I write these words on a very bumpy flight from the northeast. “Storm-tossed” has taken on a new meaning for me! A few hours ago, I finished leading a marriage enrichment event for about twenty-two couples engaged in planting churches in New York and New Jersey through the North American Mission Board.
A few things made it a unique event. It was, for one, the first time most of them (one couple married 42 years) had ever attended anything designed to help them “do’ marriage better. It was the first time I had ever led a cross-cultural marriage event though it reinforced to me once again that marriage is not the property of any one nationality or language group.
But it was also the first time I had led a marriage event without Pam. The thought of doing this, at first, gave me some internal flip-flops (much like the plane is doing to my stomach right now).
And the question I had wrestled with time after time popped up once again: How much do I share? Many of these planters, though I have spent thirty or forty hours with them since January, did not know I was widowed. It hadn’t come up. I hadn’t talked about it.
But how could I do a marriage retreat and avoid the conversation about her dying? Hence the flip-flops. And this retreat was focused on being married as a pastor. So I had to walk through the story again.
God was gracious. It went well I am told, though for the past few hours I have felt the need to reassemble and reassess myself in the Lord. I needed to regroup, since every time I tell the story I see another facet I had missed before.
And I realized once again how much I miss her. The timing may have had something to do with it. May 14, would have been our 42nd anniversary. Memories of her surgery, and rehab, and final days struggling with cancer have enfolded me over the past couple of weeks.
But it reminds me again of how marriage changes us. And, even though one of us is no longer there, we don’t revert back. I am told I am single now. And biblically that is true. Yet I don’t know how to feel single. I still “feel” married.
It has that kind of power, this covenant between a husband and wife. The words we speak on our wedding day, “for better or worse, until death do us part” bind us together on a much deeper level than anyone can see in that moment.
As Paul explains it, you can’t explain it. He calls marriage “a mystery.” In fact, he literally calls it a “mega-mystery.” It’s bigger than we can unpack or understand right now. We just know that somehow on an unseen and unexplainable level, we are different. We are changed. We experience, in the words of one theologian, “union without annihilation.” The two become one, but nobody disappears. And when one disappears, the other doesn’t change back.
Death may end the legal bond of matrimony. The vows are completed when death parts us. But something of the mystery still continues. Something of the beauty of it… the witness of it… the fragrance of it… remains with us.
And I hope, in some way I can’t now see…
I always will.