John Spencer 3

Recently, I heard of another celebrity couple breaking up. Whereas once I would have not cared that much or blamed their lifestyle, now I find it breaks my heart and I start praying.

Marriage is a prophetic image of Christ’s covenant with us, a breakup is declaring to the world that He will give up on us – that His love is finite and His devotion limited.

How terrible a statement – how can we as Christians shrug our shoulders and move on? Our weeping joins with heaven that cries “what God has joined together let no man separate” – that something on Earth would reflect this reality and shout it out for all to see.

Now this couple cited the distance apart as the reason for their breakup. As I was mourning this, the phrase “it’s not the distance apart but the distance in your heart” popped in my head.

Marriage is a journey into oneness symbolic of our journey of oneness with Christ. Each day we choose whether we go deeper or whether we hold back.

CS Lewis 4

Daily we choose how much to reveal about our innermost hopes, dreams, worries and anxieties. Daily we choose to become more vulnerable or to hide our true selves from our spouse.

By revealing more we can become closer, by holding back we build a wall.

My wife believed me to be a very confident man when we married. I was outgoing and bubbly and would take her on days out to new places. The truth was anything but. I was confident in situations that were familiar but terrified of the new – the only reason she thought otherwise is that I took her to places that I had been before but she hadn’t.

It’s very hard to hide in marriage from someone who wants to become closer – but I tried. My wife booked holidays to new places and I was frightened – but rather than opening up I hid it behind “not wanting to go out” from our hotel or saying how it was all rubbish or, even worse, blaming her for choosing terrible places. By pushing her away and holding her back from my true self, I was steadily building a wall. This was one of the contributing factors to her packing up the car 7 years later driving to my office and telling me she was leaving me. As I regularly tell my children – that day I made one of the best decisions of my life. I said “I will do what it takes to fix this – I’ll even attend a marriage course”. It was that course that began the process of putting us back together. So many weeks involved me apologising for hurting her which she gracefully forgave and her heart was softened again.

But the issue of hiding was still there. I didn’t even realise I had it. Keeping people out was my survival mechanism – built to cope with a volatile earthly father and the bullying I experienced during the majority of my schooling.

Whenever someone would get too close I would instinctively want to lash out to keep them back. In retrospect, this explains why we always argued on the way home from church and healing courses. The Spirit had become exposed my woundedness and so I felt unsafe and needed to protect myself.

The breakthrough moment was 3 years later on our 10 year wedding anniversary trip. With the help of my friend I had organised a romantic visit to Rome. But I didn’t speak Italian and I had never been there before. To say I was terrified was an understatement.  I wanted to stay in our hotel room rather than go out and just buy food from a supermarket rather than go to restaurants.  But she wanted to explore it all. It was a recipe for disaster or redemption.

One day we were sitting outside the Coliseum – I just wanted to stay there all day hoping my paralysis would pass rather than go somewhere else new.
My wife turned to me and asked, “What are you thinking?”

Normally I would have brushed her off with “nothing” but everything was so exposed that I responded, “Do you really want to know?”

She replied, “Yes” little realising what was about to be revealed.

For the first time in our marriage I truly opened up all my innermost workings to her – I reeled off the fear after fear that were plaguing me.

The funny thing is I don’t remember what she replied I just remember the feeling of release that her acceptance brought and how our holiday became beautiful as her acceptance and love meant I didn’t need to hide anymore.  We became allies against this enemy of fear.

Ultimately our marriage is a shadow of our relationship with Christ and each day we can choose to become closer or to build a wall.  There is no standing still.

Yes, He knows everything about us already, even the number of hairs on our heads, but it is only by us voluntarily opening up ourselves to Him that intimacy is deepened and His light floods in.

Unlike a human spouse who might reject us, He will in no wise cast us out, He is gentle and humble in heart and the perfect love that we let in will drive out our fears that we had previously kept hidden.

He is gentle but He will put us through testing, through desert times to expose what is in our hearts so that a deeper intimacy is developed than could ever be achieved from comfortable living.

Just like my trip to Rome, as uncomfortable as it was, was an opportunity for a depth in our marriage more than I could have ever have achieved if I just did all the same things every day and stayed in my comfort zone.

May you continue to open up each door to your heart that He is knocking on and not harden your heart.  May you see every difficulty as an opportunity for becoming more intimate, more full of His light and  more “filled with the full measure of His love”.  Inn Jesus’ precious name.  Amen.

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