Every Marriage Needs a Miracle
By Charles Rush
August 7, 2011
John 2: 1-10
(mp3, 7.8Mb) ]
favorite couple in the endearing romantic comedy “Love Actually” is Jamie and Aurelia. He is English and a writer. She is Portuguese and has a temp job cleaning houses. He speaks no Portuguese. She speaks no English. They meet in Southern France where he has gone to write a novel. Day after day, they go through their respective routines, make the briefest communication, both wanting more. They start speaking to each other in full sentences, knowing that the other can’t understand them at all, and it gives them both a certain freedom from the anxiety of attraction when you are afraid to let others know that your heart is racing. This goes on day after day, words exchanged that neither of them can understand but delivered with emotional cues that we can all read subliminally. One day she motions to him that she needs him to drive her home soon. He reaches over, touches her on the arm, and says in English that she can’t understand, “You know, it is my favorite time of day, driving you home.” She walks away from him, turns and says in Portuguese that he can’t understand at all, “You know, leaving you at the end of the day, is the saddest time.” There is something so wonderful about people being free of all of the guarded games that make the chase of romance and just putting themselves out there in that very vulnerable way. Spiritually, it is just very beautiful. You can almost see everyone in the audience yelling “Don’t hold back kid, jump in, just go for it.” Life is short, you get a blessing, go and don’t look back.
I love weddings because of that positive energy. They are so
full of promise and expectation. As a Minister, I get to avoid almost all of
the anxiety of weddings- no my job- and talk to couples about their hopes and
their dreams, even those that come rather sheepishly for their third marriage.
I remember saying to one such man, “Look, you clearly believe deeply in
marriage; you just aren’t very good at it.” It is like my golf swing. Sane
people would find another hobby. But there is something about the hope of
faithful love that draws us back again and again to this crazy jumbled
No matter what age they get married, couples are just
bubbling with expectation and that good kind of nervousness. I had one bride
that was over 60 years of age, could barely get her vows out. She was so full
of that ‘what am I doing’ combined with that really deep fullness of emotion
that weddings bring. She was almost stumbling over herself. It is so endearing
that Brides are almost always that way, from 26 to 86.
We had another couple that had been together for 15 years,
but because they were gay, never felt like they could have a wedding until a
few years ago. All that waiting, all of those complicated issues with relatives
that love them and can’t really accept them, and all
that love that they could finally express publicly. What a wonderful day that
was for them, for their families, their friends.
The music may be nice, the flowers pretty, the readings
inspiring… But what we have come to hear, what we have come to support is these
couples facing each other, holding their hands, looking one another in the eye
in front of all their family and friends saying “In the name of God I Bill take
you Susan to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better
for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to
cherish, as long as we both shall live”. Those vows stick to the ribs. And
frankly, they point us towards the most profound love that we humans are given
In our text this morning, Jesus performs his first miracle
at a wedding. He shows up with the disciples. His mother comes to him and tells
him that the host of the party is running very low on wine. We have no explanation
of why they are running out of wine, but notice that they run out of wine just
shortly after Jesus and the disciples show up…. Kind of like my fraternity
brothers who just happen to be standing nearby when the keg mysteriously runs
dry. As the Dean at Wake Forest once said to us after a college party got a
little carried away, “Gentlemen, you exhibit an astonishing commitment to
alcohol!!!” Perhaps Mary was turning, not to our Lord the miracle worker, but
to her son and his friends, the source of the problem- like Mother’s will do.
It is true that every good wedding needs wine to make glad
the heart in celebration. More than that, thinking about the deeper symbolism, it
is true that every marriage needs a
miracle. The caterer says to the groom in the presence of Jesus, “Most
people serve the best wine first, and break out the jug wine after everyone is
tipsy… but you have saved the best until last.” And man is that tricky in
marriage, to be able to honestly say, ‘we’ve saved the best for now.”
Recently I was standing in my Mother’s house, leafing
through a pile of photos that she had on her desk. It looked like they had been
in the same spot for decades. All these images I’d forgotten. I came across
one. It was a picture of my wife holding our two oldest children at one and a
half and infant. That photograph was almost thirty years old. I held that
photograph closer. That was the girl that I fell in love with. As I looked at
the picture, I said out loud, “Good God, I married a child”. And make no mistake, she married a boy -- impetuous, volatile,
unpredictable, crazy, arrogant, insecure. I picked up my cell phone, called
her, and said “what were you thinking?”
Our home is slowly, slowly emptying of children. Couple
years ago, when it was time to go on vacation, we suddenly realized, it is just
the two of us. I don’t think we’ve ever really taken a vacation the two of us,
a couple days here and there, but not two weeks. There was some anxiety about
it, I’ll tell the truth. We were headed to Canada, but still on the Garden
State Parkway. I said, “honey, what if it suddenly
hits you at the New York State Thruway that you can’t stand me anymore?”
