separation, divorce, widowhood, sex outside of marriage and remarriage have always been challenging issues. They have always spurred intense debate and emotional turmoil for individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations. I believe they always will this side of eternity.

As I read through today’s chapter and couldn’t help thinking of real people I know in very real and very unique life situations. It spurs questions of “Yeah, but what about….” God’s Message through Paul provides a general  guide for believers, but it certainly isn’t  exhaustive and it doesn’t come close to addressing countless specific situations. Being a divorced and remarried follower of Jesus, I have grappled with my very own relational struggles and failures. I have received (both solicited and unsolicited) diverse opinions from other sincere believers ranging from grace and forgiveness to judgment and condemnation. [sigh] Life gets messy on this earthly journey.

This morning I find myself grappling with my own past. I have continuously journeyed through and studied the Bible for almost 40 years. I have sought to increasingly live as a sincere believer of Jesus, though I regularly fall short. The failure of my first marriage and all the personal shortcomings that led to it are right up there at the top of my failure list.  Yet, there are a few things Holy Spirit continually whispers to my soul when my shame rolls in like the tide:

  • First, nowhere in God’s Message does the failure of a marriage exclude a person from God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.
  • Second, God has a long track record of redeeming and using broken people with personal failings for His good purposes.

The good news for my friend Matthew and his colleagues is that they will have job security as long as imperfect human beings date, get married, and seek to successfully live together in this fallen world.

“All Things are Yours”

All things are yours,whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
1 Corinthians 21:23 (NIV)

On the Enneagram, I am a Four (“The Individualist”) and Wendy is an Eight (“The Challenger”). Here’s how the Enneagram Institute describes relationships between Fours and Eights:

This can be one of the most creative relationship couplings, although it is also one of the most inherently volatile. Both Enneagram Fours and Eights are intense and have strong emotional responses; both seek to get a reaction from the other, and both can be dominating of their environments. Both types take a certain pride in having a larger than life quality about them: Eights in their larger than life willpower and quest for control, Fours in their larger than life emotions and in their quest for self-expression. Both types want to be free and to be free from having anyone control them, particularly in their careers and private lives. If they feel that the other is trying to control them, both types can become enraged, easily triggering gargantuan battle, financial and sexual intrigues, and rampant feelings of hatred.

Oh my goodness, I chuckle every time I read this. Let’s just say that our marriage is never dull. I’m planning to write an entire post exploring how we navigate our “creative” and “inherently volatile” 4/8 relationship at some point, but that’s not the point this morning.

Yesterday evening I returned home from a business trip and the two of us enjoyed a happy hour pint and conversation downstairs at the V-Dub Pub. Our conversation led us back to a discussion of our differences. Wendy made a really interesting observation. “As a Four,” she said (and I paraphrase), “you talk about always thinking and believing that you are ‘not enough.’ But we Eights are always thinking and believing  that we’re ‘too much.’

In this morning’s chapter Paul begins by making a distinction between “flesh” and “spirit.” He observes that the followers of Jesus in Corinth are people of “flesh” comparing their spiritual immaturity with being like infants scrambling after their most basic needs. This is why they were descending into petty arguments and quarrels regarding who was following the “right” leader.  He compares this to maturity of “spirit”, which he implies is an understanding that there is far more going on to what God has done and is doing. He encourages them to open their eyes to discover a deeper understanding of God’s Spirit.

As Paul ends the chapter he explains “all things are yours”  including all of the various leaders people were fighting about and ends with the explanation that “all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.” This is a continuation of yesterday’s thoughts about this dance of relationship in which God’s Spirit indwells us and we become a part of the divine dance of relationship and being along with Father, Son, and Spirit. Now Paul is inviting the Corinthians to understand that they are all part of the same diving dance: Father, Son, Spirit, Paul, Apollos, Peter, the Corinthians, the Jewish believers, the Greek believers, the slaves, the slave owners, the men, the women, the black, the white, the rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick, the infants, and the grown ups.

All things are yours” Paul explains to the Corinthians. They just don’t see it. They haven’t realized it. They’re still stuck in “not enough” feelings of scarcity and inferiority leading to an unconscious need to be “right” and prop themselves and their chosen human leader as “better” while everyone else was “wrong” and “less than me and my leader.” This leads to arguments, quarrels, bitterness, and division (which makes for really bad dance partners).

