Saturday, April 03, 2010

Do not let the sun go down...

A friend, who is in the middle of a painful and profoundly sad divorce, told Mango & I this morning that the biggest thing we could do for our marriage is to follow the Bible's advice to not let the sun go down on our anger. I thought about that in light of another conversation I had with a married friend the other day. We were talking about how sometimes you're just too tired to talk about whatever it is that's making you angry. Or, in mathematical terms, tired + angry = completely irrational and unable to reach any sane solution. Things tend to look so much better in the morning. Problems looks smaller in the light of day after a good night's sleep. Except...

By either ill fate or a stroke of luck, I am constitutionally unable to sleep while angry/upset/frustrated. So, try as I might to take a break and let sleeping dogs lie until morning, I can't do it. I won't sleep anyway. I need to solve things RIGHT NOW. Or, as Mango will confirm, three hours from now after a whole lot of crying.

My method isn't entirely sane. It certainly involves a lot of drama. Problems look so much larger than life at the end of a long and tiring day. Not to mention that I know that I'll know in the morning how small the problem actually was in proportion to my emotional response, and that could be embarrassing. I know this, and I stay up late wrestling things through anyway. Fortunately, Mango is somewhat similar and isn't interested in the restless and unsatisfying sleep of the angry. Mostly, though, I know he just loves me, and so he paces with me through the emotional drama so we can get to the end of it and sleep in peace.

Our friend this morning said that he went to bed angry many-a-night, and this led to a sort of syndrome of sweeping things under the rug. Because the issues looked so much smaller in the morning, they never really get resolved until they were much, much bigger. In his case, unsolvable.

So, maybe, the whole thing about not letting the sun go down on our anger makes it so we wrestle over the small issues before they become big issues. All the little things pop up when we're tired. Is it possible that this is the right time to deal with them - tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and emotional, though we are? Is this, perhaps, the time when we let our hearts and emotions rule over our reason? And this is the place where we, therefore, get at the "heart" of the issue, the driving force, the internal hurts, fears, motivations, and insecurities? Is this the place where we can speak to and bring healing to each other in the deeper places of our souls?

I can't say that I know the answer because I know that waiting it out DOES sometimes prevent us from saying the wrong things, from speaking hurtful words that we don't really mean. I know, not because we ever go to bed angry, but because sometimes our disagreements are interrupted by the demands of daily life. We have children, after all. And when we come back to them, the issues no longer hold such emotional fire. And sometimes we even find that we don't need to have that argument at all. It was silly and unimportant, and we find grace for each others shortcomings.

So, what's the balance? There seems to be something to letting the small stuff slide sometimes. Some things we ought to simply forgive and keep moving. But, there's also something to not letting ALL the small stuff slide. Because some of that small stuff turns into big stuff. We need to distinguish between something that's going to get bigger and something that truly isn't a big deal. And how can we know when we're too exhausted to think straight?


Resurrection Eggs

We decided to dig out the mosaic circle that we use for Advent and use it to display the Passion story symbols from the Resurrection eggs. There's always been something powerful about keeping the circle of candles on the table for Advent and displaying the symbolic ornaments on our Jesse wreath. And there's something powerful about using the same mosaic plate for both Advent and Easter. It draws the whole story together. I see why cathedrals have been built with stained glass windows that tell the story of Jesus, and the Catholic Church employs the use of incense, music, icons, candles, and so many other tangible objects. We are human, and we need reminders.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Thoughts on Marriage

Thoughts on Marriage by Mango and MidnightCafe

This was primarily composed by Mango. It's a "guest post" of sorts, though I edited, and we collaborated on many thoughts as the writing happened. Mango included some references to Catholicism, as the Catholic Church is a point of reference for Vespera & Niteo. It seems a timely post, very much related to Easter and the salvation we receive through Jesus, which allows us to love and be loved by the God of the universe and to, in turn, love each other.

Love, the highest calling

The highest calling of God is love. Jesus said that the two greatest commandments are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind & strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. 1st John 4:7 tells us "Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love." We know that God is a God who honors and values relationships because God, within the self or person of God is a trinity (3 persons): God the father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. In the middle of God is a relationship, and love between those different personalities is what defines God. The whole creation was made as an outpouring of that love. That is why people, the crowning accomplishment of God's creation, are designed and commanded to love. This is essential to what it means to be created in God's image.

