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The Season of Marriage For God's Chosen Woman

I am not anti-marriage, but most of us use it in the wrong way.
We go into it at the wrong time and for the wrong reasons, stay in it for the wrong reasons, give up on it too soon. The real test of love isn’t committing to marry but committing to love—to be there, to endure. Real love wants nothing less than the fulfillment of a loved one’s potential. Real love doesn’t confuse Joan of Arc with Wilma Flintstone. Fellas, love her, certainly. But let her follow her dreams.

The morning after, there is that moment,

those flickering seconds of awareness, when you realize this is not going anywhere. When everything in your body—I mean, your teeth know—the jigsaw isn’t fitting together and this…whatever this is…will ultimately be a waste of time. Most men I’ve ever met in my life have been incredibly opaque and unfathomably selfish where their romantic relationships are concerned. Great men, learned men, wise men. Men with advanced degrees they wear on their sleeve because they’re so needy for external validation. 90% of them are simply idiots. They see her—some fine sister with spark and ambition. She's got some game, projects—pots on the stove. And it’s electric. They’re vibing off one another and they’re sharing—she’s got these dreams and he’s got these plans. And, just as often as not, the brother goes about the task of systematically crushing her dreams and robbing her of her goals. And, just as often as not, she allows that to happen. He loves her, there’s no doubt. He holds onto her like she’s a teddy bear. Like she’s a security blanket. Like she’s a wallet. Or a toothbrush. A cuff link or an accessory. A favorite key chain.

The main problem is not that he doesn’t see her but that he doesn’t recognize who she is. He thinks she's Wilma Flintstone. She’s not Wilma Flintstone. She’s Joan of Arc. But she’s willing to behave like Wilma, stumbling around in his shadow, in exchange for security and love and hugs. She will forego leading armies and inspiring millions to waste her time rinsing out his jockey shorts and changing diapers. This just amazes me, how willing Joan is to not be who God created her to be. To not have the courage of her own convictions. Time and time again I’ve seen Joan become Wilma. And, you know what? It never works. None of it. She pumps out a baby, things get tense, money gets tight, she loses her figure, he loses sexual interest in her, and the relationship goes stale, ultimately settling into this zombie-like state where I see him and I see her but I no longer see them. She blames him, he blames her, they’re both idiots. Because neither followed God. Neither had the courage or the discipline to pursue their actual destiny. Instead they bought a house. Now they’re spending all their time and all their energy keeping some fussy child entertained as the insurgent undertow of stress drags them progressively farther apart. And she looks in the mirror and she’s forty and past her bloom and she wonders where her life went. What happened?

Don’t be deceived: the enemy can take something good, something pure, something perfect and wonderful, and use it as a weapon to keep you from seeing what’s behind Door Number Two. It feels so wonderful, it must be from God!

Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.  —Matthew Chapter 10

I can scarcely imagine how many opportunities have been missed, how many careers extinguished, how many dreams have gone unfulfilled because somebody met somebody and it felt all tingly and Oh, But I Love Him. Joan leaves her army massed at the ramparts and wanders off with Stymie where she watches him grow a pot belly while belching at the TV screen. In his second letter to the church at Corinth, Paul warns us to not become unequally yoked with unbelievers [6:14]. I believe this thought is universally applicable in the sense of not being joined with someone who does not believe in you—in your potential, in your vision, your dreams.

It just amazes me that so few people can even see the cycle—infatuation, obsession, pursuit, capture, consummation, drift, disintegration. You’ve invested time, money, effort, blood and sweat. And one day you experience that moment. Or, worse, you see it on his face—you actually see him experience that moment. This is not going anywhere. But you shake it off. You try a new haircut, go on a diet, you go shopping, you call somebody. You get the jalopy started again, and she goes another few miles, but sooner than you expect it’s back. That moment.