Which led me back to Wendy’s observation from last night. In the quiet of this morning as I mulled these things over in my mind and heart her words returned to me. God’s Spirit whispered to mine: “Not enough” is an immature blindness to (even rejection of) the spiritual reality of “all things are yours.”

Which led me back to thinking about Wendy and me, Eight and Four.

Our always creative, occasionally volatile relational dance allows for Wendy’s Eight to see when I’m sinking into my subconscious “not enough” individualist reactions and challenge me to open my eyes. This, in turn, affords me the opportunity to accept, confess, learn, stretch, push, grow, and ultimately to become a better dance partner; Not only a better relational dance partner for her, but for all to whom I, and we, are connected: Father, Son, Spirit, family, friends, coworkers, community members, fellow citizens, and fellow human beings.

And so, I waltz into another day. The dance continues. “One, two, three. One, two, three. One two, three.

Enjoy the dance today, my friend.

Dancers and Wallflowers

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God.For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.
1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (NIV)

Marriage is an interesting paradigm for we human beings. When followers of Jesus take marriage vows we usually include words and metaphors that speak of two becoming one, just as God is one, and then some poetic verses from Ecclesiastes are often quoted:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Two become one and a chord of three strands. Wait a minute, weren’t we talking about two? Where did the three come from? A man and a woman in relationship with one another and God creating a trinitarian relationship. Spiritual one-ness in the relationship of individual persons. A multiplication of the mystery and divine dance of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In today’s chapter, Paul is pushing into something different than marriage, but essentially it’s the same principle. Holy Spirit knows the thoughts of God. The night before Jesus died he told His followers that Holy Spirit would come to in-dwell them (Spiritual, relational oneness between the divine and the human), speaking only what the Spirit hears from the Father. The Spirit searches the thoughts of the Father and is able to reveal them within those in whom the Spirit dwells. Thus, it’s another extension of the divine dance in another trinitarian relationship: Father, Spirit, human.

One of the things I find fascinating is that today’s chapter says that the Spirit searches. So the relationship Jesus talked about between Father and Spirit is not a simple, rote hearing and repeating like the game of telephone. The Spirit searches the deep things of God. And the Spirit doesn’t just search the deep things of God, but searches all things.

Back to the divine dance of relationships whether that is the relationship between me and Wendy, me and Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit and the Father, the Father and Son. You get where I’m going with this. It’s all connected in this amazing, mysterious dance, but no partner in the dance can be passive or it’s not a dance. Wallflowers are at a dance, but wallflowers are not actually dancing.

How often do I find myself a wallflower at the dance of my marriage? How often do I find myself a wallflower at the dance of my faith?
How often do I find myself a wallflower at the dance of Life?

Following the example of Holy Spirit, I believe being a dancer in this energy called Life requires my spirit to be actively searching, curious and inquisitive about all things. After all, Jesus said to “ask, seek, and knock.” Following the example of Holy Spirit, I believe that being in any intimate, relational dance calls the partners to search the deep things of one another. The better each partner searches and knows and is known to the other, the better and more life giving the dance becomes between all the partners in the dance.

This morning I’m asking myself just how good of a relational dance partner I am. Am I actively reaching out, curious, engaging, initiating, and searching? Or, am I a wallflower standing along the edges of the relationship waiting to be invited, asked, and or told what to do?

For the Good of the Whole

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any man or woman who wrongs another in any way and so is unfaithful to the Lord is guilty and must confess the sin they have committed. They must make full restitution for the wrong they have done….'”
Numbers 5:5-7 (NIV)

Many of the client offices in which I’ve worked over the years are cramped quarters. Numerous people work in confined spaces with little barrier between desks. During the winter months it is quite common to hear stories of entire departments decimated by the flu or other viruses that spread quickly with little or no warning. Over the years when I’ve found myself with a nasty bug I have felt compelled to call clients and explain, “You don’t want me visiting you right now.” I can’t remember a single client who wasn’t grateful for me being considerate of their operation and team members.

When reading through the ancient marching orders for the Hebrew nation in the book of Numbers it’s easy to for me to find myself perplexed in the simple reading of the text. It is so easy to read it from a 21st century American perspective and scratch my head. There is little connection between me (the modern, western technological age reader) and a nomadic nation of semitic people in Arabia around 3500 years ago.

Stepping back and looking at today’s chapter as a whole, the rules prescribed through Moses had to do with things that were threats to their community, starting with that which was physical and easy to see and ending with that which was relational and much harder to judge.

