Ephesians 5:25 (New International Version)
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”
I have often been privy to conversations in which the relevance of marriage is questioned. Opponents often refer to it as outdated and useless, designed to keep women subjugated and men in a position of dominance within the culture. As a young feminist, I once agreed with this assessment, and had vowed at one point in my life never to marry. When I found myself at the altar (by choice), still desperately clinging to my “independence,” I refused to take my husband’s last name. And so, for the first year of my marriage I was Sheeri Caldwell. As I began to learn about and understand the principles of biblical submission, however, a better, more accurate picture of marriage began to form in my mind.
Like many young women in my generation, I did not grow up under parents who cultivated a healthy marriage. My home life for the first 10 years of my life was hellish. My parents fought constantly. The home they made together was a battlefield full of landmines. Arguments could erupt without notice (and it seemed to me without provocation). My father would leave sometimes for days at a time, often taking the family car, leaving my mother and myself dependent upon neighbors, friends, and often dangerous public transportation to get to and fro. Each of my parents was capable of stringing together the most degrading insults, designed to gut the other person. They often found their mark. Although no one ever threw a physical blow, my parents’ determination to verbally and emotionally wound one another left many scars – mostly on me. Figuring that all marriages end in bitterness and/or divorce (my parents separated for the last time when I was 10 years old), I made an unholy vow at a tender age that I would never marry.
Armed with my philosophy that all men were dishonest, unfaithful idiots, who lived only for self, I went off to college to learn how to become a functioning member of society. Liberal feminism was a natural fit for me. It reinforced what I already believed, and taught me a new and more politically correct means to articulate that men are (in fact) idiots (a philosophy to which I no longer subscribe – I now know that men and women share that position equally). Given my disposition toward them, one would wonder why it was that I held any interest in men at all. But since I am and have been delightedly heterosexual, lesbianism was never an option nor a desire – even before I committed my sexuality to God.
I dated a fair number of young men while single. Although I appreciated some of the characteristics rough necks possess, I preferred young professionals who came from humble beginnings, but who were ambitious achievers. Although the young men I associated with were bright, well-educated, with a modicum of charm and civility, in my heart they were just ornaments to me. I always knew I would earn my own way. I would be in control. I would be a success, and my man, whoever he happened to be, could come along. I neither understood nor desired unity. I did not want to build with anyone nor join anyone who was building. I just wanted to be in charge of my own life and no man would get in my way. The problem with clinging to an attitude like this one, is that any man who would accept me with such a disposition was automatically one I could not respect.
No woman in her right mind desires a man she can “run.” If you can “run” him then guess what? He’s not a man. I had bought into the hype that women and men were the same – that a real woman did not need a man – that men were dependents at worst and attractive ornaments at best and overall unnecessary except as sperm donors for those of us who wanted to make babies. At the time I held this ideology, I didn’t know it, but I did desire a real man. I wanted a man who was powerful, but who would never use his power to harm me. I wanted a man who was masculine, but who wasn’t emotionally constipated. I wanted a man with ambition and purpose, but who valued those things that money can’t buy. I wanted a man who had integrity, was honest, and honorable, but who wasn’t too rigid to enjoy life. The problem was that I believed such a man to be a myth, and so decided that I would tolerate men for their companionship (because I do enjoy the company of men), but that I would never entrust myself one.
As I began to study the bible more and more, a silhouette of manhood began to take shape. I saw in the person of Christ all of the characteristics that I valued not only in a man, but in a friend, in a parent, in a teacher, in a brother. I saw the perfect person. I began to see that people who were truly committed to Christ (not the ones who were faking it), really tried to think as Jesus thought and behave as he did. The people I met who were committed to following the teachings of Christ possessed a unique world view that both challenged and intrigued me. As I studied the person of and the teachings of Christ more, I saw for myself that the Jesus of the bible is an amazing man! I began to see that God designed humanity to be conduits of his love, and that we were to love one another as he loved us – not selfishly but sacrificially.
It is a simple truth, “we love because he first loved us,” one that I have sung since childhood. But one that I did not come to appreciate until I touched upon the depth of God’s love for me.
When I met Mykel Mitchell, I was a hot mess. I was hostile, opinionated, strong-willed to the point of self-destruction, and smug. My behavior and attitude had set me up for failure in my romantic relationships. I had been deeply wounded and was terribly mistrustful and (dare I admit it?) bitter. I won’t bore you with the details of how God massaged my hard heart to the point of tears of pain and then to tears of joy, but suffice it to say that he used the loving, patient, kind, but firm demeanor of my husband to do it. I often ask Mykel what it was that drew him to me – he’s got a list – but he always reminds me that he saw – me. He saw who I really was – not the persona I had adopted. And he pursued me because he recognized my identity and value.
There was much that I had to learn about myself in the first years of marriage to Mykel. Never having been one who “played well with others,” learning to live with another person and share so much of my space, time and self was really foreign to me. In fact, I am still learning how to do that. But the amazing thing to me was that just as I would come to the realization that I needed a mate who had a certain characteristic, I would discover that the man God had hand-picked for me possessed that very same character trait. As Mykel tenderly loved me, a change began to take place in my heart. The hardness began to flake away and a tenderness began to take over. I didn’t have so much to prove any more, so I could lay down my arms and my pervasive need to be right. As I realized I could trust Mykel to respect me and to honor me, I so wanted to be the wife he deserved – a wife worthy of such a noble man.
I say it often, but it bears repeating, my husband loved me beautiful. I began to respond to him as a sunflower does to the sun – not in a worshipful way, but in appreciation. I wanted to please him. I wanted to become preoccupied with making him happy, in supporting him, in impacting his life in a meaningful, positive way – just as he was committed to doing for me. And so that has been my mission. What a beautiful exchange it is. Don’t get me wrong, I am still selfish and terribly flawed, so I fail often. But I never give up. Mykel is worth it. The Lord is certainly worth it.
Once married, I understood the type of intimacy God wants with us. I understood from experience why he uses the metaphor of marriage to describe his relationship to us. I understand why he calls himself a jealous God. I understand how he “aches” (for lack of a better word) to be in relationship with us, for us to be as preoccupied with him as he is with us. I understand how he continually gives good gifts over and over to woo us to himself and how it breaks his heart when we reject him. I get it. Just like with Mykel, the more I appreciate God’s personal, intimate love for me, the more I desire to please him – not out of a sense of duty, but out of joyful gratitude. There is nothing I hold back from my Father in heaven. Have you ever been so grateful to someone for something (s)he has done for you that you just want to show that person – demonstrate to that person – your appreciation by offering your best? I have. I am grateful to my husband for loving me as he does. But I am supremely grateful to the God who fashioned me for him, presented us to each other at exactly the right time, united us, and keeps us united.
I began this article by stating how opponents of marriage view the institution. And while there are many social, familial, and health benefits for creating and maintaining a healthy marriage (which I plan to explore at a later date), the biggest benefits of all are that in a God-ordained marriage, done God’s way, you have the best opportunity to discover your own humanity and to experience the nature of your Creator.
God taught me how to love by loving me through Mykel Mitchell. So I now know that true love flows in only one direction – outward to others. Armed with this knowledge, I purpose to become as pure a vessel as possible for that love to flow through me.
Be blessed Family!
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