What I want to offer you is a simple thought. To the degree you hide and blame, you will ruin the very thing that you most deeply desire. To the degree that you open your heart and give to the other, particularly in the context of some of your hardest moments, you will have the opportunity to develop true and lasting intimacy.
What is intimacy? It is the delectable pleasure that promises, through heart and body, that love conquers death. In most worlds, we're looking at a 52-percent probability of divorce in a first marriage. Seventy percent in a second. Ninety percent in a third. We live in a world of marital death. And given that, what will not only keep the two of you together, but actually bring you pleasure—the pleasure that is, indeed, a promise that death does not win, that love conquers death? That's what our hearts most deeply desire.
To do that kind of work, we've got to walk into the depths of what seems counterintuitive: we must enter the suffering of the other. To stand with that person, share in whatever way we can with them in their suffering, and to have a heart to bless them rather than to flee from them or blame them.
I believe that every one of us struggles with what Genesis 3:16-19 points us to. This is reality for every man and every woman. As daughters of Eve, as sons of Adam, we all struggle with what came as a consequence of intimacy being broken with God and one another:
Then [God] said to the woman, "I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you."
And to the man he said, "Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return."
That's not happy news. The reality to be a woman in this world is that you suffer what your mother Eve suffered. And to be a man in this world means you suffere what your father Adam suffered. What did they suffer? Two things for each.
First, for women, you will have pain in childbearing. Does that mean that if you do not have children you have been released from the curse? Absolutely not. This literally means you will have pain in childbearing. But even more, what I believe the passage is inviting us to consider is that a woman's heart is relational. A woman's heart gives birth to relationships. A woman's heart is to expand and to grow and to see fruitfulness in the way that she lives. And what's the byproduct of the fall? Every woman will have pain in relationships. There will be a certain loneliness and agony that will be there in all her relationships.
Second, we see that there will be tension in her marriage. That her desire will be powerful and his response to her desire will be to try and control her. We see the word translated "desire" again in the same form in Genesis 4:7, where God tells Cain, "Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you" (NIV). The word desire there seems to imply something empty, craving, desperate. In the heart of every woman is a desperation, a craving, a loneliness that desires to be assuaged by something that will deeply satisfy her heart. And a man's response to a woman who's hungry is that he feels out of control and desires to make sure that she is silenced, so that he is not unnerved by her desire. He'll try to master, to control her through intimidation, through fear, through shame, through withdrawal to make her pay. We've got two themes—hide, blame. Hide. Blame. He doesn't want to deal with her emptiness. He hides. It comes to him and exposes him; he blames.
In summary, the core issue for every woman from this passage is this question: Am I too much? Am I too much for my father, for my boyfriend, for my husband? Because I have more energy, more passion, more desire, more hurt, more anger than it seems the men in my world have the capacity to address. Far more often, men want women to turn down that pain, that heartache, that desire, and the Scriptures call that ruling, controlling. That is not good. That tension is a result of the Fall.
What's the reality for men? Two things again. There is no such category as low-hanging fruit. Every day you will go out into the world and you will scrape to make a living. Irrespective of how well off you are, how large your bank account is, there will always be enough uncertainty in our world that you cannot escape, and all labor is fraught with sweat and blood. Nothing comes easy for a man.
Second, whatever a man achieves will eventually turn to dust. Nothing lasts. Nothing will be yours for eternity. And so for a man the core question is this: Am I enough? Do I have enough intelligence? Do I have enough strength? Do I have enough wisdom? Do I have enough ability to make it in a world like ours?
Can you see the tension between men and women? Whether married or not: I'm too much. I'm not enough. And in that interplay, with the tension of loneliness and the issues of my failure and futility, the natural response for every single one of us is to step away, hide, cover, and eventually turn and blame.
Hiding and Blaming
As a therapist, no one calls me with good news. I don't like the phone. So in the years before caller ID, when the phone would ring, I could be three feet away and my wife could be fifteen feet away. I would look at my wife with that very plaintive male look. And my wife, who struggles like any other woman with the fear of loneliness, would hear that Please do this for me, and she would go answer the phone. I would feel relieved because at least I'd have 15 to 20 seconds to figure out what to do with the phone call.
When she'd answer the phone and say, "Oh, hi, Fred," I'd hear Fred's voice or I'd hear his name, and I would gesture to her. She would respond and say to Fred, "Oh, I'm sorry. Dan's not available." Or at times, sadly, she would say, "I'm sorry. He's not here." I think she meant psychologically, but nonetheless, she deceived on my behalf to allow me to escape that sense of being caught in something I didn't want to have to handle.