“Well” she said, “I just wish I didn’t know you so well?” ”Really? Why is that?” I said. “Because then I’d find your stories interesting.” “Oh yeah, well did I ever tell you about the
time I was in Mexico?” “Yeah… you met a convict and ran out of gas”. “Did I
ever mention the name Leon Wurthler”. “Right he knew Bruce Springsteen… had a tattoo you
couldn’t believe.” On and on this went until I gave up… Finally, I said, “I
think we’ve become those couples you see in truck stops that sit there at the
table both completely silent with each other waiting for their food to be
served.” “No”, she said, “we just need
to make some new stories.”
That is most certainly
true. How do you keep your relationship vital and interesting? How do you keep
that spark, that magic that motivated us to begin with? This is the question I
was asked to reflect on this week, so I turned that back to a group of my
colleagues recently, what are some of the spiritual secrets to keeping a
relationship alive? One of the youngest in the group volunteered. All eyes
turned in that direction as they said, “Forgetfulness”.
It is a great observation and true in its own way. And it is important in its demeanor as well,
acknowledging as it implicitly does, that ‘We have no idea’. I used to think I
had a few ideas about marriage. But over the years, I have seen so many different
marriages that worked for couples in so many different venues that I came to
the interiorize that sense of ‘I have no idea’ and now I am just intrigued by
the manifold variety of what is possible and very reluctant to pass judgment.
“As long as we both shall live”… I’ve reflected on that line.
That is a big commitment. It feels so ultimate. Plato once observed that God
must have created us in pairs at the creation of the universe. That is why, he
said, we seem to spend our lives looking for our other half, that special
someone that will complete us. That sentiment is regularly expressed with
breathy optimism not just at weddings but each Valentine’s Day with Hallmark
fuzzy gauze and hopefully everyone feels something like at the beginning of a
romance but it is quite a different thing to feel that at the end isn’t it? The
longer you stay in your marriage, the more relationships that you see around
you that fail or that seem to slowly disintegrate into ennui, boredom,
independence, and isolation under one roof, the more you reflect on Plato’s
actual intent- how unlikely it is that out of the millions of people in the
world, you could ever actually meet your genuine compliment… The longing is
deep for completion, but completion itself is elusive.
“As long as we both shall live”…. What could be the positive
spiritual reason for making such an ultimate commitment? It certainly is not
gauzy optimism as the scripture knows nothing of that. And it can’t be
something as banal as the social control that is necessary for families to be
stable, although that is clearly important. The only very limited insight I’ve
developed about it, is that is a pre-condition for engaging in the most
profound level of spiritual living that God intends for us.
We keep wishing that we could find a partner that could just
automatically unlock the secret in us, much in the same way that Mark Twain
thought of his wife when he said, ‘wherever she was, there was Eden.’ But we
know, deep down, that real fulfillment comes not in finding the right partner
but in being the right partner.
Right, and what does that mean? I
can’t answer that for you. Only you can answer that and I suspect your spouse
might be helpful here too.
Our lives are constantly in a process of change. Each of the
different chapters of our lives present us with new challenges and the
necessity for growth, which means developing a new skill set or not developing
a new skill set and then living with frustration.
Just now, I’ve been watching another generation having their
first babies. You can read books about it, think you know something about it by
growing up with children, attend your birthing classes- but there still comes
that night when you are home from the hospital, everyone’s gone, and you are
holding this teeny, tiny fragile bundle that is crying and you are thinking,
“Oh my God, I could break this thing”…”I have no idea why this baby is crying”…
“Here you take her”… “What the hell are we doing?” And you suddenly realize
that you are woefully unprepared for this and that if anything serious were to
happen, you wouldn’t have the foggiest idea what to do and it just settles over
you in this invisible weighty wave that you have taken on a lot of
responsibility, and ‘O My God… help’.
You have to figure it out together. You have to grow up
together. And pretty quickly, you have this crashing encounter with reality.
You think you are pretty helpful. You think you know what your spouse needs and
what you should bring to the table until--- until—until she tells you in no
uncertain terms that she is taking care of two children and you are one of
You get defensive, hurt, angry in
all probability- like one of my relatives who used to draw an invisible line
down the room or down the bed- if that is the way you feel, you stay over
there. Fine. Fine. I love
But when you get reflective about, you realize that actually
you didn’t really have the greatest role models in the world growing up and
that well, actually, you need to be better (within limits- don’t make me change
too much) and that, well, perhaps we could talk about this- and you are
actually bored on your side of the room, all alone and everything. And
somewhere in the middle of the night perhaps, lying in the dark in your bed
with your spouse on the other side of that invisible line, you actually are
able to say it out loud, “I want to be better at this.” And if you are really
lucky, you might hear back, “So do I.”
