10 Qualities of an Emotionally Healthy Wedding: The Couple’s Version

1175393_10153168582575121_1374684387_nA pastor friend recently blogged about his daughter’s wedding, and how he and his wife worked to make it an “emotionally healthy” one. That great article inspired me to see what I could write along the same lines – for the couple. If you’re planning a wedding, this is for you.

1. Consider whether less could be more.

A big crowd. A huge expense. Tons of food. A DJ, steel band and an orchestra. Many thousands of dollars spent for flowers. It’s hard to know where to draw the line when you’re planning such a momentous day, but it never hurts to purposely stop and think: Will it put you in debt? Are you trying to make an impression, or have a great celebration? Simplicity can be beautiful as well as practical. Ask you parents about their wedding. Haven’t things changed! But ask yourself, has it been only for the better? No one can tell you what to do for your wedding, but be intentional. Don’t just let it happen to you. Be aware of your motives. Be clear with yourself about your goals, and consider whether in some way less may actually be more.

2. Keep your perspective.

In spite of what you may have heard, this day is probably not the most important day of your life. It’s a big day, but there will be other big days too. Don’t set yourself up for disillusionment or disappointment by having unrealistic expectations. Unexpected and unplanned things have a way of happening. Corsages are forgotten, limos are late, a ring is dropped – the chicken is dry, someone gets drunk, people don’t show – whatever it is, it wont spoil your day if you focus on what really matters: by the end of the day, you will have celebrated a momentous event with the people you love the most.

3. Know yourself.

Are you cranky when you’re hungry? easily overwhelmed, tired or angered?  Are you a crier? a confirmed introvert? Do crowds make you nervous? Do you sometimes drink too much?  Don’t be surprised if you are just like yourself on your wedding day. Why would you be otherwise? Prepare accordingly. Bring tissue and a snack, but more importantly, approach the day mindfully so that you can bring your “best self” to the celebration. Think through the possible pitfalls and take wise, preemptive action.

4. Know your limits.

If there ever was a day for to enjoy yourself and have exactly what you want, this is the day! Plan the day around what you want and what you can do, and stick to that. Don’t let someone else hijack your day with their agenda, however well-intentioned. Don’t be afraid to say “no.” You can’t possibly make everyone happy, and you shouldn’t try.

5. Listen to your emotions.

Anxiety, tension, anger, impatience – these are probably unwelcome but nevertheless helpful signals from your body, advising you to make adjustments – adjustments that will help you maximize your enjoyment of the day. Keeping a positive attitude, staying centered in a peaceful place within [If you’re a person of faith, than simply rest in God.] – these and other practices will definitely make for a more memorable, beautiful, enjoyable wedding day.

6. Be present for your ceremony.

What you feel or experience during the ceremony determines what you’ll remember later. You know those brides who say, “I don’t remember my ceremony. I can’t even remember my wedding! It was a big blur.”? Those brides weren’t present for their own wedding. They were in attendance, but they didn’t experience it. When it comes to the ceremony, this means you should focus on what you’re saying to your partner and what your partner is saying to you (vows, ring exchange), and what you’re feeling during these parts (and  other parts) of the ceremony. There may still be distractions during that time, and the adrenaline will be coursing through your body. You may have an “out of body” experience. You may temporarily develop “tunnel vision.” Deciding ahead of time to be mindful of your emotions will make sure you enjoy your ceremony and remember it later.

7. Be ready for your life to change.

Your wedding is a doorway through which you’ll pass from single life to married life. Even if you’ve been living together, and you think things aren’t going to change, think again. A transition like marriage brings with it lots of significant change. The relationship is legal now, and hopefully non-probationary, so even if you’ve been together a long time, that’s two differences. Officially, you have new relatives, new obligations, and probably new expectations. And someone else has new expectations for you. If you’ve been living on your own, with a roommate or with your parents, moving in with your new spouse is bound to be full of surprises – and some of them might be disturbing or confusing. That’s OK. That’s how this works. Just don’t be caught off guard. Don’t expect that your life after the wedding will be just a more fun version of your life before your wedding. You’re in the midst of a major life transition. Expect the unexpected – and remember than many have successfully navigated these waters before you. You’ll be fine. (I often remind couples during the ceremony with these words from a Country music song: “Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance.” If you call out to God for help, he will make himself known to you and he will help you.)