I remember this day so very well. The phone rang. I did that same little thing. She came over, answered it, and said, "Oh, hi, Fred." And I began that gesture. She said to Fred, "I'm sorry. Dan is shaking so violently before me that I'm not sure what he would like to do with the phone call. So I'm going to put it down and let him decide." She walked away, and as she did I tracked her. I knew exactly where she was going.
I picked up the phone. "Hey, Fred. How are you?" We had a little conversation, quite pleasant. After we hung up I tracked her. I followed her. I sort of opened the door she was behind. I didn't throw it open, but I opened it with force, and I stepped in. One foot in, one out, just a nice, safe position. I said, "What were you thinking?" My tone made clear that I was blaming her. I had already begun the violence against her.
She was reading a book. And she held up the book's spine so I could see. The title was Bold Love, a book that I wrote. And she said, "I was reading something that I find to be quite brilliant and helpful and yet something that I see you seldom attempt to live." At that point I was furious. I was befuddled and furious, and all I could do was fume for a moment or two and then storm away.
Intimacy and Pain
In those moments, most of us have conflict. We have hurt. We have misunderstanding. We shut down. We escape. Maybe we blame for a season. But because we love each other, eventually it sort of dissipates. We get back together and say, "I love you. I'm sorry. Shouldn't have said that." It's not resolved. We've really not addressed much of anything at all. Over months, years, decades, those kinds of small nicks and wounds begin to create a kind of dissipation of energy and heart.
How do divorces occur? Seldom did somebody just wake up one morning going, "I don't love you and I don't want to be married to you." It is over that slow tectonic movement where all of a sudden one day you wake up. You've been drifting for so very long that in many ways you're sleeping with an enemy. And yet you love each other. Yet you're friends. And yet there is nothing really left in your life of true intimacy.
How do we keep that from happening in our marriages? It is not that complex. And yet, indeed, it is not easy. We must stand in one another's pain. I have to invite my wife into the world in which, no matter what successes or failures I've known, there's not a single day of my life where I feel like I can do well. There's always a doubt, always a question, always the thought that I really am a poser. What am I going to do with those questions? Well, I've got enough confidence and bravado, at least externally, that I can sort of bluff my way through the world. But nobody knows as clearly and deeply as my wife that below that bravado is a whole lot of hurt and shame and pain. What does it mean for me to invite my wife into my struggle with confidence, my struggle with performance, my fear of failure and futility?
Equally, my wife must invite me into her loneliness. The problem is, many times I'm the cause of her loneliness. She was lonely before I married her, and I've increased it. Do you see the possibility for tension? Blame. Shift of blame. Backing away. Our task is so very, very important that we have to have the courage to enter the suffering of the other. We're called to stand with each other in humbling, humiliating, hard moments. Ones in which we naturally run, hide, and then turn and blame.
The Curse Lifter
Galatians 3:13 says, "Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing." Jesus has entered into all the loneliness that a woman will ever suffer. How else do you understand this phrase, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me" (Matthew 27:46)? And Jesus knows the sense of futility and failure that every man feels. He allowed himself to become a public spectacle of failure and shame, knows what it is to be mocked before the world. His whole creation turned against him in blame and contempt.
In the midst of our own struggles with one another, our hearts open when we bring in Jesus and his presence, when we say I am alone and I feel curses, and yet he had all of my curse. To know that freedom—I will never bear the curse that he, indeed, has borne on my behalf—opens my heart to at least a new stance with my wife. I can begin to say, "I don't know what to say, what to do, how to rebuild. But I do know this, I must deal with my heart first." As I begin to name where I have fled and where I have blamed, I begin to call forth in you the blessing that I have harmed you and I want to enter your hurt. I don't know how to do it well, and I'll fail even as I do so. But I will not quit and I will not walk away, and we will come to know one another more richly and deeply than we have before.
The world is looking at our marriages. In many ways it has already come to the judgment that we are no different from our so-called secular counterparts, not only in terms of the rate of divorce but the rate of emptiness in our lives. It is our unique gift and call to be witnesses that the humility of desire and the commitment to move toward one another will bring a goodness that we could never have created on our own by doing kind things for one another. Christ has borne all that we will ever suffer, and we have the privilege of entering the heart of suffering of the other in order to bring blessing.
Together, may you have a taste in the midst of very hard moments of what it means to move, to stand, to speak, and to bless rather than to hide and blame.