This week my wife and I celebrate our 30th anniversary.
It’s certainly been a wild ride. As any long-married couple knows, marriage has ups and downs, challenges and joys, moments of moving forward and moving backward. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can say that what brings me the most joy in our marriage has been the growth process. Those cycles bring growth and unity, if we let them.
I’ve heard it said that the very thing that induces a broken bone to mend and knit itself together is an imperfect cast that allows a bit of movement of the bones. That little bit of motion, where the rough splintered ends of the broken bone rub slightly on each other, actually induce the body to create new bone and bridge the gap.
Too little or too much movement, however, won’t work the same. The ends of the bone need to be just touching, but not locked in place. No motion, and the union takes much longer. Too much motion, and the ends wear off the newly forming bone, and you end up with a malformed and ossified bulge of damaged tissue.
So I believe it is with marriage. That precise bit of beneficial friction, that back-and-forth, bring the two of us into oneness. One flesh, as it were. And that’s very much in line with what was said in Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:31, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” And truly, that’s a real goal in marriage – to be so much “one” that we work together in decisions and actions, often without even thinking about it. It’s hard work, and it doesn’t happen without the friction, but the result can be glorious.
But I’d like to use this analogy to talk about something a bit different.
Three years ago, in late 2019, I went through a serious upheaval in my personal life. As a result of being called to account for a mistake I made, I went through a season of counseling, and had my eyes opened to a great many things that had eluded a younger me for decades. In particular, I gained a new ability to empathize with others, and truly see them – deep inside, not just the surface. I could hear someone else’s story of joy or difficulty and identify what it was like for them, instead of shrugging it off and never noticing the emotions and pleasure or pain involved.
This change, you might imagine, was life-altering. It began a journey of reevaluating my politics, my sociology, and my religion. Nearly everything I understood about my world was shaken as I began to discover massive areas of immaturity and ignorance that had persisted in me for 50 years. I had assessed myself as reasonably mature and intelligent in many ways, and in a few short months that self-assessment crumbled.
For much of my life, I have intentionally maintained a posture before the Lord of being willing to change if He confronted me about something. As I underwent this life change, I realized that I was being asked to change a great many things that I was formerly absolutely certain about. In keeping with my posture, I told the Lord that He had my “yes” even if it upended my entire world view. And, to be quite honest, that’s exactly what happened. But I was determined to maintain that repentant and humble posture despite the challenge and difficulty involved in the process.
One Bible passage that became quite relevant to me in this season was Hebrews 12:25-27, which says
25 See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns us from heaven. 26 And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.” 27 This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.
I was absolutely determined not to refuse Him who was speaking to me. And I perceived that everything in me that was ungodly was, in fact, being shaken to its core.
And that was fine with me. I began to also identify with Psalm 139, where the poet writes:
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
Put me to the test and know my anxious thoughts;
24 And see if there is any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.
But what I truly didn’t anticipate about this process was the relationship cost.
As I began to change, my family and friends and church, who were quite familiar and comfortable with the “old me” and my political and religious views, began to grow increasingly uncomfortable with the “new me.” The pushback began almost immediately as I began to talk about racism, a topic which nobody wanted to consider, but which my growing empathy allowed me to see from, I believe, God’s perspective for the first time. In my counseling process, I was digging into my history and discovering ways in which I saw racist actions in my family, things that my mother and father had done inadvertently that taught me racial fears and attitudes.
Naturally this caused great consternation – a sense that I was unfairly accusing them of active racism. The relationship became extremely tense, and we broke off social media contact and had very few phone calls for months.
And that’s where we come back to Genesis 2 and Ephesians 5: “a man shall leave his father and his mother.” It was at this point in my reconstruction process that the Lord brought the verse before me one day, and said to me, “This isn’t just about you and your wife. This is about you and Me, whether you’re personally willing to step out from under the covering of your natural mother and father, to become that which I’ve called you to become.”
That was somewhat surprising, but I quickly realized the truth in it. I could not depend on their approval if that conflicted with the Lord’s approval. And so, despite the discomfort of the relationship tensions, I pushed forward and continued to give the Lord my “yes.”
