Editor’s note: This is part two of a series. Part one can be found here.
Our culture’s idea of marriage is in an advanced state of decay. We are whip-sawed by intentionally ambiguous arguments about “loving relationships” and “the right to define oneself.” But we have been given a great champion in the person of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote so well of marriage, true marriage, which is the only relationship worthy of the name. We are created for union, in freedom, with another. We need this complete and mutual self-giving in order to become fully who God created us to be. In a physical and sexual relationship, this is only possible between one man and one woman. A person cannot give himself or herself completely to more than one person; it’s simply a mathematical impossibility. Giving yourself partially is a betrayal. You betray your own dignity as a human person. You are meant for a glorious authenticity of giving and receiving. Entering into a sexual relationship on any other terms cannot but draw you away from that dignity, whether the movement is slow and subtle, or violent and devastating. Never irrevocably, thank God. Sometimes the surrogate relationships with their unavoidable stain of selfishness can bring into focus how much one needs the real relationship. You are precious. When you give something precious, you must not spread it around in pieces, and you must not give it half-heartedly.
When you give something precious, you must not spread it around in pieces, and you must not give it half-heartedly.
Because we are men and women, the whole and wholehearted giving in a sexual relationship is only possible between a woman and a man. A man can give himself sexually only to a woman, and a woman only to a man, because of the complementarity of the sexes that directly reflects the will of God for His creation. People seem to believe biology is merely an accident. If it’s an accident, then it’s meaningless, so we can do whatever we want with it. But as soon as people start calling on justifications like love, and a person’s rights—justifications that depend on human dignity and objective purpose—then they are walking away from the accident and looking for something that actually has meaning. We must encourage those people to keep walking.
When we see marriage in the proper light, then we also shine a light on prayer. For marriage is not an isolated cultural phenomenon but an expression of something much more fundamental. Pope St. John Paul explains:
[T]he need to give oneself to another person has profounder origins than the sexual instinct, and is connected above all with the spiritual nature of the human person. … It is not finally and completely satisfied simply by union with another human being. … The kingdom of God on earth is realized in that [individual] people gradually prepare and perfect themselves for eternal union with God. In this union the objective development of the human person reaches its highest point.
Love and Responsibility, 253, 255 (1993: Ignatius Press, San Francisco). It hardly needs to be said that my union with my wife does not impede my union with God–especially if you know my wife. The same can be said for any married person. Then why do I draw back from the idea of giving myself to God this way?
There is, I suppose, a kind of shyness about this. I remember when I met my wife, at a party, in Santa Barbara, CA. A sort of happy little miracle happened; everything I said that night was the right thing to say. Everything she said gave me an exquisite tingle inside. She was so easy to be with, and I felt so at ease with her. That delightful atmosphere, somehow excited and relaxed at the same time, continued as we moved from acquaintanceship to dating to courtship. Perhaps you have known this thrilled expectation and longing, the sweet ache to be together, the rush of joy when your beloved comes into view, smiling at you. Each of you is seeing the same thing, feeling and knowing the same thing: here is the one I love.
We need to encounter God in this same spirit. Too often I get mired in thinking I am not fit for God’s love, and won’t be until I make some serious improvements. But, to be blunt, and a little silly: God is not the best-looking girl or guy at the cosmic party, the one I could never have a shot at. I need to root out the reticence that keeps whispering, “You’re not good enough for that one.”
Because He loves me already, as I am. Not some future version, but me, here and now. Am I a mess? He does not hesitate. He comes with oil to cleanse me, and robes to dress me, tender as any lover.
The closest parallel we have to this is marriage, a very good marriage, in the richest and most complete sense. The emotional intimacy grows as years pass. We inhabit a place in common, cherished and defended together. I enjoy a deep comfort, happy to be where I belong, knowing that there is no other place than this, for me–yes, me, with all my warts. I can look at my spouse with love, and say: I will stay here with you, and embrace you always, and hold you close to my heart. I let you hold me and reassure me of your faithfulness, never wavering. I give myself to you, like that.
I will stay here with you, and embrace you always, and hold you close to my heart. I let you hold me and reassure me of your faithfulness, never wavering. I give myself to you, like that.
God’s desire is not primarily for me to be better at this or that, or to stop doing some other thing. All those improvements, of course, will help and most assuredly will come about. But they are not to be the focus. He doesn’t want to be my life coach. What He longs for is my heart given to Him freely and completely, as I am.
What He longs for is my heart given to Him freely and completely, as I am.
You are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb. But you’re not a spectator. He comes to marry you. But He is so, so gentle. He waits for you to speak, for you to say to Him what He longs to hear: You are my Beloved, and I give you my heart.
Image courtesy of Unsplash.