We each possess a monster within us. But it is not a foreign monster. This monster looks so much like us that we are scared to look it in the face. It is the monster that desires nothing more than to exploit; to take, steal, lust, abuse.
I am not married, nor have I ever been anywhere particularly close to being married. I hope to be married one day. But in this desire for marriage, my inner-monster finds a safe way to sneak into the depths of my heart and life. My desire for companionship, sexual union, surrender to another, are easy paths for the exploiter to reside inside of me. Marriage becomes an idol. And then darker and more horrid things become even greater idols and marriage itself must be sacrificed. It's a clever trick. I become a monster and any hope of being a good spouse is abandoned at the altar of selfishness. A selfish person cannot be a good spouse. Worshipping the joys and desires of marriage undermine any hope of having that which I desired.
I must learn to re-orient myself.
We must kill lust and selfishness in order to have any hope of healthy marriages. We cannot become one flesh with someone when our only concern is how to feed the monstrous desires of our own flesh. Scripture is quite clear on the call to love your spouse's body as your own.
How can we give ourselves, or prepare ourselves to give, to a spouse in this way?
We must first be a good spouse to our Lord. It is in that relationship that we most fundamentally learn to give and to give up our selfish desires.
Christ entered into this world to redeem a people for Himself; a people to be His bride:
"And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy." -Hosea 2:19
"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” -Revelation 21:9
We must devote ourselves fully to Christ our bridegroom.
When we come to the Eucharistic table, to take communion, we are not merely remembering Christ's death. The Eucharist is a marriage feast. It is an anticipation of THE marriage supper of the Lamb. There, Christ becomes one flesh with His bride, the Church. We are in Him, and He is in us. This is no mere memorial, it is an anticipation. Much more than this, it is a consummation. We become one flesh with Him in His sacrifice. He gives all to us and we give all to Him.
Yet here's the catch: we must give up all our desires other than Christ in order to be truly united to Him. We must be willing to give up all blessings and gifts and run after the Bridegroom wherever He would lead us. We must be ready to give up wealth, comfort, family, friendship, marriage, our safety, and our very lives.
He has given all for us and to be one flesh with Him. We must be ready to do the same.
This is not something that merely takes place in our heart. This is not a task for mere cognitive exercise (cognitive prayer and cognitive Bible study). We must pray with and in the midst of our living. We must learn Scripture by living it. Devoting ourselves to our spouse cannot be a mere cognitive exercise. What lover can be a worthy spouse by thoughts alone?
Christ has told us quite explicitly how to love Him, how to bless Him: we must keep His commandments, and we must love 'the least.'
What spouse would let their beloved wander naked and hungry in the streets? To let their spouse be bound in brothels? To die in the wars of the power-drunk? All these are our beloved, our Christ. This is where we become His bride: in the dark places of the world where He has gone before us to suffer with the suffering.
We are called to trade our inward-focused motion to an outward one; actively blessing and loving our spouse. I believe this is necessary to become a good spouse. We should look for our partners to be those who have been running ahead into darkness to care for the suffering, to work for the Kingdom. If I am to marry I hope to find someone in the trenches with Christ. Someone who, like Christ, is to be found with the suffering; where we love other bodies above our own, because we are devoted first and foremost to the body of Christ.
But in this journey, we may be called to abandon everything.
To gain your life you must lose it. And there is no guarantee of getting back everything you gave up.
But you will gain a feast. A marriage feast with the Lamb. A marriage, a home, an eternal Love.
Lord, teach us to love You. Teach us to see You in the suffering humans around us. Let us learn to turn aside our selfish desires and the comfort we find in being inward-focused. You call us out. You call us to love you with our whole selves. To be one flesh with you. To be married to you. To be your beautiful bride. Lead us to the table to break bread with you. Let us drink wine with you. Let us live this marriage feast in our daily lives and work - let us celebrate the Eucharist in giving ourselves away to the needy. That is the marriage feast we are called to partake in. That is the holy consummation of our marriage to you. We suffer with You, we walk into death with You, knowing that You have gone ahead and before us, and came out victorious out the other side. We will always be together. Transform this whore at Your communion table into Your lovely bride.
Update 6/10/13: An apt quotation that Miroslav Volf posted on Facebook today:
"A Christian lives not in himself, but in Christ and in his neighbor" -Luther