8. Remember it’s a day for love.

Don’t be a bridezilla. It’s you day, but it’s not your day to be inconsiderate, rude or to throw a tantrum. Take some time before you leave home to spend some time with God, asking for “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12f) These virtues apply every day, but especially on a wedding day. Save yourself some regret and maybe damage to your reputation. Let your inner beauty shine through. In the end, that’s what people will remember the most – including the groom!

9. Pay attention to how God might be coming to you on your big day.

Christian mystics remind us that we do well to “look” for God in each day, because he is certainly there. Often we miss him because we’re so distracted or hurried – or just because we have no expectation that he will “show up.” Try to approach your wedding day with a sense of expectant wonder about what God may want to do for you, show you, or communicate to you. Remember that wedding Jesus attended in Cana? Do you think that young  couple expected Jesus to do a miracle at their wedding? To show up and save them from embarrassment? To make their wedding ten times as good as it would have been? No, they didn’t, but he did. On that day his “appearance” was dramatic, but it’s often much more subtle. Is God invited to your wedding as a guest? If so, then expect him, and look for him to show up. And remember, he will probably be in disguise. (You might want to particularly keep an eye on any children present, and the waitstaff.)

10. Embrace the joy.

This isn’t usually a problem at a wedding, but I write this for any “joy impaired” pilgrims like me. There is nothing spiritual about being a downer, in fact, quite to the contrary. Believe me, God wants you to be happy. He really does. Celebrate! Feast, drink, sing, shout, laugh, cry, make merry! Remember what Jesus did at that wedding in Cana?  He was relaxed, compassionate and fun-loving. Shoot for that.

Postscript: In closing, I’d like to share a wedding story with you.

The wedding was being “… produced on an epic scale by an unhinged character known only as the Mother of the Bride (MOTB). The logistics–from an eighteen-piece brass-and-wind ensemble to gift registries spreading across most of the continental United States to twenty-four bridesmaids, groomsmen, flower-petal-throwers, and ringbearers–were of a scale usually seen only during the military invasion of a sizable country. But the plans were all working–until the climactic moment of the processional:

Ah, the bride. She had been dressed for hours if not days. No adrenaline was left in her body. Left alone with her father in the reception hall of the church while the march of the maidens went on and on, she had walked along the tables laden with gourmet goodies and absentmindedly sampled first the little pink and yellow and green mints. Then she picked through the silver bowls of mixed nuts and ate the pecans. Followed by a cheeseball or two, some black olives, a handful of glazed almonds, a little sausage with a frilly toothpic stick in it, a couple of shrimps blanketed in bacon, and a cracker piled with liver pate. To wash this down–a glass of pink champagne. Her father gave it to her. To calm her nerves.
What you noticed as the bride stood in the doorway was not her dress, but her face. White. For what was coming down the aisle was a living grenade with the pin  pulled out.
The bride threw up.
Just as she walked by her mother.
And by ‘threw up,’ I don’t mean a polite little ladylike urp into her handkerchief. She puked. There’s just no nice word for it. I mean, she hosed the front of the chancel–hitting two bridesmaids, the groom, a ringbearer, and me. [Robert Fulgham] …
Only two people were seen smiling. One was the mother of the groom. And the other was the father of the bride.

Fulgham explains how they pulled themselves together for a much quieter, gentler ceremony in the reception hall. And how ‘everybody cried, as people are supposed to do at weddings, mostly because the groom held the bride in his arms through the whole ceremony. And no groom ever kissed a bride more tenderly than he.’ [1]

Think about it.

[1] John Ortberg in The Life You’ve Always Wanted, pp. 78f., quoting from Robert Fulghum’s story in It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, pp. 10-15.

_______
Rev. William Britton officiates at about ninety weddings a year and has been doing so for the last ten years. Through Clergy On Call Ministries he cares for couples and families on their most special and difficult days (weddings, vow renewals, baby blessings and funerals).

