Thursday, August 29, 2013

Oh Sweet Lorraine

Fred is a 96-year-old man who wrote a love song for his recently deceased wife of 75 years. I had a hard time holding off the tears.

The following are the portions of Tim Keller's "The Meaning of Marriage" that I highlighted. I'm sure that I will be reviewing this post frequently.

*According to the Bible, God devised marriage to reflect his saving love for us in Christ, to refine our character, to create stable human community for the birth and nurture of children, and to accomplish all this by bringing the complementary sexes into an enduring whole-life union.

*A marriage based not on self -denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no -maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put— today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.

*Destructive to marriage is the self- fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is . . . learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. (Stanley Hauerwas)

*Over the years you will go through seasons in which you have to learn to love a person who you didn’t marry, who is something of a stranger. You will have to make changes that you don’t want to make, and so will your spouse. The journey may eventually take you into a strong, tender, joyful marriage. But it is not because you married the perfectly compatible person. That person doesn’t exist.

*So, what do you need to make marriage work? You need to know the secret, the gospel, and how it gives you both the power and pattern for your marriage. On the one hand, the experience of marriage will unveil the beauty and depths of the gospel to you. It will drive you further into reliance on it. On the other hand, a greater understanding of the gospel will help you experience deeper and deeper union with each other as the years go on.

*The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God’s mercy and grace. The hard times of marriage drive us to experience more of this transforming love of God. But a good marriage will also be a place where we experience more of this kind of transforming love at a human level. The gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should. That frees us to see our spouse’s sins and flaws to the bottom— and speak of them— and yet still love and accept our spouse fully. And when, by the power of the gospel, our spouse experiences that same kind of truthful yet committed love, it enables our spouses to show us that same kind of transforming love when the time comes for it. This is the great secret! Through the gospel, we get both the power and the pattern for the journey of marriage . But there is far more to say about what that pattern is and how that power works. So we turn back to Ephesians 5 to understand this great secret more fully.

*Only if you have learned to serve others by the power of the Holy Spirit will you have the power to face the challenges of marriage.

*Whether we are husband or wife, we are not to live for ourselves but for the other. And that is the hardest yet single most important function of being a husband or a wife in marriage.

*But the gospel, brought home to your heart by the Spirit, can make you happy enough to be humble, giving you an internal fullness that frees you to be generous with the other even when you are not getting the satisfaction you want out of the relationship.

*In the same way, if your only source of love and meaning is your spouse, then anytime he or she fails you, it will not just cause grief but a psychological cataclysm. If, however , you know something of the work of the Spirit in your life, you have enough love “in the bank” to be generous to your spouse even when you are not getting much affection or kindness at the moment.

*Seek to serve one another rather than to be happy , and you will find a new and deeper happiness. Many couples have discovered this wonderful, unlooked -for reality. Why would this be true? It is because marriage is “instituted of God.” It was established by the God for whom self-giving love is an essential attribute, and therefore it reflects his nature, particularly as it is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

*A marriage relationship unavoidably entails self -denial, even in the most mundane day-to-day living.

*If two spouses each say, “I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,” you have the prospect of a truly great marriage.

*God asks that you deny yourself, that you lose yourself to find yourself. If you try to do this without the work of the Spirit , and without belief in all Christ has done for you, then simply giving up your rights and desires will be galling and hardening. But in Christ and with the Spirit, it will be liberating.

*People with a deep grasp of the gospel can turn around and admit that their selfishness is the problem and that they’re going to work on it. And when they do that, they will often discover an immediate sense of liberation, of waking up from a troubling dream. They see how small-minded they were being, how small the issue is in light of the grand scheme of things. Those who stop concentrating on how unhappy they are find that their happiness is growing. You must lose yourself to find yourself.

*If I look to my marriage to fill the God-sized spiritual vacuum in my heart, I will not be in position to serve my spouse. Only God can fill a God-sized hole. Until God has the proper place in my life, I will always be complaining that my spouse is not loving me well enough, not respecting me enough, not supporting me enough.

*But when the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone. How much are you willing to lose for the sake of this person? How much of your freedom are you willing to forsake? How much of your precious time , emotion, and resources are you willing to invest in this person?

*A covenant relationship is a stunning blend of law and love.

