Friday, 3 June 2022

12. Brokenness

Dear children,

You said to me: if only what was broken could be put back together the way it was before. I have thought about this question for 6 weeks and I think we now have the words to consider it.

You have told me how many families have broken up among your school friends. It is indeed common today for marriages to fail. But let me assure you, it has never been easy to make a marriage work. Even the apostle Paul quipped: if you marry, you will have trouble in this life. But this is not one of his best lines. Such relationships are hard work. (And you know this yourselves, because brothers have to work together too - and learn to say sorry. Now there’s a wordle answer. Probably the hardest five-letter word to say.) But the work is worth it.

A marriage is the start of a new family. Within a family, there are a special set of bonds of affection and love. Love is a puzzle piece I have not specifically turned over, but I have used a definition of it in the first letter. I signed off with “all my will towards your good”. That’s love - all my will towards your good. Even if I didn’t like something that you did, my will is still towards your good. That’s what love is about.

My will towards your good has to do with the things I've written about already, security, sanctuary, trust, covenant - a special name for agreement and promise, - care within those boundaries that keep us all safe and able to grow. Who defines 'love' - that comfortable feeling of belonging - as an act of will, an act of determination? What a weird notion! Well, love is for the good of the other, not just for our own good. The problem is that we have to be able to know what is good for the one we love - that too is a tough problem. Suppose the other only wants to watch TV and so never learns to climb or run. Those who care for you don't want you to turn into a couch potato. Too much TV is clearly not good for your physical health. And besides, how do we judge what is good TV? That's another set of issues. My point is that 'love' is more than a feeling.

Families grow through birth or adoption. Each of these is a commitment of one or more people to the good of the one who is born or who is adopted. A commitment is a promise to continue even when continuing is difficult. We all have things that are hard to live with. Because of the promises made, families are a secure place where we learn to chip away the roughness in our character, and we learn strength and cooperation. We also learn honesty and truth. The partnership requires trust because the whole process of creating and nurturing a family is a lifetime's work. And promises are made in truth.

But serious mistakes can happen in a marriage. When they do, the will to the other partner's good requires clear words. Clear words may be hard to find and hard to say - but something like "This thing you have done hurts me and hurts us and will hurt others." The other can stop and say "I'm sorry. I will stop it". And so the other turns from the thing that is doing harm. They can't just say sorry and do nothing. Continuing such a mistake will break a marriage and cause further harm to others.

Still - even with these considerations, there are many reasons why marriages break up. Among them are finances, sickness, adultery, or lack of commitment. The source of the breakup can come from either partner. When there are children, the hurt may be deep and the healing process for them may take years. If parents break up, the next generation may also come to have marriages that break up because the errors and weaknesses will pass from one life to another. This is not good.

Our churches and our cultures have learned to live with the failures. Divorce or annulment of a marriage releases the parties from their commitments. This process is the least bad solution to such trouble.

Several puzzle pieces here - finances, sickness, adultery, commitment. With money, people worry about paying bills, or people don't take care about spending and the family gets further and further into debt. One part of the marriage promise that each makes to the other is this: all my worldly goods with you I share. That means the care for those worldly goods is shared. But worldly goods have to be paid for and if one partner cares about it more than the other, this can cause trouble.

Also in the marriage covenant is a promise to love and cherish in sickness or in health. We know we all get sick and we hope we will get better. You know about sickness, disability and trouble too. You have seen and you care for those who cannot move and have to be in a wheel chair. You have first hand knowledge of helping others who have difficulty with walking. Whether it would be easier or not, no one who has a will for another's good would walk away from such hard things.

The third piece, called adultery, we saw in the seventh commandment, the one that has only 6 letters: la tnaf - you will not commit adultery. In the marriage promises, each party promises to be faithful to the other, excluding everyone else from the closeness of their relationship. That means a man will not live with another man’s wife, and a woman will not live with another woman’s husband, or anyone else.

Finally, these pieces only fit together if both partners were serious about their mutual commitment for life. The marriage covenant says until we are parted from each other by death. So these promises are not made lightly as if we could just decide that we don't want to be married anymore.

There's a great deal about marriage in the tradition of the Bible. Throughout the Bible there is a metaphor of the marriage of God to his people, and in the New Testament, of Messiah to his bride the Church. This image emphasizes the commitment of God to this special relationship with us. The first commandment - you will have no other gods but me - nothing we worship, nothing we bow down to except God. This is our response to what God has done for us. In the Old Testament, it is delivery from slavery in Egypt - a long story. In the New Testament, it is the power to participate in the death of Jesus and the growth, strength, and love that we learn from this. No one can learn this for you or tell you in words what it means.

But it is, in fact, about fixing things that are broken. Brokenness does not go back to what it was before. If you shatter a vase, it will be beyond repair. Putting it back together with glue doesn't make it like new again. But we can remember both the good times and the brokenness and hope to learn even from them. Maybe we will recycle the pieces and make something else with them.

The mechanism for learning and for repair of what is broken is in our turning to God, admitting our situation, and asking for what we need to continue. We cannot lie to God who sees our inner thoughts before we even speak them. There is power to heal in such truthfulness - even if we only are able to say the truth to God in private. Jesus tells us who learn from him: when you pray, go into your room, and close the door and pray in secret, and your God in glory who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Finally, Jesus spoke of his body as being broken for us. He suffered violence and death. He has been through trouble so he knows what it’s like and is therefore able to help.

Till the next letter ...

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