Most of our significant fights start over issues that may
seem not all that important. Very quickly they become important, and charged
with subterranean emotion, because they point up areas in ourselves where we
are limited, where we really need to grow to tackle the next phase of life.
Frequently, we don’t want to grow like that. Sometimes, we have no intention of
growing like that at all but we must.
These changes are usually very difficult. That is why
marriage is so difficult because it is so challenging. Very rarely do we have
to make these kind of profound changes anywhere else.
Our jobs mostly just ask us to execute a set of skills and to be professionally
respectful. Our neighbors just ask us to be polite and social. Even most of our
friends only ask us to be fun and to share.
But deep friendships and marriages keep peeling back the
onion, a layer at a time, so that we are getting more of that inner core of
your person exposed. That is what intimacy is all about. And once you get down
below a couple layers of insulation that is the image you project to the rest
of the world, once we get behind that and start dealing with more with your
psyche, your soul, who you really are. That is tougher. That is much more
sensitive. And that is much harder to change and even to want to change.
Marriage though and really profound friendships, they make you change. The
profound ones help you change, encourage you and
support you. But if you didn’t have to do it, you wouldn’t. Important spiritual
development is like that.
When I was in seminary, I took probably 7 courses on
psychology and two units of being a chaplain in the emergency room and in the
psych ward and you have to be involved in group therapy and one on one
counseling for a couple years. I hated it at the time but I’m glad I did it.
I don’t remember much of the content but through this long,
involved process, getting in touch with my upbringing, with my defense
techniques, my issues, there came a point where it just settled over me
existentially that I need to change. I need to grow- not that it is just going
to make me a better Minister, although that would be good too; not that it will
make me a better husband and father, although that would be good too. I need to
change and be open to change because this is the point of my life. That is the
best gift I can actually give to my wife.
That, and the other thing that they teach
you in all these classes and courses, how to listen. Can you really listen to your spouse? Can you
pay attention to what is going on with them- what they are going through and
what they need out of you? Very difficult because most of the time they don’t really
know. And one thing you learn in these courses, 90% of us, if graded on our
ability to listen, would be either ‘poor’ or ‘downright pathetic’. Can you pay
deep attention? I’m not good at it but at least I know I’m not good at it. Too
many of us aren’t even aware that we are nearly oblivious… until that plate
hits the wall.
I need to change. I’m listening.
I pray for you all from time to time. I just envision you
and what you are going through that you would grow into it holistically.
Parents with teenagers and I have yet to meet anyone that honestly think they
are competent to tackle that phase of life; spouses trying to figure out what
to do now that their kids are fairly well on their own; spouses that are being
forced to make a career change not when they want to because of a down turn in
the economy; spouses that need permission to follow a dream and launch some new
venture that they’ve been wanting to do for years; spouses that are living with
debilitating illness; spouses who after many, many years of happiness are
watching their loved one disappear before them to dementia becoming a primary
care-taker; spouses who have to let their loved one go and walk with them into
the portal of death.
We are never really prepared for any of that. Some of it,
frankly, we don’t want to prepare for.
Our lives fall in chapters around these challenges.
Explicitly or implicitly, we find ourselves pledging again, in a new and
different way, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for
worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to
cherish, as long as we both shall live.” Every marriage needs a miracle. I need
It can be profound. We can make each other feel safe,
secure. We can be a refuge. We can be comfort and strength. We can inspire. We
can encourage. We can provide moral resolve. We can help each other sort it
through. Even better than forgetting, we can forgive. We can be hope. We can be
the catalyst so that our loved ones can bloom into realizing the full potential
of what God created them to become. This is the possibility of a profound
spiritual life shared with others.
Make no mistake, it is difficult. And it will challenge us
to the core of our being. That is why it is so painful and reflective when it
doesn’t work, when we have to say we are not able to stop hurting each other,
we can’t grow to where our spouse wants to go. We’ve let others in to our inner
sanctum… that is a deep hurt and you think about it over and over and over
wondering if you had done this or done that. That is tough.
We make these ultimate commitments because it is that
challenging to realize the depths of what is spiritually possible for us. And
the possibility is rich.
What is the one thing that you need to develop in
you to be a better spouse? What gift of growth in you, or perhaps you and your
spouse that would help grow your family? Married or single, what would your
friends most like to see you become better at that would bless them and those
closest to you?... The chances are pretty good that you know what your issue
is. And if you don’t, ask. I just bet that your loved ones will help you here.
Brothers and sisters, St. Paul was right, “faith,
hope, and love abide- but the greatest of these is love.” Grow in love and may one day you live love in
all of its profundity. Amen.