God created us to be the messengers of God’s perfect love to one another. We were created to love and be loved, and only in relationship with other human beings do we experience the hands, feet, eyes, and ears of love in a tangible/touchable kind of way. This is the 2nd most important commandment, the purpose for creation, and God has placed it in our frail hands and hearts. We are the only hands that God has to love one another - frail, imperfect, sinful and broken people. We have been entrusted with this most sacred and important task.

Sometimes it is hard to get our minds around the fact that love is really the most important thing. We often only see the truth of that when extreme circumstances bring life into sharp focus, like seeing our lives flash before our eyes. Sin has come into the world to distort the meaning of our existence and our calling. The distortion of sin makes it seem like there are many other purposes for us and our lives: being successful, work, education, money. What is the purpose of these things, though, if it is not to worship God and provide for the people we love? Without love, these things are empty. 1 Corinthians 13 tells us that even our good works are nothing without love. The real, genuine, and most important thing is love. We all know the old saying that "all you can take with you is that which you've given away."

In our broken, sinful, and frail selves it is easy to lose sight of this or just mess up. This is what is meant by 2nd Corinthians 4:6-7: "For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." We are those fragile jars of clay.

When Jesus died on the cross, he purified and sanctified us before God, making us holy people, acceptable in the sight of God. In accepting this sanctification, we become more able to receive God’s love and to share that love with others. When we place Jesus first in our hearts it is God’s holy and perfect love that we are able to show to others. We continually mess up and need forgiveness from God and those that we love. It is often said that the ones we love the most can hurt us the most. And we are more likely to hurt those we love because we feel most safe with them. When we call on God, we can draw from the infinite wells of God’s love to love each other. When we run out of ability in our humanness, God enables us to keep loving.

Marriage the deepest expression of love

Jesus tells us in John 15:9-12 that:

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."

Jesus gave his life for us on the cross, and this is the kind of extreme love that God calls us to when Jesus told us
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Matthew 16:24

In just this way, the Catholic Church orders the sacraments: Baptism, Communion, and then Marriage. First follow Jesus; then love each other. Baptism and communion symbolize our commitment to God (baptism) and our commitment to fellowship with God and other believers (communion). From this place of being grounded in God, we can answer the call of marriage, of loving another person fully and completely with the agape/unconditional love we receive in unlimited supply from our Creator.

Aside from death, marriage is the final sacrament. So, in this final sacrament, we are called to live out that deepest love – to lay down our lives for another.
Jesus did this in his death. He died so that we can carry out this love in LIFE. In marriage we give our lives, not by dying, but by committing to another person forever. Through a lifetime of putting another person first, placing the love of that person before our own desires, we give our lives to each other in marriage. When two people do that for each other marriage becomes the beautiful thing that it is meant to be.

When two people love each other like this, they complete part of what it means to be created in the image of God. This is why marriage is so important and transforming in our lives. We live in relationship, in love. We work always to give, love and satisfy our partner, and they do the same in an endless loop of giving and receiving from each other. It is this beautiful synergy that makes a couple into a team. Each spouse is much more than they ever could be alone. Again, in the image of God, it is from the overflowing of this love, and this firm foundation of trust and support that a couple reaches out in love to others, children, friends and community.

However, we are broken and imperfect, so it is not on our own that we can love each other like this, it is only through placing God in our hearts. We have all been hurt and are in need of healing. In our brokenness, we turn our hurt on each other, we lash out in anger, we blame, we are selfish, we refuse to listen, and we shut each other out of the hurt places in our hearts need healing most. Because of this imperfection, our partners will hurt us, and we will hurt them.

Nonetheless, in a marriage we are called to bring healing to one another. Just as Jesus came to bring healing to us, we are to bring Gods healing and love to our spouse. Ours are the only hands God has to show Gods holy and transforming love to our spouse.

We bring healing, through struggling through our own and our partner's pain, loving each other through it, being willing to be vulnerable again even though it may mean being hurt again, and never giving up, as long as their partner is fighting to improve and to do the same.

A spouse is God's greatest gift to a person. When we understand that we are the one chosen by God to bring love, healing and joy to our spouse it is a huge and wonderful responsibility. God's plan for us and God’s deepest desire for all of us is for us to be deeply loved, and deeply happy, full of joy and peace. We were created to give and receive that love, of which there is none greater, our whole lives lived for each other. That is the reason that God has placed partners together. Our job is to love each other, fulfill each other, and be God's messenger of love to our spouses. Through healing each other and loving each other we become the beautiful union that God has designed marriage to be.

