How to Find Yourself: thoughts about marriage that are about more than marriage

This past weekend, I presided at a wedding. As always, the ceremony is a time of joy and celebration. The bride and groom look their best, and everything that happens point to one thing: happiness and smiles.

So, when I stand before the just-about-to-be-married couple, speaking to them (and to those who are gathered), I want to say nice, happy things. I want to add to the festive spirit. And I do.

But I also want to say: Do you really know what you’re doing? Are you really ready for this? Because your vows are real. This is the real deal. And marriage will be one of the most difficult things you ever do.

Now, that’s not what I say. At least not in so many words. But I do say this:

We live in a world that can be cynical about marriage. There are those who doubt that a couple can spend a lifetime of love together. That instead of finding freedom in marriage, it ends up being a shackle.

As someone once sarcastically said, “Marriage is a wonderful institution. But who would want to live in an institution?”

But that’s not how the Bible sees it. In fact, from the very beginning, God makes man, and then provides man a helper; an equal, a partner for the journey. For life – with all its challenges and disappointments, with all of its joys and pleasures – is meant to be shared. The good, the bad, and the ugly. The days your heart aches and the days your heart skips a beat. The day you get a promotion, AND the day you lose your job.

And the way to grow stronger through Whatever comes your way – is by firmly holding onto each other.

In other words, marriage is hard. In part, because life is hard. And there’s a reason that in our marriage vows, we don’t say: “I do, if I feel like it,” or “I do, as long as it works for me,” or, “I do, as long as it’s not too difficult.” That’s not how marriage works. That’s not how life works. The way through the difficult times is to walk through those difficult times together.

I recently read a long article, published by the New York Times, that talked with couples who are practicing what is called “open marriage.” If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Open marriage is where a couple “opens” their marriage to other intimate relationships, to other lovers. And the article is full of people giving reasons why this makes things better, at least in their minds.

While most of us can come up with a number of reasons why open marriage doesn’t work and doesn’t make sense, perhaps it’s a perfect sign of our times — where so many believe that life is found, not in our commitments, but in our freedoms. That is to say: real life is found by always keeping our options open.

The preacher and writer John Ortberg contends that so many who live for so much freedom end up coming to the end of their lives, and they can’t remember what they did with all the money they were free to make and spend. They can’t remember what they did with all that time they were so busy protecting. They can’t remember what happened to all those relationships that they were so free to exit. In the end, by keeping their options open, and by not fully committing to anything, they end up with a life committed to nothing.

Then Ortberg makes this vital point: It’s not in our freedom, but in our commitments, that we find ourselves.

What an absolutely counter-cultural argument, one that is sure to mystify many. But what a vital truth that is spot on. In a world where so many run from commitment — whether it’s in marriage, or parenting, or a job, or church, or just settling in one place to be a blessing to those around us — it’s really true: real life is found, not in what we keep open, but what we hold onto. In the end, we are defined, we are shaped, we become: not by what we run from, but what we commit to.


What’s the best way to worship?

Some words just beg for definition. When we use words like good or government or, for that matter, good government, we have to say what we mean.

The same is true for worship. Often when we use this word, we are referring to the songs we sing at the beginning of a church service. We often specifically refer to that as the worship time. The person who leads this is called the worship minister.

But we also use the word worship to refer to the entire gathering of the church. So, we call it the worship service. We’ll often try to highlight this by saying things like, “We now continue our worship through our offering time….”

But the word worship has a broader meaning, too — as when we talk about living a life of worship. This idea encompasses not just Sunday, but everyday — where worship is an approach, a stance, a way to live.

Which of the 3 usages of the word worship is correct? Well …. all of them. They all describe an element of worship that is important.

But the place to start, I believe, is with the third definition. If worship is about how I live; if it involves how I work and how I treat my family; if it encompasses who I sleep with (or don’t), what I watch (or don’t), what I say (or don’t) — then such a life of worship leads naturally to a time of worship. If I am already living a life of adoration and submission (a pretty good definition of worship I picked up somewhere), then I will naturally gather with others who are doing the same. And we will spend some time once a week (or more), adoring and submitting, together.

In other words, living a life of worship daily leads to expressing that worship weekly. And when I come together with God’s people, the focus isn’t me, or my preferences. It’s God, and what God has done. And it’s us, and what God is doing in us, as we come together, united, in worship.

So, my challenge to me, and to you, is simply this: Focus on the third definition of worship. Seek to make that your daily reality. Then the first 2 will come into clearer focus.


The Greatest Generation

On Independence Day Eve, I had the privilege of officiating at a service for a man who served in World War 2. As you no doubt know, there are fewer and fewer of these folks left.

They are often called the Greatest Generation. It isn’t date of birth that makes a person a part of this special group; it’s much more than that.

More than about when a person was born, The Greatest Generation is about a way-of-living. It’s about learning the value of hard work, of a hard-earned dollar, and appreciating both. It’s about facing the challenges of the Great Depression, and coming through it, in tact, on the other end. It’s about rising to the occasion when the world’s peace was falling apart. It’s about making commitments and sticking to them. It’s about being faithful to your family, to your wife and children — year, after year, after year.

All of these traits were seen in Eugene, the man whose funeral was held the day before July 4. But like so many of his generation, Eugene didn’t talk much about his service in Belgium and Germany during the war.

One of the reasons Eugene didn’t talk much about his past is probably because he didn’t think it was all that dramatic. He would have felt that what he did was just what was called for. And so, many of the Greatest Generation don’t feel like they’ve done something great, but that they simply were doing what was necessary. They were simply doing the basic things.

But that’s exactly why Eugene, and others like him, are a part of the Greatest Generation. In a world where so many don’t step up and won’t step out – Eugene did. And what is greatness? – other than knowing what matters, what is central, and doing it faithfully.

Not only would Eugene not have claimed the title of ‘greatness’, like so many others of his generation, he was not one to talk about his accomplishments. In his mind, they simply weren’t great. But I beg to differ.

Living a life of love for your spouse and your kids and grandkids – for 62 years – this is a demonstration of the kind of love that does not come and go; is not based on the feelings of the moment – but is the greatness of committed love that is in it for the long haul.

Reclaiming each inch of Europe may not have felt all that majestic in the moment – but it was a collective act of greatness that preserved the freedom of the world.

Living an honorable, God-fearing life may not feel all that special — but it’s rarity makes it all the more notable.

So, thanks, Eugene for being a member of the Greatest Generation. Not by birth, but by life. May those of us who’ve come after, learn from you, and emulate, in our way, the greatness of a faithful life.