Every Tuesday we post something to do with maintaining and restoring marriages. Hope it helps.
Happy Birthday, Indeed
Today my wife finds herself married to a 57 year old. Though October 25 is my actual birthday, we won’t celebrate until this weekend, so I’ll gladly forgo the verbal cruelties until then. And make no mistake, between my family, friends and clients, there’ll be no shortage of old man jokes designed to put me in my geriatric place. Meanwhile, I’m allowed a bit of reflection time, which leads me to a peaceful, bittersweet conclusion: I’m finishing out my sixth decade fully (if not completely) known by someone who’s done 24 years of life with me, and that knowledge has caused neither of us to run. For that I thank God with something akin to amazement.
Now, that may or may not resonate with you. Plenty of people grew up feeling very comfortable with the mutual knowledge that comes with intimacy, so if you’re one of those, kudos. But some of us, this old(er) man included, spent years of our lives fearing it, certain that if our quirks, neurosis, weaknesses and private sins were known, that would be the end of any potential relationship.
It’s an old story. Adam, you’ll note, ran, hid and made a pathetic attempt to cover himself when he was known in all his imperfection. And what could be more human? The classic response to an awareness of our sinful nature is to cover up, camouflaging the unacceptable and presenting what’s left in the best possible light. My favorite playwright Tennessee Williams captured this perfectly in his tragic character Blanche Du Bois, who, morbidly self-conscious about her middle aged appearance, opted to be seen by her suitor only at night, and in half light. When he finally confronts her with her duplicity and demands she be realistic, she desperately protests:
I don’t want realism. I want magic! Yes, yes, magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don’t tell truths. I tell what ought to be truth. And if that’s a sin let me be damned for it. Don’t turn on the light!
I get it. When I was in counseling back in ’84, I started off by telling my therapist a litany of behavioral problems – promiscuity, porn, unnatural desires, one failed relationship after another. To my surprise he focused more on the relational problems than the sexual ones, with good reason. “You’re terrified of being known,” he commented after a couple sessions. “When you were in the ministry you hid behind your position. When you were backslidden you hid behind your sexual acting out. Either way, you’ve spent most of your life letting people come only so close, then bolting when you feared they were getting to know you.”
Which is why I’ve said for years that the greatest change is my life has little to do with sexual purity (important as that is) and much to do with the challenge and blessings of intimacy. God’s first negative comment about man, after all, was that it wasn’t good for him to be alone (Genesis 2:18) and I’ve often thought that when He calls us to repent of some life dominating sin, it’s because the sin is not only wrong in and of itself, but also because it’s keeping us in that place of aloneness which He hates.
We’re built for connection. Marriage is not the only form of it, to be sure, and we’re called to alliances of all sorts that should be invested in, protected, treasured. This 57 year old rejoices in all of those, but today especially, I look at the lady who joined up with me having no idea what it would all entail, and who stills calls me Honey, spends each morning listening to my rambling, and fills the role of lover, partner and friend with passion and style.
Pretty good deal. Like Blanche, I want magic, and got it, finding it to be more tangible and fulfilling than I’d dared expect. So let the Old Man jokes come. I’ll agree with every insult, able to face and even laugh at my shortcomings, well assured that I’m warts-and-all loved and secure, in this life and the next.