Intimacy in Marriage

The Bible continually refers to us as body, mind, and soul. So God created men and women to make love together as a way to give themselves to one another on all levels of being: body, mind, and soul. It is so personal and private that we can hold back nothing of our selves. This is why we consider people truly married when they have given themselves to each other in this deeply personal way. Though we promise ourselves to each other in a church, marriage is consummated in that intimate private moment when we first truly give ourselves to each other. To consummate means to make real or to fulfill a promise. So the real requirements for marriage are that two people make a promise together before God and make love together.

Because sin has brought a curse of imperfection on our world, that first time can be painful, awkward, and frustrating. Really experiencing the wonderful connection that making love is meant to be can take practice, patience and working together. But it is, nonetheless, the first time when we take down all our barriers of privacy to give all of our selves to one another.

When we give ourselves to each other when we make love, we give fully from all that we are (body, mind, and soul), and we give each other a love that is perfect pure and holy. God has created us to be physical beings with body, mind, and soul all joined in one person. That is the reason that God has created us as sexual beings with bodies designed to match with another, male and female, people designed to fulfill another. Part of being a fulfillment to our partner is allowing them to live out God’s calling to love us, by letting ourselves be loved in all levels of our being. This can mean being vulnerable and open about our feelings and letting go of ourselves to really desire our partner. Often it is in the vulnerable times when we choose to stay open anyway that deep healing can really happen.

We are chosen by God to show God’s love to our spouses. God perfected us through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and God affirmed human love through Jesus’ birth, by becoming one of us. If Jesus can be born, in all the humanness of birth, and he could eat and sleep and breathe like any other human, then being human is right and good and holy. Human beings were created by God for the glory of God, and this means that God created sex and pregnancy and birth. These are the means God chose for the expression of love and the creation of new human life on earth. As creations of God, these things are holy.

Making love is holy. It is both acting out and recommitting to the covenant between spouses. It is a covenant of giving. When we make our partner feel wonderful, we give to them, honor them, and adore them, in the deepest way a person can. This is true whether it is wild and playful, slow and gentle, or intense and quick, as long as it is done with love, desire, honor and adoration. This is the reason the feelings from lovemaking make partners feel peaceful, relaxed, and contented.

The Need for Continued Connection with God

When we see ourselves like this we see what a problem it is when couples are not able to give themselves completely to each other with their body, mind, and soul. When we start to hold back, marriage stops being what God intended it to be. Because we aren’t perfect, and we live in an imperfect world, we struggle sometimes to stay close. We make mistakes, and we have to forgive each other. We never stop needing God’s salvation.

Through God’s forgiveness we are made perfect and holy. Yes, we still make a mess of things sometimes. Romans 3:23 says, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and we continue to do so. But if we continue ask God’s forgiveness and each other’s forgiveness, we are already forgiven once and for all. The debt that was paid on the cross for us is forever. Through God’s salvation, we are made holy, and through God we can love one another with God’s perfect love. This is why God shows his love to us through people. That is why to love God and to love one another is our highest calling and the most important thing we can ever do.

This makes all the ways that we show love for people really important, but the love between husband and wife is exceedingly important. This love is the foundation of our families. It is through the over flowing of that love that we are able to be more together than we could be on our own. A marriage with God’s love in the middle will always be greater together than the sum of its parts (the two of you). You already see that that is true.

And, so, whenever we struggle with something, it is good and important to pray about it. We ought to make a habit of this. One of the things that C.S. Lewis says about praying is that God already knows our situation, but that God wants us to ask for the help we need. Sometimes the answer to prayer changes our situation, but more often it changes us to give us the ability and the wisdom to change our situation.

The Bible also makes it clear that God holds a special place for people when they pray together. Praying together places two people together before God. In the words of the Bible, it places God as the third strand in the "cord of three strands that is not easily broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:12) That is what your wedding was all about, but it shouldn't end there. Praying together is something you should do all your life.

God’s design is for marriage relationships to be deep and fulfilling. We help each other, support each other, challenge each other, and, most of all, love each other. We must always live for one another more than for ourselves and recognize that, aside from salvation, and the gift of our own life, our spouses are the most precious gift we will ever receive from God.

In marriage we are finally ready to be the person to bring God’s love to another. Each of us is the person that God has chosen to love our spouse. When we ourselves have been made holy and pure, we are able to love another with a love that is from God. We are able to be God’s messenger of that love, God’s agent on this earth to fulfill that purpose.