back to the garden

Katie and I spent some time with Jon and Sarah tonight, talking about marriage.

They are dating, but not engaged. Their commitment to each other, however, seems to be moving them down this path at a speed some find alarming. (That would be his parents.)

They were seeking counsel, though. And that’s a good start.

So we talked about what it meant for Adam and Eve to be “naked and not ashamed,” a metaphor I’ve written about before. Marriage should create a space where we feel safe enough to be vulnerable—and that is what they have now.

Couples in love begin to trust each other, and soon share their deepest concerns. Even secrets. They feel like they can share everything about anything, and they sit up late at night doing exactly that.

But in many marriages such transparency and vulnerability often disappears. There are two reasons for this.

The first is that what they are experiencing is, in fact, a space, a time they set aside for being with each other. But people get married, find jobs, have kids and fail to cultivate or protect that space.

Building time into our day or week to simply be with our spouse is important, a protected, sacred time where we continue to share and reflect on things that matter.

I know I failed to do this as a young man, and our marriage suffered. By the time Katie and I had two kids I had three jobs and we were too busy to talk. We loved each other, but some days we didn’t like each other very much. The magic was gone, but the magic had always been the sheer delight we found in spending time together.

But there’s more to it.

The second reason is we discover what we always knew—that our spouse is not perfect. And we really wanted them to be. We expect too much and we give too little, thus developing habits of manipulation that destroy the safe and vulnerable space we once enjoyed.

We joke about our spouse’s weaknesses, sometimes in front of other people. We get tense about certain subjects and short about certain behaviors. Before long we have lists of things we are afraid to bring up or are unwilling to let go. We are either putting each other down or shutting each other down. We no longer feel welcomed. Or safe.

You can’t get much further from the garden than that.

There is a way back, as we learn to extend grace toward each other. Katie and I have been working on this, cherishing the time we have together and being more aware of what we say and how we say it. We’re learning, as we should have learned long ago, to be “quick to hear and slow to speak.” As James puts it, “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

But perhaps, for Jon and Sarah, there is a way to stand nearer to the tree of life, creating healthy habits of life and ways of speaking.

Counsel is a first step.

But grace, of course, is the path.

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