So I’ve discovered again of late how “oneness challenged” I am in the flesh…..Jesus once in the context of a discussion about divorce reminded His hearers of what God’s original intention was regarding marriage. Quoting Moses in Gen. 2:24, Jesus “answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? One flesh speaks of sexual, emotional, spiritual, mental and relational oneness. Two very diverse people of opposite genders laying down their rights, their self focus, their independence, and pursuing together oneness, harmony and unity in every area of life.
One of the first times I discovered I had some lessons to learn about pursuing oneness with my wife was actually at our wedding reception. We had a fairly large wedding, and most of these folk came to our wedding reception/dinner afterwards. I guess I felt the obligation to interact with them all, and so at some point fairly late in the evening, Anne walked up to me with nothing resembling a smile on her face, and said something to the effect of, “I am leaving, you can come if you want!” After a year long engagement, I knew what that look meant and was soon at her side. Sadly though it took that look for me to realize I had a wife to bond with now.
Another memorable oneness challenged chapter in our marriage was on the eve of our one year anniversary. She literally cried that whole Saturday night. Not the way I had anticipated celebrating our anniversary, but I eventually realized we/I had an issue that was not going to easily go away. And that issue was that I felt the most important thing for us to be pursuing in our church involvement was missionary preparation. So instead of attending a church wherein we could get help for building our marriage, I had us attending a certain ethnic church where we could get ministry experience. And because this congregation was made up of new Christians and not yet Christians, many of them very wealthy and fairly materialistic in their pursuits and conversations, Anne went from a very stressful week in her full time Occupational Therapy job at Baylor Hospital to the height of her stress on Sunday in a church setting that did little to deal with her “oneness challenged” husband.
Thankfully early the next morning I called one of my professors at the Seminary, who had been our college pastor back in San Jose, and told him of my dilemma. He exhorted me to take my wife that morning to the church where he worshipped, that just so happened to be starting a young couples class that morning. Sadly it took a bucket full of tears for me to get the message that oneness with my wife was far more important than missionary preparation.
Actually that was one of the moves that enabled us to serve as missionaries some years later in Hong Kong. By God’s grace we had a fruitful four year term there wherein we saw God work in some powerful ways. Sadly, I came back (unknowingly) as a fairly regular worshipper of an idol called “ministry”. My marriage and our family seemed stable and fairly happy (especially compared to some I was aware of) so I continued to do the minimum to maintain that stability and basic happiness, so I could do the maximum re: ministry.
Well Jesus the lover of our souls and purifier of our pursuits took issue with my idolatry, which when engaged in always causes me to settle for maintenance of my relationship with Him and with my wife and kids – instead of the intimacy and oneness He has called me to pursue. So He began to use a variety of very difficult circumstances in those first few years back from Hong Kong to help me come to grips with my idolatry, and to begin to see things from His perspective. I don’t know if it was those circumstances that drove me to read Job in the Bible or if that was just part of my reading plan for that year, but one day I was reading chapter 24 and I came across these words from Job, “As I was in the prime of my days, When the friendship of God was over my tent; When the Almighty was yet with me, And my children were around me;” (vs. 4,5). As I pondered those words, the Holy Spirit made it crystal clear to me that the prime of life for me (in God’s eyes) was not ministry success and fruitfulness, not even being used to see revival come to America, but rather intimacy with God and intimacy with my wife and kids. That revelation came at about the one year point of that three year wilderness period. For the next two years, He made it clear that I was not to pursue a ministry post or position, but rather that I was to pursue this intimacy with God and family. He made it very clear to me in those days that the standard for the health of my relationship with Him and with my wife was not how my colleagues were doing, but rather the standard of scripture.
By the grace of God, by the time He moved us to Los Osos to begin our almost 24 years of ministry here, I had learned some hard lessons about the primacy of pursuing intimacy with Christ and oneness with my wife. I wish I could say I never lost sight of those lessons. I wish I could say I made the pursuit of that primacy my passion without fail. But the reality is, ever so often through these years of intense ministry involvement, complacency and carelessness and casualness kicked in again with both of those relationships. If intimacy with Christ (and if you are married) intimacy and oneness with your spouse are at the very top of Christ’s priority list for His children, I can promise you the enemy of our souls and our own sin nature will not sit idly by.
The good news is: “…..where sin increased grace abounded all the more.” (Rom. 5:20) And as real and ruthless and sinister as the father of lies is, “…greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” (I John 4:4).
Jesus Christ set very high standards for the marriage relationship, so much so that after His discussion of those standards with His disciples in Matthew 19, they responded, “If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry.” (vs. 10). Thankfully our testimony is while His standards are high, His commitment to do the deep inner work of grace in us to be able to attain to these standards is far higher.
I want to get practical and a bit vulnerable with you now. A little over four weeks ago, through a series of events, I became aware that I had yet again allowed myself to get into this rut of being satisfied with just maintaining a status quo relationship with Christ and with my wife. Oh I spent time with Him and her daily. I doubt that anyone on the outside noticed. But Jesus and my wife noticed and both in their own way brought this to my attention. Since then through ongoing repentance mostly with me and to a much lesser degree with Anne, He has opened our eyes to a wide range of issues and needed changes. He has given us grace like never before to go deeper this time and really deal with root and foundational issues. Here are just a few of those for your consideration: 1. There is a religious spirit (or a demon inspired mindset) in the church world that causes its leaders to care way too much about what people think; and that puts way too much value on what we accomplish in ministry rather than what we cultivate in our relationship with Christ and with our spouse. It is insidious, and it feeds on things like: the fear of man, pride, insecurity, ungodly ambition, etc. This must be identified for what it is and resisted at all costs and repented of.
2. If intimacy with Christ and intimacy and oneness with our spouse are our two highest priorities, then the things we read in books and on the internet in a given day ought to mostly support those two pursuits.
3. Confession of this tendency to care more about what men think than what my wife thinks and feels must be made to those we are in covenant relationship with. This tendency must be seen as evil and perverse and spoken of as such with those who have ears to hear or its tentacles will not be broken.
4. The right to stay up on political and sports and cultural goings on in our society needs to die. Times of fasting and abstinence from both our i-phones and our laptops should be a regular part of our lifestyle. While all things may be lawful, they certainly are not profitable (I Cor. 6:12). I have had to come to the conclusion that I do not have the right to be up on these things. If our wives (or husbands) resent our laptops and/or our cell phones, something is probably amiss and needs immediate attention.
5. Finding times and places daily if possible to be alone with Jesus and with one’s spouse – ideally out in nature are crucial. Deep bonding communication cannot be rushed or intruded upon.
6. Ultimately our security, trust and hope must be in our triune living God as the Master Marriage Builder and Restorer. I leave you with this promise to stand on when Oneness seems almost impossible, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” I Peter 5:10
May the Lord restore our foundations in these days for His great glory and praise!