I want to find huge shark teeth when I go shark tooth hunting. I’m not out there searching for teeth so small I could fit ten of them on top of a Quarter. I want to find a Mako or a Great White that fills up the palm of my hand and has weight to it. People who say finding tiny little shark teeth is just as satisfying as finding big ones may not be lying, but I don’t think they’re saying the whole truth. If they walked up on a Megalodon you’d hear them singing a different song. But they (we) do get satisfaction from finding tiny shark teeth. It is a different feeling. When I comb the beach walking at my normal pace and letting my eyes search almost on autopilot, finding shark teeth that are teeny tiny makes me feel like I am the master of this beach. It makes me feel like if there is any shark tooth on this beach it can’t elude me. I will find it. How can I doubt this when I walked along at full stride and picked a shark tooth barely bigger than 20 grains of sand out of moving water? It is magical. I’m not even sure how I do it. It must be Spidey-sense. Spidey shark tooth sense. Whatever it is, picking that tooth out of the surf is satisfying because I’m sure I haven’t missed anything big. If my methods work to find this tooth then I’m not missing other things.
Usually the tiny teeth end up at the bottom of a jar, not in a display case, but there’s no doubt in my mind there are plenty of days I would have quit hunting before finding a display case tooth if I hadn’t found one of these little things and renewed my belief that I could find another tooth. It’s the little things that matter. It’s the little things we do that accumulate in our hearts that add up to confidence to go on when nothing significant seems to be happening. The tiny hints of the presence of the Holy are just as full in their ways as the monumental Red Sea splitting displays of power. I want to walk my life pathway with the expectation of finding Jesus in the moving water.
We know the divorce rate stats. Marriage is a 50/50 proposition. As a caterer and a preacher I probably attend more weddings in a year than anyone attends in a lifetime. I can tell you this: no one looks worried about the divorce rate at a wedding. No one. Worried about the cake falling over, yes. Worried about a wrinkle on a tablecloth, yes. Worried about whether or not the mash potatoes on the buffet are good enough, yes. But no one is worried about divorce. I’ve never seen a bride huddled with her girls stressing over whether or not the groom is the right one. I’ve never seen the groom with his boys wistfully looking over the women in the room and wishing one of them was in the white dress instead of his bride. But I sure have heard a lot of people saying they married the wrong person a year or two or ten down the road. This is supposed to make everything better. It is a magic formula pronounced over a struggling marriage. It absolves the speaker of guilt. It is the equivalent of saying “I’m not really broken. I’m marriageable. I can do marriage. I just needed the right partner and this one isn’t it.” This seems to overlook at least one crucial fact: even if you did get the wrong partner for marriage, it was you who chose them – it was your judgment call. What makes you think your judgment is good enough to go out and find the right partner? And, more immediately, if you have such poor judgment about one of the most critical decisions of life, what makes you think you are qualified to judge the true state of your marriage? No matter how bad the marriage looks at the moment (and no marriage looks good all the time), it is wise to remember that your discernment got you here, and the worse the marriage looks, the less you should trust your own ability to see it clearly. You got fooled. Maybe you should take time to figure out how that happened.
Ask yourself if it is possible that the problem is not who you married, but that you don’t understand what marriage is. What if marriage doesn’t create your problems but reveals them. What if the purpose of marriage is to create a situation where the real fatal flaws in us are exposed so the opportunity exists to get them repaired?
If these things are deep enough there may be no way to get them to the surface other than a committed relationship with another human being who never goes away. We all wear a success suit for the world and we hop around in it all the time like rabbits. It covers up the things inside we don’t want to show others, the pain, the scars, the shortcomings, the fear. Hop, hop, hop. But marriage is there all the time, and sooner or later we can’t keep hopping. We unzip the suit and let it all out. It was always there underneath. We didn’t show it to anyone especially not someone we were hoping would marry us. Most of us don’t do this on purpose. We don’t set out to deceive anyone. We may not even realize where those flaws are, their roots and their fruits.