Reveals & Resolutions re: Downward Mobility

God surprised me today with a list of things that need to change. I’m posting it here to keep track of it, and to be able to come back to it (both to review it and to modify it if necessary). I won’t be putting a link on FB or twitter, or adding categories or tags to this entry, or any ones to follow, in keeping with resolution #1).

In my life I need…

1. much less image management, and much more secrecy. [a]

2. less time spent in learning, and more time spent in doing. [b]

3. less learning from others (saints and scholars), and more learning from God.

4. less striving, and more relaxing “in the deep center.” (Scazzero) [d]

5. less releasing the heat within, and more cultivating and protecting it. [e]

6. less intensity, and more levity (celebration, wonder).

7. much less speaking, and much more listening (especially to God). [g]

8. less desire for honor (greatness), and more desire for holiness (goodness).

9. less concern for myself, and more concern for others.

10. less judging of others (less arrogance), and more forgiving of others (more love). [j]

11. less defending myself, and more humility (attempts to set opinions straight). [See #1 above!]

… and with that we’ve come full circle.

This represents the prayer of my heart, of my best self, of the image of God in me trying to rise up.

“Lord, help me to keep these things ever before me,
and to present them unceasingly to you
as areas of my life
where I need your healing.”

___

I added these supplementary notes several days after writing the list. I don’t want them to distract from the simplicity of the list itself, or give an inappropriate weight to “saints and scholars.” I find them helpful though, and this list is for me, so I have included them here.

Notes:

[a] “Human conversation is largely an endless attempt to convince others that we are more assertive or clever or gentle or successful than they might think if we did not carefully educate them. … The practice of secrecy is Jesus’ gift to approval addicts.” John Ortberg

[b] “The path of descent is the path of transformation. Darkness, failure, relapse, death, and woundedness are our primary teachers, rather than ideas or doctrines.” Richard Rohr

[d] “In our religious striving, we are usually looking for something quite other than the God who has come looking for us.” Eugene Peterson

[e] The Desert Fathers had a saying, “If you want to keep the fire hot, you must not open the door of the furnace too often.”; “Silence is the discipline by which the inner fire of God is tended and kept alive.”  Henri Nouwen

[g] “Intentional silence serves as a necessary and valuable counterweight to a society filled with thoughtless and excessive words.” Peter Scazzero; “The silence of solitude is nothing but dead silence when it does not make us alert for a new voice sounding from beyond all human chatter.” Henri Nouwen

[j] “If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed – but hate those things in yourself, not in another.” Thomas Merton; “Until we have seen someone’s darkness, we don’t really know who they are. Until we have forgiven someone’s darkness, we don’t really know what love is.” ~ Marianne Williamson

Downward Mobility and Marriage

“Love must be learned, and learned again and again;
there is no end to it.
Hate needs no instruction, but waits only to be provoked.”
Katherine Anne Porter
.
The verisimilitude in Porter’s quotation cannot be denied. There’s brilliance in these short comments. Have you mastered what it means to love? Probably not, but even if you have, tomorrow is a new day. Love must be learned – and then “learned again” – and after that, learned “again.” There is “no end” to this learning. You might master many things, but not this one. It’s like mastering God. You can’t do that either. (Funny to think about it this way, since the Bible says “God is love.”) If this sounds unnecessarily negative, review the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 – and please, don’t think of weddings! Instead, think of marriages:

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way.It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

These are such beautiful words. So powerful. So timeless. They give a profound definition of love that can be “road tested” in any relationship – but especially in marriage. I remember in my teens when I contemplated marriage. I just knew I was going to be a great husband. (I had the same misplaced confidence about my parenting skills before I had children.) Then reality hit.

Skipping ahead some (so as not to unnecessarily depress or disillusion the reader, or to cause myself to want to stick my head in the oven), I find myself now married for the second time, and sometimes the strangest thing happens. Sometime my wife says something about me (a criticism) that I remember hearing from my first wife. Now, you know when that happens, you have to at least try to pay attention. There’s a pretty good chance that, in addition to the spouses, God is speaking to you.

