Almost nothing does a better job at scaring sin out of hiding than commitment. I generally like maintaining enough social space to appear more confident than I really feel. Yet, in the past (almost) two years of befriending and loving Ben, my layers of defense are consistently stripped away.
So, instead, I go through these cycles of panic and revelation, tempered by relief. In the process of growth and maturation in Christ, I’ll discover once again that I’m even more sinful than I thought I was. Armed with this knowledge, I’ll go to Ben. “This is what I’m like,” I’ll say, “It’s awful, and I don’t like it.” Then I’ll mentally start preparing for the worst. However calm and steady he’s been, this will be it. This will make him turn his back to me and run for safety. After all, a covenant’s a big deal. He might as well get out of this while he still can.
We were talking over another one of these issues last week. I was hunched over, burdened by the weigh of self-condemnation.
“You know,” Ben began, breaking into my mental miasma, “Marriage isn’t just about saying, ‘I do,’ to the lovely parts. It’s also about saying, ‘I do,’ to the mess. In picking you, I’m saying that I want to bear your mess more than anyone else’s.”
Taking the Mess
This was not helpful. My first thought was, “Oh, no… I’m engaged to a masochist. What was I thinking?”
Yet even as I started sketching out relationship escape plans in my mind, I knew that he was right. Neither of us wants to get married because of convenience. In fact, we are each seeking to be inconvenienced by each other as an opportunity to demonstrate love and self-sacrifice. You can’t do that without dragging a lot of baggage behind you.
The thing that floors me is that Ben knows my mess. He knows my sin in more than just an abstract, theological way. He’s been hurt and neglected by the hardness in my heart. He can see how deeply it stretches into my past and how tightly it’s wound around my present. And still he not only desires to bear the future weight of that mess but will also trust me to know him and his mess in return.
Fixing the Mess
Even so, Ben can’t fix me. He can take my hand through the trials and travails of a life together. He can speak encouragement and exhortation to my heart. He can bear with me in my failures and rejoice with me in my triumphs. But he can’t make me better. He can’t make that mess disappear.
Which comes to the crux of the issue. Because while Ben and I can’t fix each other, we do know someone who not only can but will. Our heavenly Father promises that all things work together for our good and ultimate sanctification (Romans 8:28-29). We can commit to the earthly covenant of marriage because Christ has eternally paid for our sins and has thereby become our holiness. He took our sin; we got His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus knows my sin more than Ben ever will. He bore its weight on the cross, taking all of my idolatry and insecurity as His own. God has providentially presided over the entirety of my life. He has seen my sin since the day I was born and furthermore knows all of its effects in the future. Yet with an even greater reason to turn His back on me, He instead embraces me as one of His own children.
Embracing the Mess
So, in this messy present, Ben and I can not only give but joyfully accept the weight of each other’s burdens and sins. I look forward even to the messy parts of marriage because God has promised that they are to our good and for His glory. The grace that Ben extends to me now through his love and faithfulness is but a beautiful shadow of what has truly been accomplished in Christ.
So, when I return his statement, saying that I want his mess above all others’, I mean that I want to stick with him through everything. I mean that I want to see him mature in Christ and experience joys and sorrows as he seeks the Gospel in every aspect of his life. To me, being a part of that is worth even the times when his mess gets tangled in mine and we see how much more sinful we can act together than we ever could apart.
And while things may seem messy now, they won’t always be this way. God is changing and remaking us into the image of Christ. One day, as He brings all of history to its culmination, He will bring that work of sanctification to a close. And better even than the chance to be sanctified together, we receive unity with Christ as our best and ultimate reward.