If the Christian story of the world is true, and if the Christian concept of marriage is real, this is precisely how the gospel works its way into us and helps us. Marriage is a means through which grace is pushed deeper into our lives than we would on our own. Marriage is a means to get at the deep deceptions that dwell in us because of our God-loss. And a key component of this view of marriage is that this grace comes to us in any kind of marriage. Bad or good. Fulfilling or unfulfilling. This grace is the realization that Jesus Christ is a spouse that marries the wrong person on purpose. He marries people who are not lovely, but he loves them into loveliness. Finding out you married the wrong person may be the only way you can figure out how much you need to accept Christ’s marriage proposal to you.
Relationships might be the last place you’d want a third wheel – we all want to get on faster and who needs a third wheel anyway? But real relationships aren’t built for speed, and every one of us (if we are honest) has limited experience and short legs when it comes to relating to others. We need a middle wheel. We need a mediator.
I noticed this when I was meeting with a friend and his wife a while back. It was amazing to me that I could hear what she was saying and what he was saying but neither one of them could hear what the other said; there was too much junk in the way – too many hurt feelings, too many broken promises, too many unforgotten (and unforgiven) words in the air. But I had none of those hindrances so I could hear what they said and then tell it to the other person. I realized that God was allowing me to walk in the place of Christ, The Mediator, and the reason this couple was having such a problem was they had lost their third wheel and they were just spinning in place – no stability, no direction, no motivator. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, said:
“Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man . . . Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother.” (Life Together)
We cannot have an authentic relationship without a common intersection – without something which exists for both the individuals involved. Think about it, a true connection with someone has to happen at a precise point of agreement and commonality. Its how relationships are formed; we find ourselves relative to something, a movie, or a book, or an experience, and then we find someone else relative to that same thing. Remember that? How you talked about it for hours and hours when you first met someone? For human beings full of perceptions and assumptions and alternative points of view; and most especially full of change, maintaining a relationship based upon objects or experiences is difficult. Ultimately it is impossible. We need something that doesn’t move so we can always relate to it and then to each other. And everything in the world moves. Jesus Christ offers us a point of intersection where stability and mobility exist in perpetuity, not because we work so hard to maintain it, but because he gives it to us. If you are having a difficult time in relationships, maybe its time you got a third Wheel.
“All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff.” (Luke 4:28-29)
Wherever religion rules tolerance will be at it’s lowest. Wherever Christ rules, freedom reigns beside Him.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
People don’t want lines drawn around their lives, they want life. If you think the gospel is a set of rules to keep you in line you’ve missed it altogether. The gospel is a Life drawing you into itself in order to turn you loose into more freedom than you can imagine.
I didn’t know it at the time because I was a first time dad, but I realized later that I always spoke to my daughter as if she was a grown up. I used words on her that suited my vocabulary, not a three year old’s. I wish I could say I did it on purpose so I’d look like a really smart parent trying to help their kid become a great achiever, but the truth is more like this: I’m not good at small talk. Really, I’m not. I don’t know how to jabber like some people who can carry on a perfectly pleasant conversation about nothing for hours on end. I tried. I got down on her level physically. I took the time to listen to her little words. But when it came time to talk back I used my own big words. She grew up hearing an adult vocalization of the world. I think its been to her advantage. She’s smart and she can explain things well.
This is the way the gospel works its way out in us. God speaks to us in terms of what He is making us into, not in terms of what we are at the moment. He sees the full life – the full vocabulary of living – and he keeps giving it to us. He gets down on our level physically and he listens to our small talk. Thank God for the patient lessons and the willingness of our Father God to play with us; to love us into Christ, the hope of glory.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15)
A great habit to be in when writing is this: when you are really blocked and can’t seem to find the way forward, sit back and ask yourself ‘What do I really want to say here?” It sounds stupid but it works. It is easy to get lost trying to figure out how to say something just right and forget what we were saying in the first place. This works in relationships too. We get so wrapped up trying not to hurt someone’s feelings or making sure we say something perfectly. Take a step back. Assess the situation. Feel what you really feel. Think about what you’d really like the other person to know. Say it as clearly and kindly as you can. This is not only the “grown up” way to speak to each other, it is the way we help each other grow up into fullness in Jesus – both by the saying and by the hearing of truth spoken in love.