Eleven years ago today I walked down the aisle to my extremely handsome groom. The string quartet's beautiful rendition of Canon in D filled the sanctuary, and as the double french doors of the sanctuary swung open, my eyes met his for the first time that day. We didn't see each other before the wedding, at his insistence. Let me tell you, it was magical. My groom was so overwhelmed with emotion at seeing me, that he says it didn't feel right to stand in my presence. He got down on one knee as his bride walked down the aisle toward him. I actually heard people gasp in the crowd as they saw Paul drop to a knee. It was magical not only for us, but for everyone there. So magical that a couple of weeks later our pastor used that moment as an illustration in a sermon on Revelation about the moment we see Jesus in Heaven. It was one of those moments you'll never forget as long as you live.
My Grandpa married us; bagpipes serenaded us into our reception; our friends and family filled the room and we danced and celebrated. It was as perfect as it could have been.
Then the honeymoon. Utter bliss...in a little cabin of solitude overlooking Lake Superior. Just us and the seagulls. For four days we were totally unaware that other humans inhabited the earth.
And then we came home.
And real life started.
When God creates marriage in the Bible. it says this:
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
After naming all the animals, Adam was so excited to meet his new bride. Paul was magically excited to see his new bride too. Adam and his wife were naked and unashamed. We spent four days in solitude, blissfully unashamed. Adam and his wife became one flesh...we celebrated the one flesh union too.
But then why, when real life started, did we not feel like one?
We felt like two glaringly opposite sinful people who were often in each others' way, annoying each other by the way we hung up the toilet paper or our process of managing the money.
Because, as we've now learned, becoming one is a process that begins with the intimate physical union, but goes far beyond that. Becoming one flesh physically is just the beginning. Not least important, it's hugely significant and sacred in marriage, but it's just one part of becoming one flesh. The one flesh physical union is a foretaste of the unity that is to grow: a unity that is spiritual, mental, emotional, social, and financial.
Becoming one flesh takes time. It takes work. It takes commitment. It takes years. It takes sacrifice. It takes all of both of us, all in, every single day. It takes more of us than either of us ever could have imagined eleven years ago. Becoming one has been the best of times, and it's been the worst of times.
Becoming one flesh requires us to figure out which conversations to push and which conversations to avoid for now. Becoming one flesh requires us to pray together even when we're too angry to talk to each other. Becoming one flesh requires us to present a united front to our children even if we disagree on discipline. Becoming one flesh means that we try our best to encourage each others' strengths rather than hounding on each others' weaknesses.
Paul's a car guy, and I'm a messy car girl. This summer, without a doubt, our van will be filled with sand and beach toys and crusty old uneaten sandwiches that got pushed under seats and forgotten about. It used to be that the messy car would most certainly start an ugly argument as my sin of negligence rubbed up against his sin of anger. But we've grown. Now, many times this summer, Paul will quietly slip out in the garage without even telling me and clean the van. As it goes, I'll discover what he's doing and say something like, "I'm sorry! I know it's a mess! Want me to do that?" and he'll respond, "Rebecca, I'm so thankful that you took our kids to the beach and that you're feeding them sandwiches." One flesh. We're growing. We have a long ways to go, but we're growing.
I'm a calendar control freak girl. I have numbers in my head and can remember dates without using a calendar. Thus, I don't write things down. Paul needs to see it. For years I would frustrate him by expecting him to know dates and times without ever writing them down. I would do the whole "But I told you about it last week!" thing, and he would remind me that I told him about a hundred things last week and he needs it written down. Now, I write things on the calendar. When we have our "calendar meetings," I take the calendar off the wall and talk through it with him. I no longer expect his brain to function like my brain because eleven years have taught us that our brains actually function totally different. One flesh. We're growing.