And here can we turn back to Katherine Anne Porter for more illumination. She described marriage as “… the great revealer, the great white searchlight turned on the darkest places of human nature.” I’m telling you, she should have been a theologian. More valuable insight confronts us here, for here we learn that “human nature” has its “darkest places.” (You may have noticed this theme in the Bible as well.) And marriage, she says, acts like a searchlight, seeking out those previously hidden places, and acting as “the great revealer!” Relationships of all kinds will do this of course, but not like in marriage where there is more intimacy, an abundance of time spent together – and no escape! Remember this proverb, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool mom.”? Well, it’s the same with your spouse. All the crud and cruelty,  the shallowness and selfishness, the defensiveness, the laziness, and all the behavior driven by fear or lust or greed or pride – will all be “revealed.”

Porter provides a great service by letting us know we’re not alone. It doesn’t matter. She’s speaking to everyone. It’s not just you. It’s not just your spouse. In the words of C. S. Lewis, we’re all either “sons of Adam” or “daughters of Eve.” This is what we bring to our marriages – a distinct resemblance to Adam and Eve. Do you remember how they turned on each other? How in the end, the lovers sold each other out, like Julia and Winston in Orwell’s 1984? When our first parents turned from God, the logic and order of their lives was destroyed. (There was “a disturbance in the force.”) Now they would think of themselves first, refuse to take responsibility for their actions and shift the blame to the other – just to mention a few endearing new behaviors. These behaviors would come to them quite naturally, like Porter’s hate, “which waits only to be provoked.” In contrast, something beautiful and so very necessary as love, would be counterintuitive and almost impossible to practice consistently. It must be “learned, and learned again and again.”

Looking at it another way, we could say that the things that are required in marriage are anything but mysterious: Put the other person first. Control your temper. Let the truth prevail. Humble yourself. Be courteous – and so on. Just do these things – just show love in these actual behaviors, and you’ll be fine. It’s clear that anyone can have a good marriage. It’s only necessary to practice these simple behaviors which everyone understands. (It’s not like figuring out the “sound of one hand clapping”, or whether or not a tree that falls in a lonely forest makes a sound.)

But looking at it yet another way, we could say that the things that are required in marriage while simple, are also simply nearly impossible – or at least let’s say “exceedingly difficult.” (Many people seem to find it so at least, if we can gather anything from high divorce rate, as just one measure, or the Six Word Memoir book on Love and Heartbreak. which is full of painful insight.) What’s simple to understand proves not-so-simple to do. We find we disappoint ourselves, our spouse, others we know – and God. What I believe we find is that, without his help, we can hardly do it. Without his help, we have little chance of success. (I’d like to say “no chance”, but I’m trying to be academically credible. Really though, I mean “no chance.”

What then to do? I think I know. Again, it’s simple and it’s not. I’ll give you a hint for now. It’s not more information, more motivation, or just trying harder. It’s not those things – as helpful as they sometimes are. It’s more than that – or maybe less.

I’m going to separate it from this blog entry though, because this is one is long enough, and out of sympathy for my readers, both of whom must be pretty worn out by what I’ve said already. Pray for me then, as I attempt to compose part two – and what is much more challenging and not at all as much fun – living it out.

In the next installment of this discussion we will really see the centrality of downward mobility in marriage as an approach which can lead to fullness of life and love.

 

Downward Mobility and Ego

“I want to have control
I want a perfect body
I want a perfect soul.
I want you to notice
When I’m not around
You’re so f—— special
I wish I was special.”
“Creep” – Radiohead

“And after each performance
People stand around and wait
Just to tell me that they loved my voice
Just to tell me that I’m great.”
“Opera Singer” – Cake

“If you do not control your ego, your ego will control you. If you do not have a plan for your ego, your ego will have a plan for you. You can be the master of your ego, or you can be its slave. It’s your choice.” (Vincent M. Roazzi in The Spirituality of Success)

Can you picture this: Three men standing around in the lobby after church talking about how “ego” sabotages our relationships – and even it’s impact on our conversation right then?! I was interested, but even more, I was convicted. So much so that God seemed to give me this prayer.* I wrote it down so I can return to it often (like daily):

“Lord, I come to you to confess that I am powerless over the domination of my ego. Instead of me controlling it, it controls me. Help me to subject myself to you first, and in doing so to learn to subject myself to others. Help me to be quiet before you first, and in doing so to learn how to be quiet before others. Help me to attend to you first, and in doing so to learn to truly attend to others.

