A Christian Vision for Love, Friendship, and Marriage
Maybe you and I were never meant to be complete
Could we just be broken together?
If you can bring your shattered dreams, and I’ll bring mine
Can healing still be spoken and save us?
Casting Crowns, “Broken Together”
The first time I heard this song, I cried. I cried as hard as I ever have over a song. The melancholic drumming of the piano and the simple, authentic quality of Mark Hall’s melodies reached into the deepest recesses of my soul, stirring a caustic brew of guilt and shame that could do nothing but poison dreams and extinguish hope. And I knew immediately that the story he told in the song had been the experience of far too many people.
I am a hopeless romantic. I make no apologies for it, even though I know some theologians would consider my attachment to romantic love unbefitting for a Christian. I remain unapologetically mesmerized by the gift of feminine beauty, and I believe that the help (cf. Genesis 2:18) that men and women offer to one another is of more profound value than can be expressed in prose. Only the poetry of love songs (like Song of Songs) will do.
So, when I am forced to reckon with the ways that human brokenness and demonic evil conspire to undermine this mysterious work of God, it breaks my heart. My awareness of the tragedy that the song narrates has only become more profound over time, for I have come to see myself in its excruciating portrayal of matrimonial failure, grief, and loss.
Still, I have found my perspective strangely altered in recent weeks. It is not that the new perspective has replaced the old. It is more that the new perspective has come alongside the old, filling it out with additional complexity and nuance. In so doing, I have come to a new appreciation of how difficult—and how important—it is for the church to properly train its young in the ways of love, friendship, and marriage.
Without a doubt, we need the positive experiences of life, especially those framed by significant social interactions. These experiences of love and joy give life its beauty and encourage us to carry on when hardship comes.
What I have come to understand, though, is that we also need people who will sit with us in the midst of our brokenness. We need people with whom we can be honest about our failures and frailties, people who (in the words of psychologist and theologian E. James Wilder) “won’t leave the room” when they find out that we sin or that we struggle to make sense of our suffering.
For my part, the greatest blessing of my married life was not the stunning beauty that my wife brought to our marriage. Beauty fades (Proverbs 30:10). It was not her fierce determination to show me affection, though that was something I desperately needed. It was her willingness to accept me as I am, to put her arms around me even though she knows that there are some hurts in me that not even her love can heal.
I learned to confess my brokenness to God because I could confess it to her. I’m not saying it was always easy; sometimes, she had to bear the burdens of my deep sadness, and sometimes, she had to listen patiently as I confessed sins that made her uncomfortable and overwhelmed me with shame. But she did it all with a grace that gave me hope for my relationship with God. I could see in her the love that I had heard preachers and theologians talk about my whole life but never felt I could experience.
When I was a junior in high school, I had a youth minister who encouraged us to pray to God for what we wanted in a spouse. I wonder how my prayers would have been different if I knew then what I know now.
Fairy tales are important because they surface the deepest longings of the human heart, which have been placed there by God himself. We want to be beautiful. We want to be worthy. We want to love and be loved.
But as Christians, we know that love is not merely—or perhaps even primarily—about affirming that which is worthy of admiration in another. It certainly does that, but what separates love from simple affection is the willingness to treasure those “unpresentable parts” (to deploy language used by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12) of a person. It is to sacrifice our own happiness in order to see that another is protected, nourished, and healed. It can even alter our perceptions of what counts for beauty or worthiness.
It is love, defined in precisely this way and exemplified in the cross, that carries us through the most challenging circumstances of life. And so, it is love that we must teach individuals to seek and couples to cultivate. We don’t do that by crushing the romantic dreams of our young or by disabusing them of their idealism. That would be counterproductive. Rather, we should lend them our wisdom, helping them see both the possibilities and pitfalls inherent in any romantic endeavor. And we should help them frame every aspect of their lives with the good news about God’s love.