There is something profound and moving when an aged and mature tree is felled by human hands. When a tree dies of old age, or even a storm, it feels different – somehow ‘part of the order of things’. Yet, the premature felling of trees in scripture is often a motif for judgement, calamity or a failure in wisdom. Even the substitutionary death of Christ is seen by Isaiah as being ‘cut off’ before His time (Isa 53:8).
In the same way when we hear once again of long standing marriages that are felled by human hands (a prohibition of the Lord Jesus himself Matt 19:6), our hearts weigh heavy at the interruption to life as we know it. This is not just a tragedy for the trees and marriages that are felled, but as any ecologist will tell you, trees (and from our perspective marriages) for an essential part of the ecosystem. They literally create an atmosphere and produce life giving environments. Marriages, like the roots of trees ‘hold things together’ in societies at every level. Marriages give Godly boundaries and theological insight to our humanity and sexuality by defining the mystery of the covenantal relationship between Christ and the Church. So when a mature marriage is ’felled’, the order, economy and revelation of ‘family’ – something entirely holy and blessed – is ‘cut off’ as well. Thus the ‘sign’ that marriage is to the oneness and community of the Trinity become veiled and less visible. We loose a means of grace to society and the possibility of shalom community.
Therefore it follows, to fell not just a tree, but the whole forrest as western liberal society is hell bent on doing, through such things as the legal redefinition of marriage and sustained attacks on conservative family values, opens up vast swathes of society to devastating moral, spiritual and social erosion. The ripple effect continues into children who no longer have the affirmation and blessing of both parents together. This has the potential to shape their course of life for generations. Children can become, and live out of an identity of the orphan for the rest of their lives giving that legacy to their biological children and so on. The validity and evidence of this continues to be all around me as a pastor and urban church planter.
Yet depressing as all of this sounds, the sacrament and institution of Christian marriage is one of our most effective and most prized treasures in transforming streets, communities, towns and cities. Healthy, strong, marriages with healthy strong families produce generational blessings that not only hold together the soil of society but produce an environment of life into which all manner of ‘others’ can come to find shelter and shade. In the heart of the garden of our cities, this tiny mustard seed can grow and grow so that real lasting societal change happens (Luke13:19). The Kingdom of heaven is like one small family in a street being planted to bring life, stability and cohesion. Kingdom terraforming!
Luke 13:19 “It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”
And so finally to the appeal. Marriage matters. Your marriage and thus your family really matters. If we are in Christian ministry or leadership, marriage and family are not a problem and a time commitment to be got around. They are the ‘Tree of Life’ at the centre of our garden – a mystery that essentially speaks of Christ and his Bride. Younger married couples are looking at our lives and marriages and wondering, even daring to hope, that they see enough love and joy in us to believe it is possible to finish well. Therefore, put out your branches, put down your roots, provide stability, shade and above all, produce good fruit. Teach the next generation, as Martin Luther put it: “in God’s school room” of the family.
Julie and I have been married happily for 30+ years (just kids I know). Having pushed through the surf and confused waters of the early years of marriage and Christian faith, we are now beyond the coastal waters and heading across the ocean of life with Christ at the helm to the distant shore of the King’s own country. There are storms in life a plenty and dangers to be navigated around but our skipper had taught us well and we trust him. I hope you join us.
And finally for the ‘doers’ here is our random (fun) checklist that honestly helps us:
- God, Family, Church (order and content not negotiable)
- Hug and hold hands often (in fact, try out giving your spouse all the Love Languages)
- 10 second + kisses (long enough to turn up and be emotionally present)
- Weekly date night and 24 hour day off
- Work phone in a drawer on day off (!)
- See above also when on holiday (!!!)
- Walk in nature (hug and hold hands also recommended)
- Eat around a table with family as often as possible (no screens or devices) [thanks Val & Brenda Dodd for the reminder]
- Pray together, read scripture together – but don’t preach (to be read as: unfairly manipulating using ‘god words’) at each other
- DO encourage, treat and reward each other and give way more praisings than ‘tellings’.
- Prefer each others needs above and before your own (Christ’s Golden Rule)
- Laugh at yourself within 3 mins of getting angry (this really works!!)
- Empathise. (ask Jesus to help develop your emotional intelligence)
- Don’t have ‘no go’ areas – communication breaks down conflict.
- Silence can be violence (yes that includes sulking and other non verbal manipulations)
- Follow St Paul’s instructions on marriage and Christ’s own example to His Bride.
- Trust, love, welcome, embrace, cling to, follow and obey the precious Holy Spirit who is definitely going to give you everything you need to be a child in your Heavenly Father’s family and a really great imitator of Christ to your spouse.
- repeat 16.
- repeat 16.
- SHINE for all to see!
Rick & Julie Oldland Team
Leader UK, Partners in Harvest
ps. if you feel you are reading this too late and are in divorce recovery, remember, Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Grace are still our shared, sufficient and only hope. Shalom.