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Impossible Math

How is it that when two become one, the sum is greater than its parts?

I'm considering working with the junior highers at church next year. Yeah, I know what you're thinking: Why don't you take on something easy, like heading up a building program or mediating between the contemporary-vs.-traditional-worship factions?

This fall we'll have the largest cohort of seventh- and eighth-graders ever. (What was in the air in 1984? Maybe it was all that Reaganesque optimism.) It is also true that a portion of those kids are ADD. But I have a vested interest in such a ministry. My daughter, Amanda, is one of the fairest flowers in this bumper crop of middle-schoolers, and I'd like to have a hand in what she learns and from whom she learns it.

Besides, I know my husband, Fritz, will support me. I may even be able to talk him into helping out. Either way, I couldn't do it—couldn't do much of anything—without him. And, although he doesn't have the same fools-rush-in zest for involvement that I do, I know he couldn't do much without me, either. We make things possible for each other; we extend each other.

This is more than a matter of picking up the slack for one another in the mechanics of living—he helps Amanda figure out decimals while I walk the dog in freezing rain. (Trust me: If it's a choice between decimals and freezing rain, I'll take the rain.) We've always been competent at juggling the family business. But lately I've been realizing that there's more going on in our 19-year marriage, something mysterious and, maybe, Spirit-breathed. Because we are two-become-one, we can touch deeper and reach further and hope higher than we could as separate little atoms. We may, in a small way, be contributing to the work of God's Kingdom.

Have you ever thought about what your life would be like had you not married your spouse? I have this horrid suspicion that I'd be a 40-plus maiden aunt, a near-recluse writer like Emily Dickinson (but not as talented), relying on the kindness of relatives to eke by. It doesn't seem likely that I'd have written a book or become a leader in my church or even learned to be a good friend. I know Fritz would wonder what he'd have been had I not shown up in his life.

This achieving-because-we-have-each-other may not hold true for everyone. Many singles contribute mightily to God's work on earth. Some married people I know, even though they love their spouses, secretly wonder how much more they could have done if they had stayed single. But I suspect that whenever God connects a couple of growing Christians and binds them for life in a sacred covenant, the potential is there to build something for him. I like what Paul says to the Ephesians: "His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross. … In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple to the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit" (2:15-16; 21-22). Paul is speaking of Jews and Gentiles being united, but the image of two becoming one is also used in the Bible to describe the uniting of husband and wife.

Marriage has often been likened to a "little church." The Spirit's power is increased exponentially when we gather as a body to worship, to pray, to praise, to partake of the Lord's Supper. Five, ten, fifty, two; it doesn't matter. Something happens when we come together that is larger than the sum of its parts. Lives are changed; wounds are healed; grace is received and extended. Maybe someone hears an encouraging word and is given strength for the day. Then that person goes out and passes on an encouraging word. Then another person does. And on it goes, in ever-widening circles.

Just as we are no longer rootless, lonely vagabonds when we're in Christ, so marriage takes us in and welcomes us.

In the same way, as a wife and husband pray together, encourage one another, shoulder tasks together, seek God's will together, a great good is loosed into the world. But what is it about marriage that allows the Spirit to use us to do his work? One clue can be found in Paul's greeting to the Ephesians: "You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of the household of God" (2:19). Just as we are no longer rootless, lonely vagabonds when we're in Christ, so marriage takes us in and welcomes us.

We all seek a place where we can stop our wanderings and make ourselves at home, a place where at least one other person really, really cares how we're doing. Church can give us that place; so can marriage. When I slide into my chair for Sunday morning worship and look around at my church family, I feel an encircling sense of homecoming. When I slide into bed next to Fritz at night and listen to his quiet breathing, I feel, even more strongly, that sense of sanctuary. Here is a safe place where I belong; here the darkness cannot intrude. Here, too, is the jumping-off place for going back into the world.

When you know that there is one person who is for you, you're energized and emboldened to take on new challenges and to give more of yourself to others. I admit: I pour a lot of myself out every day—as the mother of a middle-schooler, as a writer and editor, as a friend, as a church member. Sometimes I wonder why I don't feel more depleted. Naps and vitamins help. But the most important reason is that my husband is a great tank-filler. Without his humor, his hugs, his sturdy faith, his dragging me out for occasional trips to Starbuck's—his presence—without these things I'd implode like a collapsed star.

But there's more to this Kingdom-building. When we're growing in Christ, we want others to have what we have, to know what we know. Christ's light is meant to shine in us so others may be warmed in its glow. Marriage, at its most God-glorifying, isn't intended to be only a cozy fire by which we, the couple, warm ourselves. It is that; but marriage is also a light flooding from an open door that invites others in.

God has blessed me with a really good marriage and a husband who loves the livin' daylights out of me. Not everyone has been given this blessing. Is there a connection between that love and God's expectation for us to give something back? You bet.

There's yet another way the Spirit works to extend the reach of a marriage. I was reminded of it today when Fritz and I had a minor argument over the phone. (Just when you're patting yourself on the back, God puts that pride in a choke hold.) Our marriage is very good, but it sure isn't perfect, because we aren't perfect. Fritz can drive me crazy with his pickiness. He hates the way I lose things. I think he drives too slowly. He claims I don't always finish … oh, finish sentences.

We annoy each other, but that doesn't mean our marriage has gotten worse. It hasn't; it has grown deeper and more real, as we know each other more deeply and pretenses fall away. The wonder is that God uses imperfect people and imperfect churches and imperfect marriages to influence his world. We can touch more people through our struggle and honesty than through our perfection.

And God makes something good of it all. Maybe some of it will even rub off on the junior-highers.

Elizabeth Cody Newenhuyse is the author of several books, including God, I Know You're Here Somewhere (Bethany).

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Blessings; Commitment; Marriage
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 1997
Posted September 12, 2008

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