It begins with that which was physical and quite easy to diagnose. In that time period infectious disease could wipe out an entire people in little or no time. While my cold virus might wreak havoc on my client’s workforce and productivity, in the days of Moses a nasty virus could bring death and plague to the entire nation. So, those who showed clear physical sign of what might be a disease were to be quarantined outside the camp. Next came the broad category of “wronging” another member of the community. I think of this as the type of neighborly disputes that might end up in small claims court at my local courthouse. Finally, the bulk of the chapter deals with the most intimate and difficult things to know or to judge: marital infidelity.

It’s easy as a modern reader to get mired in the struggle to understand rules made for an ancient, middle-eastern culture. Wendy and I had a fascinating discussion over coffee last week about the historical and cultural contexts of these rules. Still, I walk away from today’s chapter reminded that all cultures need laws, rules, and regulations that protect the good of the community.  Infectious disease, personal disputes, and the breakdown of marriage all have consequences that  radiate throughout the community. God through Moses prescribed very specific ways to determine and deal with them for the good of the whole.

This morning I’m thankful to live in a community with a strong system of law that protects our community, state, and nation as a whole. I’m also reminded this morning of my individual responsibility to be considerate of my community as a whole. In fact, I report for jury duty in two weeks.

An Executable Plan

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: “The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.”
Numbers 2:1-2 (NIV)

If you want something organized and done well, put my wife Wendy in charge of it. I don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out. I have been married to this woman for nearly twelve years, and from our New Year’s Eve gala wedding to countless weekend trips to the lake, from running a box office to a successful string of community theatre awards dinners, she is gifted when it comes to organization, planning and execution of a plan.

I thought about Wendy in the quiet this morning as I waded through the second chapter of Numbers, which had all the excitement of an army field manual. In essence, that’s what it was. The Hebrew tribes had no home. They were about to embark on a giant, traveling encampment with over 600,000 able-bodied fighting men, their wives, their elders, their children, their big-top Tabernacle, and livestock to boot. Talk about an organizational nightmare.

Along this life journey I’ve come to realize that people eventually tend to admire, or to shun, those gifts and abilities that run opposite theirs. Unlike my ezer kenegdo, Wendy, I am a big picture, take-it-as-it-comes, go-with-the-flow kind of guy. When Wendy starts making a meal plan for our weekend at the lake a week ahead of the trip, my natural bent is to roll my eyes and say, “Seriously?! Do we have to figure this out now? Can’t we just figure it out when we get there?

But, I’ve learned over time when you’re at the lake with two to four other adults and no plan, the conversation goes like this:

Person 1: “What are we doing for supper?”

Person 2: “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”

Person 1: “I don’t know. What about you, honey?”

Person 3: “I don’t care. Whatever you want to do.”

Person 1: “I don’t care either. It’s whatever you guys think. Right, dear?”

Person 4: “We could go out, or we could stay in.”

Person 1: “We went out last night.”

Person 4: “Which doesn’t mean we can’t go out again tonight.”

Person 1: “No, it doesn’t. I’m not saying that. We can go out, or stay in. What do you guys think?”

Person 2: “Whatever. We don’t care. We’re okay going out. Aren’t we, dear?”

Person 3: “Sure. Or staying in. Either way is fine with us.”

This conversation can go on in circles for hours, which is not only maddening but also squeezes out actual time having fun and enjoying meaningful conversation.

When Wendy starts asking about a meal plan a week before our trip to the lake, I choose in. I’m still not good about anticipating and initiating a plan on my own (but it’s a growth opportunity for me!) Things run more smoothly and everyone enjoys themselves more when there’s a well executed plan.

This morning I’m thinking about a boring chapter laying out an executable encampment plan for taking the population of the entire Des Moines area on a sustained wilderness march. Sometimes the message is not in the text but in the context. Life is full of daily, weekly, monthly and annual events which run more smoothly with an executable plan. The untold story of many of history’s greatest victories lies in the quartermasters and gifted planners who were able to successfully and efficiently move armies and supplies at the right time in the right way. That’s not my gift.

I’m reminded this morning of the blessing of peace and flow in life that exists only when you have a person with the giftedness and authority to anticipate need, create a workable plan, and execute that plan. I get to experience that blessing because I’m married to such a person.

 

Relationship and Maturity

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity….
Hebrews 6:1a (NIV)

The other night Wendy and I were having a conversation with friends. I can’t even remember the entire context of the conversation as it flowed across many subjects and meandered down several tributaries of thought. At one point, however, I remember Wendy making the observation regarding how our relationship has matured over the years we’ve been married. I remember quietly chewing on that fact for a while.

