Can I share with you a bit of a love story? It's lovely and messy, sin-stained and grace-soaked, but it's ours.
My husband and I met during marching band camp (geek alert) a couple of weeks before the start of my freshman year of high school. I was a silly fourteen-year-old with freshly-permed hair and a love for all things "artsy." He was a trumpet-playing junior with a mouthful of braces and a friendly smile. As Providence (and our band director) would have it, I ended up directly behind him in a couple of marching formations, and after a series of intentional, giggly bumps to his back with my clarinet and lyre (I'm sorry; I did warn you about the geek thing), he began to take notice of me.
A few weeks later, as we boarded our homebound bus after an away game, I asked him if I could share his seat. He said yes, probably because he caught a glimpse of my new Phantom of the Opera T-shirt. We happily chatted about the finer points of musical theater all the way home, and within a month or so, I had definitively announced to my parents that I was going to marry Michael Elliott. Of course, he didn't know that—yet.
We shared our first evening together at the homecoming dance on October 22, 1993, and it would not be exaggerating for me to tell you that I have been madly, ridiculously, fiercely in love with him every day of my life since then. In my mind and in my heart, I staked my claim that night—he would be mine. I would hold him tightly, and the world would have to pry him from my sweaty grasp before anyone would keep him from me. Needless to say, it was a bit of a bumpy courtship as I learned that my slippery hands could not hold him. In my heart I knew that Michael Elliott did not belong to me—yet.
Mine at Last, Mine at Last
For reasons I cannot comprehend, the Lord saw fit to allow me to become Michael's wife on May 2, 1998. Why? To give in to the whims of an insistent, stubborn child? (See Dad, I told you I was going to marry him.) To grant me the desires of my heart? Maybe, but not in the way I understood it at the time. God was about to perform the work of "one."
As we joined hands at the altar that day, I had the sense that something monumental was occurring. He was mine; I was his. All was right with the world. But eighteen-year-old Laura and twenty-year-old Michael were young in age and in spiritual maturity. And so, we lumbered imperfectly through our first few years of marriage—I was still grasping and chasing, and he was attempting to lead a stubborn sheep who thought she was smarter than her shepherd. Um, where was this oneness that we had heard so much about?
It seems to me that the work of "one" in marriage is a bit like progressive sanctification. While salvation occurs at a definitive moment in time and we are carried from one category (unsaved) to another (redeemed), our Christlikeness happens over the course of time (2 Peter 3:18). For some, that happens at a quick pace. For others, well, as the cliché says, "It's a marathon, not a sprint."
When Michael and I entered into a covenant marriage, we were positionally joined as one (Gen. 2:24) the moment we said our vows. But the oneness, the unity that God intended is at once His work in us and His command to us. We read in Ephesians 5:31–32:
"Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (emphasis added).
Hold fast. It's a powerful, active verb phrase, and one that implies there is work to be done as we attempt to live out this Old Testament mystery, as it was revealed in the New Testament. Our imperfect, sin-stained marriage was created for the explicit purpose of providing a "3-D printed" representation of the union between Christ and His Church.
The union we model is a union . . .
- In mind (Phil. 2:16).
- In spirit (1 Cor. 6:17).
- In love (Song 7:10).
- In sufferings (Phil. 3:10).
- In death (Gal. 2:20).
Gratefully, these "union markers" do not come in tsunami form the moment our wedding recessional ends, but in waves of varying intensity as the years go by. Michael and I have experienced the cool waters of unity of mind as we have grown in our love for God and the Word. We have been buoyed together in spirit as we join with our church family to worship our Creator. We have been united in "many waters" love (Song 8:7) as we have enjoyed the blessings that come with a marriage that is moving toward greater obedience in our roles, as set forth in Scripture. We have come together in pools of suffering—those which are common to man, yet unique to our marriage.
Honestly, though, I believe the single element that has bound us together most tightly has been wading, hand in hand, through the waters of death—not physical death, but death to ourselves and our selfish desires. We long to "mortify the flesh" of our marriage, that all the glory and honor would go to God. It is hard work, and we have not done it perfectly. I regret to say that I have much more often been the recipient of my husband's dying than vice-versa. It is a costly battle, but one worth fighting.
My Own Husband
It was a few years ago, I suppose, as I was reflecting back on the twenty years that I have loved Michael Elliott, that I realized it had happened. Pondering the years (and at the risk of sounding completely nutso), I began to lose sight of where I end and where he begins. My memories, my hopes, and my heart are forever entwined with this man. Some might think it's because we have been together since childhood, and that is true. But the real truth is tucked into Ephesians 5:22.
As women, we get so worked up about "Wives submit to . . ." that we lose sight of "your own husbands." The Greek word for "own" used here, idios, is the same word used to describe God's possession of Jesus in Romans 8:32: "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up . . ." The Father has a jealous, unquenchable, oneness love for His Son, yes, but it is also tender and held with a gentle, loose hand. So gently did He hold His precious Son that He gave Him up for an impudent people.
As the Holy Spirit is the weaver that binds Christ to His bride, He has done the same in our marriage as we have submitted to His will. It has not been perfect. Our cup of sin and error has been filled to overflowing many times over. While at first I thought God had given me Michael Elliott so as to give me the desires of my heart, I now realize that He gave me to Michael Elliott to change the desires of my heart. I no longer have to chase him or grasp him, as he is holding fast to me. And in the process, God took two music nerds and made them, and will continue to make them, one. Michael is my own husband, my shepherd, and I choose to submit to him with joy.
How is oneness coming to pass in your marriage? Marriage can be difficult, but how can your oneness with the Shepherd enable you to submit to your imperfect shepherd with joy? If you're single, are the Christian marriages in your circle providing a "3-D printed" model of Christ and His bride? What can we do better?