Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay) wrote a beautiful tribute for Relevant. (*It's not yet on the website, so I've included the article after my comments below.)
There is a very tender part of my heart reserved for those of my grandparents' generation who have endured more than my generation can imagine...and lived and loved through it all.
Growing up with two divorces showed me how relationships end before I even know how to see them start. It wasn't until I became a Christian and realized that marriage was created--not only for companionship and all the other wonderful perks that come with the package--but especially as a means of allowing us the privilege of demonstrating the spiritual reality of God's unconditional love. As we love another imperfect person, and receive their love, we are reflecting the relationship between God and His bride, the Church. As Christians, we fail, we stray, we are unfaithful. Yet God remains. And He loves. He doesn't say, "I'll only love you if you love me back." He doesn't say, "I'll be faithful as love you as long as you are faithful to me." He says, "I love you. Period."
My pastor preached this week on I John--Perfect love is made complete not when we receive God's love, but when we relay it to others. Perfect love is not only reciprocal, it radiates. Complete love is not the mushy emotional stuff of Tom Cruise movies (and real life), it's love that is both received fully from the Source, and relayed freely to those who surround us. This is why Jesus, when asked the greatest commandment, gave two: "Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your and mind" AND "Love your neighbor as yourself." The true test of how much you love is not how much you feel, but how much your love flows.
One of the most destructive dangers in divorce is that it dams up our ability to receive God's love and it dams up our ability to demonstrate love to others. We're stuck with hardened hearts through which love cannot flow.
When mom and dad tell us that they loved each other once, but no more, and yet they tell us they love us, so we learn that love is something that goes away. Naturally, it follows that if our parents, who are "supposed to" love us, and can see and touch us have a love that fades, what a leap to believe that a God we can't see or touch would love us any more. Our ability to receive love is blocked. Our hearts cannot express what they do not contain. If we are not filled with love, we will look to others to give us what we wish to be able to give ourselves. Our relationships are motivated by what we get from them rather than an outlet of sharing what is overflowing within us.
When mom and dad divorce, we learn to measure out our love to those we think "deserve" it because they've "earned" it. Love is a precious commodity that cannot be wasted. But then, what we think is love is simply kind reciprocations. True love requires risk, vulnerability and a willingness to be devastatingly disappointed. "Love" maintained on a balance sheet is a matter of convenience, and when the balance is unprofitable, the account is closed.
The book that forever alters my understanding of God's unconditional love and the spirituality of marriage, and really gave me a vision for what marriage is meant to be, is Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. This book is my obligatory gift for engaged couples or is part of my wedding gift. The subtitle, "What if the purpose of marriage is to make us holy more than happy?" is enough to demonstrate what distinguishes this book from most fluffy marriages books on the market. Whether single or married, I highly encourage you to check it out.
IT IS A CLOUDY MORNING IN BALTIMORE. I just hopped on a plane headed for a family reunion of sorts. The point to acknowledge is that my grandparents have lived for 80 years, and even more significant, they have labored in marriage for 60 of those years.
I am headed to a celebration. I find that as years pass and as we continue to celebrate the great accomplishment of years and the profound mercy and grace surrounding the life of my grandparents, the celebrations become a bit more sobering. They become less of a cheer and more of a sigh of relief. I am so thankful that they have lived this long, and I cannot believe that they still find ways of loving each other well. It is affirmation of something that seems to be constantly eroded and discredited—the idea that marriage can last, and that there truly is enough grace to cover the wounds, even the deep ones.
There are many reasons why people do not stay together anymore. I have watched relationships crumble, and I have been in orbit around couples that never realized they didn’t know each other and didn’t even have the desire to dig in. They slowly constructed parallel lives with huge embankments and heavily decorated medians. And then the roads split off with no apparent convergence in sight. And it all happened without much drama. If you asked them, they would say that they just had different goals and that they were fine with the separation.
I think some of our cultural ideas can be poison for relationships. We seem to operate on two basic ideas: what we deserve, and who we can blame for not getting it.
There seem to be more “Christian” marriages that dissolve slowly or end quickly, and I am amazed that even counselors, who are provoked in their vocation by the Gospel, tell couples that the situation they are in is just too corrupt to be reconciled. I have often wondered what this truly means in light of the Gospel. I look at those who have stood the test of time, and after wading through so many back-handed comments and justifications that dismiss the accomplishment—statements like, “Well, they are just from another generation, a generation of people who stayed together”—I am aware that we just don’t see the Gospel account of marriage as valid anymore.
Look at the marriage of Jesus, the one He has been in for eternity, the one with the bride who sleeps around, never listens, disowns, scorns, dishonors, runs away, intentionally proves to be more interested in anything but her husband, is selfish and bears the children of every affair and the scent of every escapade. It was a marriage that killed Jesus. And it was the Gospel that brought Him back to life to love once more. Jesus endures the worst marriage of all. His bride nails Him to a cross, and there are no metaphors to compare His suffering to what we think we endure.
We will continue to search for ways to be appreciated in our marriages, for ways to be cherished, and if we do not find them, then we leave. Because we are not getting what we want, or feel like we need, our spouse is to blame. We are people who like to move from relationship to relationship, church to church, in search of what fills us, rather than what allows us to fill others. But what we think we deserve by way of our cultural cues is quite different from what we do deserve.
What we deserve is to be lonely, what we deserve is to be isolated from the one who loves us better than anyone else. What we deserve is to never be pushed forward, to never deepen in our wisdom and experience of love and community. What we deserve is to die a dark and disconnected fate. And if we are going to apply the rules of culture today, the only one to blame for not getting what we deserve is Jesus.
I watched my grandparents hold hands and walk together. They are most definitely from a different generation. They have seen the invention of computers, cell phones, MTV, chemical warfare, strip malls, Nazi Germany, cable TV, rock ’n’ roll, the civil rights movement, the rise of heroes and the fall of heroes. And they held hands through it all. They fought to keep a family, bent on falling apart and dissolving, together. They were honored by those of us who stood around them smiling, while in our minds taking stock of our own marriages. We wondered if we would have the tools to last that long. And for a brief moment, we were able to escape the cultural winds of blame and entitlement, we had cake and we ate it too. Now on another plane heading away from the experience, I know it to still be true. And it is good to have these times of clarity.
For people like my grandparents, who have lived long enough to feel the effect of carrying the accumulative weight of scars, life was about the fight. But what they remember most is the way burdens were lifted by laughter and how the fight was always interrupted by the joy of victory, and those moments, however fleeting, carried a sweet fragrance. They have lived in the trenches and on the mountaintops, and their story of life and marriage is worth describing. It is worth recounting. Theirs is a legacy that illuminates grace, mercy, pain and redemption. I hope more people from our generation will find this view of marriage to be worth the fight.
[Dan Haseltine is the lead singer of the multi-platinum and Grammy-winning band Jars of Clay. Over the past few years, the band has also been recognized for their global humanitarian efforts, namely with Blood:Water Mission, an organization created to provide clean water and blood to Africa www.bloodwatermission.org. This article has been adapted from the Sept./Oct. 2005 issue of RELEVANT magazine.]