Wendy and I have a great relationship, and we continue to enjoy a wonderful marriage. It has, nevertheless, changed over the years. We’ve pushed into understanding and appreciating one another’s unique and contrasting personality types. On the Enneagram I’m a Type 4 (Individualist) and she’s a very opposite Type 8 (Challenger). [cue: sparks flying..it can be one of the most volatile combinations] You don’t simply skate through life and relationship with such differences and remain unchanged. It forces growth. This is especially true when you journey down the paths of blended family, teenage daughters, infertility, live-in siblings, and house building. And those things are on top of traversing the normal marriage builders of finances, sex, and the management of life’s every day stresses.

The other day I wrote about some of the misconceptions I had about God and spirituality as I grew up. One of those misperceptions was that spiritual life is a compartmentalized part of life, confined to a few hours at church on Sunday along with scattered nods of attention during the week like sporadic prayers or quiet times. Jesus came, however, to make possible our relationship with God. It’s a relationship, in fact, that God likens time and time again to a marriage. Mature marriage relationships in which intimacy and oneness develop don’t happen in an environment of compartmentalization.

In today’s chapter, the author of the letter to Hebrew believers addresses those who have flirted with a relationship with Christ. They have “tasted” of marital relationship as a couple riding the bliss of infatuation into experimental living together while keeping entire parts of themselves compartmentalized and self-centered. The author urges them to push towards a relationship that matures only in a committed 24/7/365 journey with all of its shared peaks and valleys.

This morning I’m again thankful for Wendy, for our marriage with all of its moments of unheralded creativity and, yes, occasional volatility. I’m thankful for the maturing of relationship and what it teaches me about myself, Wendy, and God who is both Life and Love. I am reminded of the necessity to press on and into maturity of relationship, and not be seduced and deluded into spiritual, relational stagnation and compartmentalization.

 

Meditations on Song of Solomon

In the 11 years I’ve been writing my blog and posting my chapter-a-day meditations, I’ve not spent a ton of time worrying about whether posts are popular. I haven’t actively tried to either please or cater to a particular audience. That’s never really been the point for me. I simply post what’s on my heart and mind each weekday morning and scatter it like seed along my humble little path here in the blogosphere.

I have, however, casually noticed that my daily meditations on the Song of Solomon (aka Song of Songs), have seemed to  maintain a certain level of popularity (I use that word very loosely in the context of my subscribers and page views) that is unusual for my typical posts. It totally makes sense to me. Song of Songs is the one poetic book in all of God’s Message that focuses on man, woman, relationship, love, romance, and sex. We are ever trying to understand the mystery, aren’t we?

So, for what it’s worth, here is a compilation of my meditations from Song of Solomon, originally posted in October of 2013. Cheers!

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 1
A Hint of Paradise

God, the artist, created us male and female. He created us naked. He told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Love, intimacy and sex between husband and wife was part of the original ideal….

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 2
With Nobody Else but Me

Be mindful and wary of misplaced and competing affections and appetites.

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 3
Meeting the Parents

Today, I am pondering this dance of courtship that men and women have been doing since the beginning of civilization.

 

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 4
Sensually Good

Jesus said he came to give us abundant life. This includes a healthy appreciation for the breadth of senses God gave us to properly experience the full range of creation in its sensual glory.

Song of Solomon Chapter 5
The Art and Progression of Sexual Intimacy

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.

 

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 6
Browsing Among the Lilies

God created us male and female. He created us as sexual beings with hormones and sexual desires. He created a natural order in which people grow, develop, desire one another and have sexual relations through which new life is created. He called it “good.”

 

 

 

 

Song of Solomon Chapter 7
A Case for Delayed Gratification

In contrast to where our culture seems to be heading, I hear in Song of Solomon the wisdom, art, and beauty of love that takes time, effort, and creativity to develop. I am reminded that delayed gratification makes the climactic sensual feast deeper, more meaningful and ultimately more pleasurable.

Song of Solomon Chapter 8
Signed, Sealed, Delivered

God’s Message has scant descriptors of marriage. It does not prescribe a particular method or ceremony for marriage, but seems to allow room for cultures and history to develop a veritable plethora of customs around the marriage ceremony. What God’s Message does simply say is that a man and woman leave their respective parents, unite themselves, and become “one flesh.”


Tom Vander Well has been writing his blog, Wayfarer, since 2006. He lives in Pella, Iowa with his wife Wendy.