Deep down I know that
… since you are in control, I don’t need to control others
… since you have heard me, I don’t always need to make myself heard by others
… and since I am loved and have favor with you, I need not strive to win the love and favor of others.

Help me to act according to the promptings of your Spirit instead of the compulsions of the flesh –
… waiting for permission from you before I act or speak
… and practicing doing “small things” for “nobodies” when no-one is watching.

I pray these things Lord, because in these ways I am “so far from the kingdom of God.”

“So what could I say?
And what could I do?
But offer this heart, Oh God
Completely to you?”
“The Stand” – Hillsong

*with special thanks to Steven and Vic, whom God used to minister to me in an unexpected moment at The Bridge Church

Downward Mobility and the “Full Gospel”

People often say, “Everything old is new again.”, and today some prescribe ancient spiritual practices as a positive way to impact the deepest needs of modern people. Much of what I hear being said sounds like the “full gospel” more than anything else I’ve ever heard. By that I mean that I’m hearing “good news” for me as an individual (I can know God more deeply and increase the possibility of being changed by him.) and “good news” for others (since God can use me in the lives of those in my circles of influence to profoundly affect them in their relationship with God.) In other words, I can become a better human being, and God can use me to help others also “morph” in this way. These others would include my spouse, my children, my siblings, my parents, my friends, my neighbors, the poor, and other disenfranchised people that I seek out as I become a neighbor to them. (These notes reflect a logical approach, not a chronological one, meaning that they attempt to answer these kinds of questions: “If I’m hoping and praying for God’s kingdom to come into my life and circles of influence, how should I go about that? Logically, where do I begin? What are the priorities? What things depend on other prior things?”, etc.)

What follows is an outline of what I’m hearing, the full explanation of which would be a book.

1. You can’t control others or your own circumstances, so don’t waste important energy trying.

2. You are not responsible for the reactions and behavior of others. That’s their business. They have to attend to that.

3. Focus on yourself. That’s where you have some control. You are by far the biggest problem you have. Expending energy on this makes sense. Each of us must invariably start here.

4. When you change yourself, that affects all your “systems.” (marriage, family, work, church, neighborhood, etc.) You’re not giving up on change in the lives of others you love, you’re simply approaching it in a way that makes that change more likely – you’re addressing the need for person change. As you change, others will change.

5. The most important thing you can do is to change yourself, and changing yourself is the only hope you have of changing others or your circumstances. (Obviously, points #1 through #5 all go together.) This statement summarizes the first four points, but also holds out personal change as the most critical, wisest, most strategic commitment you can make.

6. None of these will be enough to change you: more information, more motivation, more accountability, or more serious effort. This may sound like bad news, but it’s really actually good news, as we see in the points that follow.

7. The possibility of change increases with new perspectives – a) when I see myself as loved and valued by God, b) when I see others as loved and valued by God, c) when I see exactly where I need to be changed or transformed (my ego, temperament, ingrained habits, signature sins, thought patterns, etc.), and d) when I see that God is bigger than my problems.

8. The possibility of change increases with the learning of new skills entailed in attending to God, for instance in learning a) to sit in God’s presence, b) to wait, c) to listen, d) to let go, e) to be mindful, f) to do without, g) to meditate (lectio divina), h) and to practice solitude and silence. (Practicing these things is the key to the new perspectives of #7 above.)

9. The possibility of change increases with the learning of new rhythms in attending to God, for instance in practicing a) the daily office, b) an examen, c) unceasing prayer, and d) keeping Sabbath. (These will be aids in building the new skills of #8 above into our daily lives.)