*A covenant relationship is not just intimate despite being legal. It is a relationship that is more intimate because it is legal.

*Wedding vows are not a declaration of present love but a mutually binding promise of future love.

*Because it is our promises that give us a stable identity, and without a stable identity, it is impossible to have stable relationships.

*When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

*The only way for you to be truly free is to link your feeling to an obligation. Only if you commit yourself to loving in action, day in and day out, even when feelings and circumstances are in flux, can you truly be a free individual and not a pawn of outside forces. Also, only if you maintain your love for someone when it is not thrilling can you be said to be actually loving a person.

*Indeed, it is the covenantal commitment that enables married people to become people who love each other. Only with time do we really learn who the other person is and come to love the person for him- or herself and not just for the feelings and experiences they give us. Only with time do we learn the particular needs of our spouse and how to meet them. Eventually all this leads to wells of memory and depths of feeling and enjoyment of the other person that frames and enhances the still crucial episodes of romantic, sexual passion in your married life.

*It is a mistake to think that you must feel love to give it.

*So if your definition of “love” stresses affectionate feelings more than unselfish actions, you will cripple your ability to maintain and grow strong love relationships. On the other hand, if you stress the action of love over the feeling, you enhance and establish the feeling . That is one of the secrets of living life, as well as of marriage.

*If you do not give up, but proceed to love the unlovely in a sustained way, they will eventually become lovely to you.

*You must stick to your commitment to act and serve in love even when— no, especially when —you don’t feel much delight and attraction to your spouse. And the more you do that, slowly but surely, you will find your more ego-heavy attraction being transformed into a love that is more characterized by a humble, amazed reception and appreciation of the other person. The love you will grow into will be wiser, richer, deeper, less variable.

*So here is Adam, created by God and put into the garden of paradise, and yet his aloneness is “not good.” The Genesis narrative is implying that our intense relational capacity, created and given to us by God, was not fulfilled completely by our “vertical” relationship with him. God designed us to need “horizontal” relationships with other human beings. That is why even in paradise, loneliness was a terrible thing . We should therefore not be surprised to find that all the money, comforts, and pleasures in the world— our efforts to re-create a paradise for ourselves— are unable to fulfill us like love can. This is confirmation of our intuition that family and relationships are a greater blessing and provide greater satisfaction than anything money can buy.

*Have you ever traveled to a mountainous part of the world when it was cloudy and rainy? You look out your windows and you can see almost nothing but the ground. Then the rain stops and the clouds part and you catch your breath because there, towering right over you, is this magnificent peak. But a couple of hours later the clouds roll in and it has vanished, and you don’t see it again for a good while. That is what it is like to get to know a Christian. You have an old self and a new self (Ephesians 4: 24). The old self is crippled with anxieties, the need to prove yourself, bad habits you can’t break, and many besetting sins and en-trenched character flaws. The new self is still you, but you liberated from all your sins and flaws. This new self is always a work in progress , and sometimes the clouds of the old self make it almost completely invisible . But sometimes the clouds really part, and you see the wisdom, courage, and love of which you are capable. It is a glimpse of where you are going. Within this Christian vision for marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of the person God is creating, and to say, “I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!’”

*What keeps the marriage going is your commitment to your spouse’s holiness. You’re committed to his or her beauty. You’re committed to his greatness and perfection. You’re committed to her honesty and passion for the things of God. That’s your job as a spouse. Any lesser goal than that, any smaller purpose, and you’re just playing at being married.

*But the Bible tells spouses not only to imitate the quality and manner of Christ’s love but also the goal of it. Jesus died not because we were lovely, but to make us lovely. He died, Paul says, to “make us holy.” Paradoxically , this means Paul is urging spouses to help their mates love Jesus more than them. It’s a paradox but not a contradiction. The simple fact is that only if I love Jesus more than my wife will I be able to serve her needs ahead of my own. Only if my emotional tank is filled with love from God will I be able to be patient, faithful, tender, and open with my wife when things are not going well in life or in the relationship. And the more joy I get from my relationship with Christ, the more I can share that joy with my wife and family.

*Your marriage must be more important to you than anything else. No other human being should get more of your love, energy, industry, and commitment than your spouse. God asks that a man leave his father and mother, as powerful as that relationship may have been, to forge a new union that must be an even more important and powerful force in his life.