I used to describe 80’s TV drama thirtysomething as, “a show about the problems of people who have no problems.” Michael and Hope Steadman weren’t struggling with the finances so much as they were struggling with their purpose, and how their expectations collided with their reality. Having a baby derails Hope and Michael’s relationship and Hope, a bright, thoughtful professional with advanced degrees, becomes a stay-at-home mom, resentful of the fact Michael is rarely there and when he is there he doesn’t help much. Meanwhile Michael, struggling with his own business, is working long hours because he’s the only one bringing home a paycheck, and Hope and baby Jane need and need and need, and he’s resentful that when he does come home, the first thing she does is plop the kid in his lap and abandon him. Exhausted from work, now he’s Daddy Day Care. There is no supper, they can never go out. And, with everything on Michael's mind, Hope is fixated on minutiae: his socks on the chair. As much as he loves these two people, Michael is about to go insane and all that matters to Hope are the socks.

It amazes me that, if they do anything at all, couples read books on baby care and the mechanics of those first few years. But I know of no expectant couples who have gone to marriage counseling to better prepare themselves for the flaming meteor of hell a baby represents to a marriage. There are, statistically, two events that present major relationship-threatening stress on a marriage. One is having a baby. The other is moving. Michael and Hope did both. Thirtysomething was a show that went over the heads of many people more interested in silly reality TV or escapism. It was magnificently written, moving, poignant. And it resonated a haunting truth about just how hard marriage is.

In our scripture, Mary is somewhere between fourteen and seventeen years of age, a simple high school girl in a marriage arranged by her parents. In Jewish tradition, Joseph pretty much bought her. He’d meet with her dad and negotiate a dowry—a sum of money to be paid to Dad in exchange for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Despite all the nonsense you were told in Sunday School, it was unlikely Joseph and Mary knew each other very well before they married. Joseph would likely have been pushing thirty, likely twelve to fifteen years her senior. The very idea of marrying some fourteen-year old child when I was twenty-nine would have been absurd. But that was the custom. As the day of their wedding ceremony approached, the bridegroom would traditionally arrange a banquet to be prepared at his home. This likely occurred several months after Joseph had made his marriage arrangement with Mary's father. Joseph likely went to Mary's house to pick her up, and that would likely have been when he discovered this young girl was at least three months pregnant (see sidebar).

Most guys, myself included, would have lost their mind. There is no scriptural evidence to suggest Mary ever told Joseph, either before or after this event, Who the Baby’s Father was. She may have felt that her secret was, in fact, God’s secret and thus it was not hers to divulge. She was three months pregnant by the time Joseph realized what was happening to her, and his first impulse was to quietly back out of the marriage. But an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him what was going on with Mary [Matthew 1:19-20].

Mary said yes to God. Saying yes to God involves sacrifice. It did for Mary, who, under Levitical law, literally risked death by agreeing to this divine pregnancy. Having discovered this young girl's pregnancy, by Levitical law Joseph could have returned her to her father's house and demanded his money back. The men of the town would have then gathered at Mary's doorstep and stoned her to death for not having been a virgin and, therefore, blaspheming God by marrying under false pretenses [Deu 22:13-30]. For Mary, saying yes meant enduring the doubts of her fiancé and the scorn of her neighbors and school friends who saw her pregnant before she got married. It meant bearing the pain of childbirth, fleeing to Egypt when Herod tried to kill all Hebrew infants. Most of all, it meant watching her Son die on the cross.

For his part, Joseph was patient. He sacrificed his own needs, his own reputation, for the work about to be birthed by Mary. He allowed people to believe the child was his. Under Levitical law, engaged couples signed a kind of contract (see sidebar) and were considered to be and referred to as husband and wife even before the official ceremony was performed. The pre-ceremonial pregnancy was frowned upon (which may account for why the innkeeper made Joseph and his very pregnant child bride sleep in his barn), but it posed no mortal risk to Mary. Joseph made no demands of her, never touched her sexually. Most important, he allowed people to believe the child Mary was carrying was his (see sidebar), thus saving her reputation.