10. The possibility of change increases as I bring new attitudes and practices to my relationships – a) speaking truth in love, b) practicing loyalty and kindness (embracing managed conflict rather than running from it), and c) looking for and capitalizing on transformational moments in each day (Nouwen’s “full moments.”)

11. The possibility of change increases as I adopt new priorities – a) living out the great commandment, b) involving myself in the great commission, and c) seeking justice for the poor and disenfranchised. (These will be the measures of success of this “project” at all times.) If you’re not growing in a life of love for God and others, and if you’re not practicing justice, something is amiss. These are the Biblical measures of progress.

12) The possibility of change increases as I embrace a new kind of patience – applying grace to myself and others, and embracing the unique journey that God has for me and them – remembering that personal transformation is the work of a lifetime and cannot be forced in my life or the life of others.

In the end, I am powerless over my sin and when it comes to truly changing myself. Only God can change me. My job is hospitality toward him – welcoming him and creating space for him to continue the work that he has begun in me, no matter how daunting that may be. Seeking God’s kingdom first (his glory, his agenda) will be the only appropriate and most effective way of entering into personal transformation. Seeking after the good things he has for me must take a secondary place to these priorities of his. The foundation of all that I do in this regard will be my refusal to insist on my rights before God, and with others. (Phil. 2) The commitment to do this a central and intrinsic part everything above. (#1-12)

I don’t know if this sounds new to you, but much of it is revolutionary for me. It’s a lot of familiar ideas, but the words are all arranged in new ways. I hope you find this provocative and helpful, and as always, I welcome your reflections and contributions. In the end, it’s all about our greatest happiness, and God’s greatest glory (but not in that order).

“Do This In Remembrance of Me”

I grew up in a religious tradition where we celebrated communion only once a quarter. I think the relative infrequency of this was both a reaction to the sacramental approach which can be weekly or even daily, and as a guard against the ceremony becoming commonplace in the church.  Now I’m attending  a church where “the Lord’s Supper” occurs every Sunday. What I’ve discovered is, that the repetition has changed it for me – in a good way. I’ve been “reached” by the ceremony on a deeper level than before. (It’s like some worship songs that repeat the same line over and over. Sometimes after I’ve sung the line six times, I find that on the seventh time I actually think about what I’m singing! Something like that.) Here’s how that worked for me just last Sunday.

To the Corinthian church the Apostle Paul wrote these familiar words about the Lord’s Table:

23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

What we do “in remembrance of” Jesus at the Lord’s table involves two of the most basic foods in history – bread and wine. Today, as throughout history, incorporating these into one’s daily diet is quite typical. They’re common. If you eat, you’ll probably consume them frequently.

When I hold the bread in one hand and the cup in the other, and I look down at them, I ask myself, “Why these elements?”, and “What is it about these elements that should make me think about Jesus and what he did for me?” Or, “Of what exactly are these elements supposed to make me think?” This is what I was wondering last Sunday. (I know the symbolism of the Lord’s Table is rich and the underlying theology is deep. Most of that is beyond the scope of what I’m writing about now. What I want to try to do is to “read” what happens at the Lord’s table the way one would “read” a passage of Scripture in lectio divina. In other words, on top of any known theology that relates, and without stepping outside of the controls that come with a proper understanding of Scripture study, what I did was attempt to ask myself, “What is God saying to me right now, as I hold the bread in one hand, and the cup in the other?”, “What thoughts will prepare me today to meaningfully remember the Lord at his table?”) Here’s what I felt I received:

I’m about to eat the piece of bread I’m holding. I’m going to chew it until it crumbles into a broken collection of particles that no longer resemble what I started with. In a way I’m going to pummel it, and pulverize it, and destroy its form and shape – and then it’s going to enter my body and nourish, strengthen and sustain me. It’s literally going to give me life. I beat it and destroy it, and then it gives me life.

