Two nights ago Imani called and through happy tears announced that she and Jason Wheeler, her longtime boyfriend, are engaged. They plan to marry soon after they turn 18, in less than two years.
This came as no great surprise. They have a remarkably mature love. As much as their youth permits, they understand the responsibilities of marriage. In Diane and I and Al and Kim Wheeler, they have good role models of "real life" perseverance in difficulties. They both love God and are committed to raising their kids, when they come, as believers. Jay is an outstanding young man, hard working, sensitive, caring, and utterly willing to throw himself in front of a bus to protect Imani. I couldn't ask for a better person to care for my treasure. But still, but still.....Dad was mumbling "Sunrise Sunset" to himself all day long.
Which brings us to I Corinthians 7, one of Paul's extended teachings on marriage. Those of us who have been married know that marriage provides great support and enjoyment, and equally great challenges. My old friend Bill Oosterman, who knew a thing or two about "real life" as a Marine rifleman in the WWII battle of Okinawa, used to say that marriage is full of "real days". Real conflict. Real disappointment. Real struggle. Despairing of survival sometimes. Not surprisingly Paul is addressing people who desperately want to get married, and then moves on to address another set of people who seem to desperately want to leave it! His message to all, including servants and slaves and circumcized and uncircumcized to boot, is this: "Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches."
There is a general rule in grief counseling: don't make any big changes a year after you have experienced the death of another. Well......have you and I not experienced the death of the Old Man? Are we not the New Man, learning our way around the freedom of being dead to sin and a servant of Christ? It makes sense then that new believers, who have just recently experienced the death of the Old Man, wouldn't take any big, bold new steps in their personal lives. At least not for a while. And Paul even adds the odd stipulation, "I, not the Lord." It's like he is just old Uncle Paul giving advice. He is decidedly not speaking ex cathedra. In Scripture. Weird.
Paul adds that a big part of being a New Man is realizing that time is short and we must work for the Kingdom that is coming soon and will occupy our joyful attention forever. And marriage can be a hindrance to that, Paul said. Except when it's not. Just keep your eye on the prize, bucko.
I used to say a regular bedtime prayer over Joe and Imani, repeated who knows how many times by me, Tevye and others since David wrote it years ago in the Psalms:
"May the Lord bless you and keep you, may He make His face to shine upon you, and may He give you peace." I testify that God honored this prayer for Diane and me, in and through our struggles. May He likewise bless Jay and Imani, and every other couple.
Shower the people you love, with love. If you have another's hand to hold, take it in yours and say "I love you and I'm glad you're in my life."