I have been thinking about ‘the great mystery’… the idea that we become one flesh when we are married.
There was a time I thought that this meant we would be, in some way, stacked up and added together. If I was able to life 200 pounds, and she could life 200 pounds, then together we would lift 400 pounds. Similarly, if my IQ were 100, and her IQ were 100, then when we married it would be suddenly 200.
Of course, I knew that this wasn’t true. And yet, I thought that this is what the metaphor meant. I thought that the image was wrong.
There was no good outcome for this marriage thing. I was nearly certain that the thing they claimed was just a lie. But the possibility, that tiny little chance, that in some way it was right, this terrified me.
I was so afraid of losing myself as everything that I am was averaged out with everything that my wife is. It was a cold comfort that our strengths are not evenly divided in all areas. The idea that perhaps she would compensate for one of my weaknesses in a certain area, and that I would compensate for one of hers in a different area, this didn’t help.
Like most expectations of sudden and effortless transformation, this thought turned out to be just wrong. It’s not how it works at all.
But this is not to say that we do not become one flesh.
The process is not instaneous. Nor is it unconscious. But most of all, it is not characterized by this sense of adding the two participants together.
Subtraction best characterizes the whole thing.
I have been married for about 15 years now. I am sure some day I will look at this time and laugh at my niavetee. But for now, this is the best I can do…
The thing about two people coming together is that there is all this redundancy. If we were to physically wed two bodies, form them into some sort of post-birth siamese twins, then lots of decisions would have to get made. Whose liver would be the one to clean the blood? Whose heart would circulate the blood through both bodies?
To leave everything active and independent would be to miss the whole point of making these two bodies one body. They would simply be sewn together. If they are to truly become one flesh, then some of the best of the organs of each would have to step up and take control for the whole new system.
If two unmarried people were a vessels full of water, then in the marriage, their is another empty vessel waiting. The thing is, this vessel does not hold any more than the individuals. The whole of both of the people can not be poured in. Half of each must come in. The question might seem to be: which half?
I hope I’m not stretching that metaphor to far when I say that we get to decide, over the years, as we slowly come together to be one flesh. We stand with our own old vessel. And we pour that which we wish to become into the new vessel. It’s a process that takes years.
And we might try to pour all of ourself into the new vessel. We might leave hardly any room for our spouse at all. The new thing that we might become would in fact, hardly be different than the person we were.
And I can only imagine my spouse. She is looking at the new vessell. It’s full, now. And her old vessel, it’s almost full, too. She has left behind so very much of herself.
This is the thing I’m trying to get at: marriage is this Christ-like choice of leaving so much of ourselves behind. Accepting the new vessel which incorporates us both, trusting the other that they have brought along as much of their old self as they needed, trusting that they have left enough room in the relationship for us, too, to bring along at least something of ourselves.
We will someday lose our spouses. All of us. One member of every marriage will die first. Perhaps the times of our deaths will be seperated by fractions of a second. Perhaps it will be seperated by decades.
In that time, we lose something of ourselves. If it has been a long marriage, and a good one, I suspect it is mostly hard to tell what the husband brought to the vesell original, and it is hard to tell what the wife brought to the vesell originally.
I suspect we can and should keep something of our own individuality as the years go by. But I don’t think we need to spend much energy ensuring this. I think our human fears and selfishness will hold back more than we probably should. I suspect at the end of my life, I will look at what is left, and I will think “I wish I had released this, and this, and this; I wish I had let go of that, and that, and that; I wish I had accepted this much more of her into me, and did not guard myself off from it.”
When we lose our spouse we will much of their remaining uniqueness. And we will lose some of the mixed together parts of us, some of what we became through the surrender, through the subtraction, through the willingness to became something new not dicatated by who we were.
It’s a pretty terrible thing to comprehend. I know that we get to keep some of the person who was. I know that we will see them again. But none of this alters the fact that we become one flesh, and then we are two again, at least in some way.
There is some hope in the idea that this process is a sanctification, a preperation. This joining, the first letting go when we get married, and then the second letting go at a spouse’s death, these things purify us, they prepare us, they make us truer and refine us toward the people we are meant to be.
And yet still, it sucks.