In Isaiah, the Servant of the Lord “was crushed for our iniquities” and “by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa. 53:5b,d) That’s the correlation I’m talking about. When I look at the bread and wonder, “Why bread?” and “Why eat bread?” the answer is that bread it very common, thus very often eaten, and that perhaps by eating bread in this ritual, I will remember when I’m eating my “daily bread” what exactly Christ, the bread of God, has done for me. He has responded to my crushing of him, the pummeling and pulverizing and destroying of him (my rebellion and my great sin), by bringing me life, health and sustenance through that crushed body of his. “By his wounds we are healed.” (And “healed” in the sense of “saved” or “delivered” or “made well or whole.”)

In the same way he took the cup…. Imagine how many times, since that night when Jesus shared a cup of wine with his beloved friends, that others have lifted the cup together over a meal. Again, perhaps if I can think clearly about the wine in the ceremony, then I will make a mental connection to this “daily wine” that is such a big part of the diet of the human race. Perhaps, “whenever” I lift the cup (not just in church) I will be unable to do so without “remembering” him.

And the question is the same, “Why wine?”, and “Why drink the wine?” In Joel’s O.T. prophecy, the Lord himself offers wine – in addition to two other very common food products (grain and olive oil) – as indicators of his restoration and blessing of his people:

“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations.” (Joel 2:19)

And notice how so much of this comes together or is echoed in Psalm 104:

14 [The Lord] makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts. (Ps. 104:14,15)

The blood of Jesus will be spilled. It will no longer be in his body – it will make its way to a cup. People will drink it. I will drink it – even though it’s me who caused the spilling of his blood. I caused his blood to be spilled, and now I’m drinking it, and in the process, he brings me gladness and joy – the blood of the killed Savior (the Savior that I killed) that I take into my body by the cup, God gives to me as a means of restoration and promised blessing. It represents one of his most basic and satisfying gifts. (Joel 2:19) It gladdens my heart. (Ps. 104:14) The sadness I caused God brings me joy.

So in every experience of partaking of the “body and the blood of the Lord”, by the bread and the wine, if I’m paying attention, I will remember not only that his death is what has given and continues to give me life (salvation, health, wholeness, wellness, joy), but that I am the cause of his death. His grace his triumphed over my guilt. My very sin towards God the Son, has been used by God the Father to become his instrument of blessing to me. Selah.

To me, this is a little different from remembering that (1) Christ died for sinners and that (2) I am a sinner. It’s more than remembering that (3) his body was broken for me in spite of me being a sinner and that (4) the blessings of the New Covenant are mine through this that he did. It’s all this, but it’s more. It’s reliving and thus remembering each time I chew the bread or sip down the wine that I am at the same time the one who destroyed the Son of God, and the one given new life by him through his destruction. The guilty one partakes and lives. The most unworthy one is blessed.

It’s unheard of good news without precedent. In fact it seems just “too good” to remember only quarterly.

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Postscript: The next time at the Table led to another devotional thought: The bread and wine, being the most basic and common food of all, represent all that we eat and drink. As I look down at these symbols, I realize that God must give me what I need to live. I can’t do anything but receive.

Marital Conflict and Downward Mobility: “The Best Fight Ever!”

Actually, it’s wasn’t a fight, but it would have been any other time. It wasn’t an argument either, since we weren’t doing that. It was us talking about something very painful I had done to my wife. And it was the “best ever” because in the past, this never would have happened. We would have argued and fought, and most likely, nothing good would have come of it. Instead the outcome would have been only greater misunderstanding, pain, and distance between us. Here’s what I think made for part of the difference. (And it definitely relates to “downward mobility.”)

I gave up any right to defend myself. This is huge for me, since I’m known for my defensiveness. It’s a big part of how I’ve been for decades. (Being wrong would not have kept me from defending myself, nor made it any easier to renounce such self-defense.) I gave up my right to defend myself because I knew I had to. I knew what was natural and familiar to me was counterproductive. It’s just not possible to demonstrate love to someone you’ve hurt while mounting a defense strategy. (In my times with God, if I’m learning the power of relinquishing my rights – think here of the example of Jesus in Philippians 2 – then I will be better prepared to do so in this kind of situation.)

