Valentines 2022

I was in the Hallmark store the other day grabbing a last-minute Valentine’s for Vivienne.

Hold on, let me rephrase that.

Having set aside some special time to scour the Hallmark store for the Valentines card to express the depth of my love for Vivienne, I had to sort through dozens of variations of Cupid shooting his arrow of love.

But after two and a half decades in ministry sitting with conflicted couples after the intoxication of Cupid’s arrow has waned, I’ve decided that a better symbol of lasting love might be the old man, Moses.

Why Moses?

Let me explain with a little personal story of love gone wrong.

There were times long ago when my romantic life was, well, a like forty years journeying through a loveless wilderness.

Of course, new relationships glistened like gold at first, but as it turns out, maybe a fool’s gold would be a better description … and I am sure they would say the same about me.

Once I did find the person I would commit to, I eventually realized that our future together depended not just on the person I had chosen, but also on the person I would choose to become.

That’s where Moses enters the picture.

He stuck with his people through thick and thin, enemy attacks, famine and drought, rebellion and discouragement.

He stuck with them, and after they’d gotten through the desert with the Promised Land spread out before them, he placed responsibility for their future in their hands.

Deuteronomy 30:19 I set before you the ways of life and death, blessings and curses, now choose life.

How I choose to be in a relationship largely determines whether it will be a blessing or a curse.

Not just marriage, but most of our relationships – at home, at work, at church – are in large part about how we show up for that relationship.

Back in the Garden of Eden, God said it is not good for man to be alone.

We were made for relationship.

But unlike the pop-culture version of love, God intends our relationships to be about more than just our own happiness.

The famous passage that Nyl just read from 1Corinthias 13 says that love is an action, not a feeling.

I may not agree with someone, I may not even like the person, but I am called to act in love – in the ways that the passage makes clear.

In this way, relationships become boot camps for us to become more Christ-like.

Our relationships are where we learn how to love – which may mean learning to pause before we open our mouth in sarcasm, before we clench our fists in anger, before we shut off our spouse by turning to Facebook before we tell our child to go away so we can watch Housewives of Orange County. 

Google Drive pops up every morning to show me pictures that I saved long ago.

It recently displayed some I had saved eight or nine years ago of my son Ian from when he was very young.

They took me back five decades as I saw myself playing with him.

For most of that time, I was a single parent – and at times that got pretty demanding.

There were moments when I was close to blowing my stack because his room was always so messy, or just because I was stressed.

But now I am so glad that I held my tongue and took those hours to play with him and talk with him and read to him.

As it turned out, those moments mattered infinitely more than momentarily venting my frustration or zoning out with a Mary Tyler Moore sitcom.

Those are the memories that endure, and the times that built our lasting love.

Now he’s fifty-one years old, and he still hugs me and hangs his arm over my shoulder when we walk together.

He’s been married for nearly thirty years, and still has a strong, passionate marriage.

In part, he learned those things from our time together.

And I learned to be a loving person by acting impatient, forgiving, caring ways even when I didn’t feel like it.

When you are learning how to love, sometimes you’ve got to fake it ‘til you make it.

Otto Piper wrote, “The Christian family is a product of faith.  It offers the matchless opportunity of suffusing every relationship of daily life with the Spirit of God.  Since the spouses have to live together and are unable to escape each other, every moment of the day and every activity in the home form a challenge to live in common according to the divine purpose.”

Our relationships are in large part about God’s plans and purposes for us.

Our relationships are training grounds to mold us into forgiving people, when others betray us; caring people, when we are exhausted; patient people, when we are not getting our way.

My marriage with Ian’s mother ended in divorce many years ago.

I married Sylvia when I was nineteen because I was lonely and she was beautiful.

For me, marriage was about me being happy rather than lonely.

I had no role model for what a good marriage might look like.

I had no sense that marriage’s purpose might be to stretch and develop me into a better person.

I had no sense that the hard times in our marriage were actually invitations to become a better communicator, a more patient partner, and to care about Sylvia’s needs more than my own.

We stayed together for some years, but we actually lived separate lives especially as she traveled around the country nearly half the year on various scientific research projects.

If either one of us had considered that our union was designed for our growing our spiritual maturity – becoming holy not just happy – everything would have been different.

But we didn’t.

We were looking to the other to make ourselves happy – and if that failed, well, that’s why we ended up divorcing.

Knowing what I know now, what would I do differently?

First, I would have disciplined myself to communicate.

Relationships cannot be holy if we don’t step into one another’s worlds – it is a spiritual discipline.

In my first marriage, I sat on my feelings.

When I got upset, I went out to the garage to tinker with the car or I went for a long bike ride.

Silence was my power.

She sometimes wanted to talk about things that weren’t right, but I held the power as long as I withheld what the relationship needed.

Plus, silence is easier.

I could remain righteously indignant, I could harbor anger, I could nurse hurt feelings … and I’d never have to do anything about it.

In a Christian relationship, this wall of silence is considered a sin because it stands in the way of reconciliation.

In his book Sacred Marriage, Gary Thomas says,

“We need to recognize the offensiveness of pervasive silence within marriage.  There comes a time when silence is healing, but there is also a malicious silence.  You know your heart.  You know whether you are being silent in order to promote healing or whether you are being self-centered, cowardly, or malicious.  When I refuse to speak out of cowardice, selfishness, or weariness, I am taking a step back as a Christian.”

There is a traditional spiritual practice that was refined by a French monk that is literally translated, “The duty to sit down.”

He developed this spiritual practice to conquer the human sin of isolating in self-righteous silence.

At times, communication can be awkward or hard, but it is a duty of love.

I’m not laying all the blame for our failed marriage on myself, but when Sylvia and I finally did sit down to talk – now paying $75 an hour to a therapist – it was too late.

The second thing I would do differently would be to change the content of my words.

When we are feeling threatened or insecure, the impulse is to build ourselves up by putting others down.

That is a habit I learned from my family … where they were always making little jabs at people, insults disguised as jokes, always making me feel wrong with their sarcasm.

Most of us wouldn’t do that to our boss’s face, but we have no problem saying such things to our closest family.

They’re safe.

They’re not going anywhere.

By inflicting those tiny little wounds, drawing that little bit of blood over and over and over is like murdering someone with paper cuts.

A tongue can be destructive to our relationships in two ways:

By speaking evil, or by refraining from speaking good.

God is so serious about the power of our words that Jesus’ brother wrote this:

James 3:4-6 (Msg)   A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds.  A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!

Moses is a good Valentine’s hero because he understood that the wilderness journey was really God’s journey and so over the years, he became a godly person so he could lead the people to the Promised Land.

Just like the Exodus was really God’s journey and claiming the Promise Land was God’s goal, loving, healthy and fulfilling relationships is God’s desire for you.

It’s really not about you.

It is about becoming God’s person.