As we entered the election season of late 2020, and as I continued to reconstruct my understandings of politics and religion, I began to realize that my changing understanding was becoming incompatible with quite a few things I had used all my life to make choices in the ballot box – both political things, and also religious things that informed my politics.
Once again, the Lord brought me back to “a man shall leave his father and his mother.” But this time, it went deeper still. More than just my family of origin, was I willing to also leave my party of origin, and risk offending people in my circle of friends, as I changed how to vote and support political candidates? Could I leave this party which had always been something of a parent to me, teaching me how to think and to act politically?
Well, I’d given the Lord my “yes,” and this was clearly part of it, so I steeled myself and repented of my former understanding.
But the process didn’t even end there. And my change continued. Soon, I found myself at odds with not just my family and a political party, but also my church friends and particularly my church leadership. I was asked by my pastor to choose between what the Lord was requiring of me politically, and continuing in leadership at the church. Although the church ought to be apolitical, my political and social views were causing some very political people in the church to reject my leadership in worship, and since I was not keeping my views silent outside the church on my social media, people saw it and it was causing dissension within the church. So I was effectively told by the pastor “This may not be the church for you any longer. Will you submit to me as your pastor, or not?”
And yet once more, a third time, as I prayed and fasted about my position in that church and how I would answer the pastor, the Lord brought me back to “a man shall leave his father and his mother.” And this time, it came to the deepest expression of that verse that I believe is possible: was I willing to leave my spiritual mother and father – a church and her pastor and all the spiritual support systems – and here is the kicker – to cleave to Jesus Christ as my spiritual spouse? After all, the strongest metaphor in Scripture for the relationship between Christ and the church is a groom and His bride. In essence, the Lord was now asking me to consider this: “is My approval of you as My bride the most important thing in your life? Or will you stay with your current spiritual mother and father and continue to seek their approval of you?”
Well, Lord, if you put it in those terms, I willingly leave my spiritual mother and father, and be joined to You as my Groom, and I will become one with You.
I’m not going to lie. I’m not even going to mince words. This is literally the hardest process I’ve ever been through. Every day, I’m confronted with another thing about my past beliefs that just doesn’t fit. Every choice to move away from a position comes with a process of grieving – both of giving up yet another thing I once held dear, and also in many cases to recognize and repent the harm that resulted from that old thing.
And this process of leaving all these fathers and mothers – both my physical ones, my social and political ones, and my church and friend ones – continues. Many former “friends” have dropped all contact with me, never once inquiring about why I left or why I changed. I surrendered many roles and many things I loved at my former church, that once mattered very deeply to me. And while I can walk away from friendships or acquaintances at a church, or go find a new pastor who isn’t offended by my politics or sociology or doctrine, I cannot change my family. The relationships continue to be strained, and I can no longer discuss most of what really matters to me with any of them, as they’re convinced I’m completely wrong about it all, and are unwilling to be challenged by my new positions. So family gatherings are, well, quite difficult and tense. There’s joy in gathering together, but all conversation has to be at merely a surface level.
Surprisingly, joy and peace abound in me in this season. I’m deeply, deeply at peace with the process. And joy? C.S. Lewis once wrote that “joy must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is.” It’s not fun, it’s not pleasurable, but there’s a deep, deep, deep joy in discovering truths about the Lord and about His world that I never had imagined. Knowing His pleasure with me as I surrender my will, and repent of wrong ways of seeing His Word and His world, overwhelm any regret or grieving what I have lost.
So I wouldn’t trade any of this experience, and while I never would have knowingly chosen this path, I wouldn’t undo any of it.
I don’t mean this to imply that anyone other than me should take that verse from Genesis and Ephesians as a choice between such extremes. For most folks, leaving their father and mother is just simply about getting married. This is my story, pure and simple. I share it to explain my own journey, and how the Lord chose to speak to me through His Word, in a way that I never had imagined might be possible.
But if it speaks to you, then I praise the Father for His grace and I pray that your journey towards that union with Him would be just as rich and rewarding as for me, and I also pray that the pain and suffering that is inevitable in this process would be swallowed up in the joy and peace that come as you respond to Him.
Be blessed. Be deeply blessed. May you find the Lord, and may you give Him your “yes,” and find His pleasure taking root and blooming within you.