The Difference of Marriage
The two women looked and dressed alike: pleasant, middle-aged, graying hair cut simply, for the sake of ease. I discovered that they had just ‘married’ in Iowa. My first thought: how hard is it ‘to marry’ someone who mirrors yourself—the needs, hurts, and fears of your own gender and life experience? Not very: in order to be authentic, intimacy requires ‘otherness.’ The gift of one cannot be a whole gift to another if the receiver already possesses the offering.
Maybe that explains the frustration I ultimately felt in trying to make a guy a whole sexual partner. I tried. Admittedly, high-octane sensuality was compelling but at the end of the day, we were still looking at the horizon from the same masculine lens. He was a good friend. But we lied to ourselves in pretending that we had become ‘one.’
You could say our fusion was forced. To be sure, sharing the same wounds was helpful but ultimately boring. We could not conceive new life! That requires becoming one-flesh. And one-flesh requires the awesome and awful challenge of someone who shares my humanity but not my gender.
I say awesome because our bodies are designed for this other, even if our heterosexual desires are frustrated or exaggerated. What’s awful is that our grid has been so skewed by a host of injustices, many of which morph into expressions of false justice (‘marriage equality,’ anyone?) that we can no longer imagine that we were all made to long for this ‘other.’ Even many who love Jesus are convinced that their same-gender attractions are chronic, defining, and preclude the possibility for being reconciled to the sexual gift (s)he is to the opposite gender.
We oppose our own becoming. In the words of St. Catherine of Siena, Jesus creates us without our help but He can only save us with our help.
Jesus helps me become the man I am through my amazing wife. I saw this clearly and felt it deeply last month. Annette and I spent August together apart from ministry and other people. Except for the orbiting of our four adult children (who all live gratefully within ‘landing’ range) we did life together, unobstructed. At first this was hard for me. After an exhilarating year of ministry, I struggled to let down and enter into the quiet and deep place of hearing her, knowing her again, not in the everyday demands but in her hurts, fears, dreams, and observations that require attentiveness in order to become gifts. I sought awkwardly at first to grant her that space. Then it came gracefully, eagerly. No-one welcomes me like she does. And no-one provokes me more. We are one only because she is wholly other than me.
God has built into marriage the challenge of gender difference for the sake of teaching us the art of self-giving. Let’s be clear: friendship is friendship, one-flesh is one flesh. ‘Otherness’ is the goal of sexual self-giving, and only one expression of that ‘otherness’–the lifetime commitment between a man and woman—deserves to be called marriage.