Last night I got really emotional thanking Paul for my new glasses. This week our entire family has visited the eye doctor. Another of our children needs glasses, I needed new glasses and new contacts, and Paul needs new glasses. This is not a cheap week for us. But thanks to Paul's benefit package, we have vision insurance and medical flex money, so I could get the care that my eyes needed, get trendy new purple glasses and another year of contacts...and he has made every dollar that is paying for my eyecare. I also bought new yoga pants and new running bras...and he made every one of those dollars too. That's humbling to me. To him, it's an honor. He simply says, "Rebecca, I couldn't do it without you." One flesh. We're growing.
We have so far to go, but we've come so far. It's been really hard. While our journey has been blessed and protected by the hand of God, it has not been easy. We've been through miscarriages and the death of my mom. We've been through diagnosis of hip disease and vision struggles with our children. We've been through depression and anxiety diagnoses for both of us at different times and for one of our children. We've been through a painful change of churches. We've been through times in which there was no money in the bank. Every family has their "stuff," and we've had ours. More will come, for sure. But the more stuff that comes our way can either serve to grow us together or to grow us apart, and it's our choice which. We choose togetherness. One flesh is a choice.
(For some of you, that choice was stolen from you through abuse, addiction, or a spouse who left you. I am so sorry. I grieve alongside you, and more importantly, Jesus grieves with you. I pray you'll find peace in the never-ending love of Jesus, my friend.)
One flesh is sacred entity that we grow into. It starts on the wedding night with the physical one flesh union, but it grows throughout the lifetime, until death parts us. This is why the one flesh physical union is for marriage, my friends. Because it's the beginning of a lifetime of growing as one flesh. Outside of the marriage union, it's out of place and it hurts hearts. Outside of the marriage union, the physical union frequently makes a person ache for the rest of the union and causes deep heartache over time. Because by God's design, it's a celebration and a start of something so much more...a lifetime of growing as one flesh.
Several years ago a fascinating marriage study was done with Maggie Gallagher, the founder of the National Organization for Marriage. They found many couples who were on the brink of separation due to "irreconcilable differences" (not couples that have gone through addiction, abuse, or infidelity). They asked these couples to enter into a five year marriage study in which they just wait it out and seek counseling instead of separation. At the end of the five years, the vast majority of those couples, after doing the hard work of struggling through their differences, had a higher level of marriage connectedness (One-fleshness) than they'd ever experienced before. Because one flesh isn't easy, but it's always worth it. The Bible says that the marital union is an earthly picture of Jesus' everlasting covenant with His Church. One of the tragedies of divorce is that it portrays a broken picture of Jesus' covenant. As the Body of Christ, it is our duty to fight for each others' marriages in much grace and truth.
Because, for all of us, growing as one flesh isn't easy, and it isn't about us. Somedays, it is so.stinking.hard to be one flesh. It's way harder than we ever thought it would be. To put his needs above my own. To think through how his brain will respond before rattling off dates and times and places. For him to clean up my messes humbly and lovingly rather than grudgingly. To honor one another in what we look at, in the websites we visit, in every conversation we have with friends, in the way we spend our dollars. To allow the other full access to everything we see on the internet, every email we write, every FB friendship we develop. Everything of me is his, and everything of him is mine. One flesh. It's really hard work. But it's so worth it. It's so good.
The fellowship that comes through marital oneness is also better than I ever could have imagine. 8 years ago, when we were going through some of our hardest times as a married couple, neither of us could have ever believed it would be as good at year eleven as it is now. And that makes us excited to experience the goodness of year 15, 20, 25, 40, 50...as many years as God gives us both breath.
I once heard a quote about marriage that went like this: "You cannot be right and be married. As soon as you declare 'I'm right and you're wrong,' you've stepped outside the one-flesh union."
Both Paul and I have clung to this many times. We choose us, not you or me.
Everyday, us. When it's hard, us. When it's awesome, us. When we're celebrating, us. When we're crying, us. When we disagree, us. When we get along, us. When we have plenty, us. When we have little, us. When we're young and strong, us. When we're old and gray, us.
Because coming one hasn't been easy and it won't be easy.
But as long as we have breath, it will be so worth it.