*If your spouse does not feel that you are putting him or her first, then by definition, you aren’t. And when that happens, your marriage is dying.

*Marriage is so much like salvation and our relationship with Christ that Paul says you can’t understand marriage without looking at the gospel.

*Marriage won’t work unless you put your marriage and your spouse first, and you don’t turn good things, like parents, children, career, and hobbies, into pseudo-spouses.

*The reason it must have priority is because of the power of marriage. Marriage has the power to set the course of your life as a whole. If your marriage is strong, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are filled with trouble and weakness, it won’t matter. You will be able to move out into the world in strength. However, if your marriage is weak, even if all the circumstances in your life around you are marked by success and strength, it won’t matter. You will move out into the world in weakness . Marriage has that kind of power— the power to set the course of your whole life. It has that power because it was instituted by God. And because it has that unequalled power, it must have an unequalled, supreme priority.

*When Jesus’s love, wisdom, and greatness are formed in us, each with our own unique gifts and callings, we become our “true selves,” the persons we were created to be. Every page in the Bible cries that the journey to this horizon cannot be accomplished alone . We must face it and share it with brothers and sisters, friends of our heart. And the very best human friendship possible for that adventure is with the lover-friend who is your spouse.

*What if, however, you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then you will actually be expecting the “stranger” seasons, and when you come to one you will roll up your sleeves and get to work.

*As a divine institution, marriage has several inherent powers that we must accept and use— the power of truth, the power of love, and the power of grace. As we use each power in the life of our spouse, we will help him or her grow into a person who not only reflects the character of Christ but who also can love us and help us in the same way. These three powers will do their best work in us during times when we find it hard to love the semi-stranger to whom we are married.

*But the great thing about the model of Christian marriage we are presenting here is that when you envision the “someone better,” you can think of the future version of the person to whom you are already married. The someone better is the spouse you already have.

*This principle explains why, ultimately, to know that the Lord of the universe loves you is the strongest foundation that any human being can have. A growing awareness of God’s love in Christ is the greatest reward.

*So the gospel humbles us into the dust and at the very same time exalts us to the heavens. We are sinners but completely loved and accepted in Christ at the same time.

*Marriage has unique power to show us the truth of who we really are. Marriage has unique power to redeem our past and heal our self-image through love. And marriage has unique power to show us the grace of what God did for us in Jesus Christ.

*I don’t know of anything more necessary in marriage than the ability to forgive fully, freely , unpunishingly, from the heart.

*The family model in which the man went out to work and the woman stayed home with the children is really a rather recent development. For centuries, husband and wife (and often children ) worked together on the farm or in the shop. The external details of a family’s division of labor may be worked out differently across marriages and societies. But the tender, serving authority of a husband’s headship and the strong, gracious gift of a wife’s submission restore us to who we were meant to be at creation.

*Wives are more directly and more often exhorted to be gentle supporters, to be encouragers (1 Peter 3: 1– 2, 4), and more directly and more often to be nurturing children and the home life (Titus 2:4–5).

*Without a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Christ now, and hope in a perfect love relationship with him in the future, married Christians will put too much pressure on their marriage to fulfill them, and that will always create pathology in their lives.

*In the normal, healthy Christian life, you relate Christ and the gospel to everything.

*The kind of love that lasts a lifetime is not only a matter of the emotions. It has to be a commitment strong enough to move us to glad, non-begrudging, sacrificial service of another person even during the inevitable seasons when the emotions are dry or cold. That kind of love grows out of this comprehensive attraction to the person’s character, future, and mission in life.

*When you get married, you make a solemn covenant with your spouse— the Bible calls your spouse your “covenant partner” (Proverbs 2: 17). That day is a great day, and your hearts are full. But as time goes on, there is a need to rekindle the heart and renew the commitment. There must be an opportunity to recall all that the other person means to you and to give yourself anew. Sex between a husband and a wife is the unique way to do that.

*Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.” You must not use sex to say anything less. So, according to the Bible, a covenant is necessary for sex. It creates a place of security for vulnerability and intimacy. But though a marriage covenant is necessary for sex, sex is also necessary for the maintenance of the covenant. It is your covenant renewal service.

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