“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.”
Over the years, I’ve had the joy of officiating a number of wedding ceremonies where we celebrate two people committing to the journey of oneness. Often during the ceremony, I will read, or refer, to the passage above from Genesis. Then, usually towards the end of the ceremony, I have the privilege of pronouncing a new identity over the couple. No longer are they two individuals, but one. In that moment there is a new, present reality for them.
NOW OR NOT YET?
However, recently the language God uses in Genesis struck me; “They shall become one flesh.” It sounds more like a promise than a pronouncement. The two shall become one. Not, the two are now one. The oneness here that God speaks of seems like a future to be realized, more than a present reality.
In an honest moment, this feels like my journey in marriage too. My wife and I have been married for almost 12 years, and we have not arrived at oneness yet. I don’t believe it took very long after our wedding ceremony for us to realize that although we had been pronounced one we didn’t feel or live out oneness very well.
NOW AND NOT YET?
So, which is it? Once married, are two souls one? Or, in the journey of marriage do two souls progressively become one? Yes. Both.
When I graduated college with a degree in accounting, was I an accountant? In some ways, yes; and in many ways, not yet. When I was ordained in ministry, was I a pastor? In some sense yes; and in many ways, I still had a lot to learn. When I was pronounced married, was I a husband united to my wife? Yes, and yet there was a journey of cultivating oneness ahead of us.
COVENANT TO CULTIVATE
When we think of cultivating in the agricultural sense, we think of creating an environment suitable for the growth of something; we think of caring for something so that it can flourish. Do we think of cultivating oneness in our marriage so that two people can flourish?
What my wife and I have realized in our twelve short years of journeying together is that our marriage covenant is a commitment to cultivating oneness between us. One of the main aims of our love and marriage is oneness.
And that journey has been hard, yet good. It has been challenging and rewarding. It has been a journey filled with joy and sadness; fear and love. Now we are more in love and closer to oneness than we’ve ever been. How have we arrived here?
Perhaps it is helpful to offer two things that we have found beneficial. One is a bigger, annual event; and the other is an everyday journey. But the thought here is that oneness is something that we need to continually cultivate. Oneness doesn’t happen without work.
– Annual Retreat
From the beginning, we have taken two to three days every year to retreat, to get away from the regular rhythms of life so we can assess how we are doing as husband and wife. This time allows us to re-engage the daily rigors of marriage afresh. With children, we’ve realized how critical this intentional time is for us. Yes, it is hard to make the time. But, without a retreat, we would either remain stagnant in our journey, or we would drift apart. To cultivate oneness between two people, we need intentionality.
We’ve helped coach numerous couples through installing this time in their marriages. The important thing is to make this a priority and begin. The idea of retreating is more daunting than actually retreating. We spend time on each of these retreats relaxing, enjoying each other, and also having honest conversations about our marriage.
– Regular Confession and Forgiveness
I am reticent to write this because I don’t want to imply or give the impression that we do this daily, or do this well. We have struggled our way through this. We still do. Times of honest confession, matched with forgiveness are turbulent waters for us. At the same time, I am not sure there has been anything in our marriage that has brought us closer together than when we confess to each other and forgive one another.
The journey of oneness is really hard. Marriage is the union of two broken people, who are called to bear one another’s burdens.
Genesis tells us the fruit of two becoming one is that both can be naked and unashamed in the presence of the other. Nakedness—physically, spiritually and emotionally—all without shame. I don’t know about you, but this is not natural for us. Being naked and unashamed before the other, or truly being known, by each other is fraught with fear and shame. If my wife really knows who I am, how I feel, and what I think—certainly, she will reject me. Right? Far too often, we paralyze ourselves by listening to this voice. And the more we listen to it, the more we allow fear to cultivate isolation.
The greater voice that we must hear is one that reinforces our commitment to love. Love is greater than fear. Our marriage covenant to each other is a commitment to forgive one another. Forgiveness cultivates oneness because it cultivates a safe place to be vulnerable. Forgiveness replaces the fear of rejection with the security of acceptance. As spouses, are we cultivating an environment that encourages us to confess to one another because of our willingness to forgive one another?
Often forgiveness is hard. It takes time. Our willingness or ability to forgive each other is rooted ultimately in the faith that Christ has already forgiven us. My role as a husband to my wife is not to withhold forgiveness, but to point her to the forgiveness Christ has already secured for her. Likewise, when my wife, who knows my brokenness more acutely and intimately than anyone else, forgives me—the truth of Christ’s forgiveness gets pushed into the depths of my soul even more.
One of the greatest roles we play as a spouse is the role of reminding each other of Christ’s forgiveness through the act of offering our forgiveness.
Forgiveness points us to Christ and cultivates security, safety, love, and oneness between us. It begins to remove fear from one of our greatest longings—to be really known by another person.
THE SECRET SAUCE
Why is this journey so hard? Why is this so difficult for us? I think because we cling to our individual lives. Self-preservation too often motivates us more than self-denial.
The secret sauce to becoming one is death. Sacrificial death. It is dying to one’s self for the sake of the other. To arrive at oneness with our spouses requires each of us to die to our former, individual selves.
NOW AND NOT YET
This is why the phrase “two shall become one” is beautiful. Yes, it is a present reality. This new identity is the foundation of our marriage covenant that keeps us grounded. Here we remain steadfast when the going gets tough. And some days, this reality and truth must trump our feelings.
At the same time, the phrase calls us to a life of cultivating oneness. It points to the promise of a future reality that compels us to keep laying down our life for the other’s sake. In so doing, we have found we flourish. We don’t lose our love for each other, but we deepen our love. We find it safer and more secure. We move closer to oneness.
Paul Gordon has been following Jesus in faith for about 25 years. He’s been married to Nicole for 11 years and he has one daughter and one son. He has been serving in pastoral ministry since 2009 after he completed the pastoral development process at Terra Nova. Paul is now transitioning to being the Lead Church Planter for Terra Nova Berkshires and the Executive Pastor for the Terra Nova Network.