I gave up any right to be understood. Obviously, it’s important to understand and be understood, but timing is everything. When the other person is hurting, it’s not time for explanations that sound like excuses – or may actually be excuses. I have to approach my wife in her pain, and wait for another time – which may or may not come – to hope to be understood. Obviously, none of this comes easily.

In the midst of most arguments, it’s common for both participants to relate how their partner “always” or “never” does a certain thing. Motives are judged, and many times, because of the hurt, the very worst interpretations are placed upon innumerable actions of the distant and recent past. It can feel very unfair, and it can be very unfair. It can also be a painful time when God reveals some unpleasant “stuff” about you through your spouse. Selah. Either way, it’s natural to want to explain yourself. One hopes that doing so will create a more informed, forgiving environment. This is precisely what must be given up. The urge to be understood comes naturally, but in the presence of great hurt, progress requires another approach. My focus must be my wife and her hurt, not my self-protection. (If I’ve learned not to make excuses to God when he reveals my dark underbelly, that will be training of use to me now.)

I gave up any right for things to make sense. My training and life experience makes me a very analytical, cerebrally-oriented person. I’ve been trained to “distinguish the things that differ” and, almost like a lawyer, to avoid logical fallacies and press hard to win the case. For irrationally to prevail, or go unchallenged, seems a senseless and hopeless approach. After all, Jesus himself said, “The truth will set you free.” (I suppose this is just a subset of “needing to be understood” above, but it’s helpful to me to separate it out.) It’s counterintuitive to leave illogic unchallenged, and that’s the point. The counterintuitive way must be chosen. Trusting in the power of logic and reason demonstrates misplaced trust – as if hurt could be healed by logic and reason. (Again, if I’ve learned in God’s presence, to trust in Him whether it makes sense or not – and here we could think of Job – then I’ll more easily remember the limits of logic here.)

I gave up any right to control the outcome. I’ve mentioned already what I can‘t allow myself to do. The question remains, what will I need to make myself do? What specific change to promise? What sacrifice might I need to offer up? What do I have and what do I love that may be required from me as part of moving forward? And even the relationship itself – what will become of it? Will this be a “full moment” (Nouwen) that works for painful but powerful transformation and growth in the relationship? Will this represent the entrance into an unprecedented time of pain (the “for worse” of the marriage vows)? And when things are really bad, there is always the unspoken question, “Will this be the end of the relationship?”

I have some control over the outcome, of course – and that’s what I’m writing about. Ultimately though, I can only submit myself and my partner – and the final outcome, to God. I can’t approach God in this process as if striking a bargain – “I”ll give up these rights of mine, if you’ll give me what I want or feel I deserve in my marriage.” The Psalmist says, “With all that I am, I wait quietly upon God, for my hope is in him.” To “wait quietly” is to submit. We submit because we confess that we don’t know what is best. We don’t know what God is doing. And to “hope in him” is to depend on my relationship with him more than anything else. I need to trust him, and I can trust him. I need to have hope in this process, and I can have hope. I can have hope because of his unfailing love for me and for my spouse. I can hope because the God of the Resurrection and the Exodus (the two great saving events of the Bible) is exceedingly more than sufficient to save. But to hope in him also means a release of anxiety about the outcome, a refusal to bargain with him or to manipulate my spouse. It means stepping out into the great greyness of “unknowing” – and “waiting in expectation” (Psalm 5:3) upon God.

Postscript: I don’t have any illusions that I did a great job in this conversation of ours, and I don’t want to give that impression. My point is that I did much better than in the past – and that my taking a different approach allowed my wife to do much better too. (My friend Tad would explain that when I changed, the family “system” was changed.) More conversations and work must follow, and that’s why I wanted to remind myself of what to do. In forcing myself to think it through, and write it out clearly, I’m developing a Rule of Life for times of conflict. I know the only good strategy will focus on being changed myself. I also know that only God can change me – and I know that’s a big order. I’m counting on the fact that He is a very big God, and on that, although I’m tempted to do so at times, I’m not giving up.

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“My life is a mystery which I do not attempt to really understand, as though I were led by the hand in a night where I see nothing, but can fully depend on the love and protection of Him who guides me.” – Thomas Merton