When we celebrated our anniversary earlier this week, I couldn’t help but replay our wedding day in my mind. Every bride has at least one regret about her wedding day. Whether it’s her hair or the cake or the flowers or the music or the weather, there’s always one detail she wishes she could change. I wish we had butchered some cattle.
There is a lot of talk about covenants at weddings. A covenant is a nice term for a rather gruesome affair (you can read about one in Genesis 15). When people made a covenant in the ancient world, they were making an agreement that lasted their whole lifetime. It included their children, born and unborn. They made it official not by saying nice things or feeding each other cake, but by slaughtering livestock.
It was serious business. Somebody had to die.
After stating the terms of the covenant, they split the slaughtered animals down the middle and walked between the splayed halves. They faced each other amid the carcasses and said something to the effect of, “May God do this and more to me if I break this covenant with you.” In other words, “I would rather be cut in half than break my promise”.
When we got married, we thought we knew what love was. We thought we knew what a covenant was.
We had no idea.
We hadn’t walked between the bloody carcasses and counted the cost. We heard the trite comments about sacrifice and submission, but we didn’t hear the bones cracking, see the blood spattering, or smell the damp heat of death.
Somebody has to die.
A few years ago my family went to help some friends butcher a couple of cows. It was midwinter in Minnesota, but the heat coming off of the newly butchered carcasses was palpable (the smell is not unlike the salty hot smell of birth). As I stood watching the blood melt the snow, two thoughts came to me. The first was, “Imagine how strong the smell would be if we were in the heat of the Middle East”. The second was, “Every engaged couple should see this”.
Every bride and groom should be close enough to the carnage to get blood on their expensive wedding clothes. Maybe if we revived this custom, the terms “starter marriage” and “no-fault divorce” would no longer be used so casually.
I’m not condemning people who are divorced. On the contrary, I’m acknowledging the pain of what happened to you. You were split in half. We need to be honest about this with each other. You also can’t avoid this problem by just not getting married. People who live together without making it official are not immune to the same heartache when they split up. There are millions of walking wounded all around you, including kids who had to make sense of their parents’ separation. I, my husband, his sister, 2 brothers in law, and some of my closest friends have all been split in half.
Staying married is also painful. Erik has hurt me more than anyone, and I have hurt him more than I ever thought possible. There were times I didn’t know how we would ever reconcile. But we made a decision that we can’t let our kids get cut to pieces. It’s not because we’re any better than anybody who chose divorce. It’s because we believe God’s grace in our lives is enough to preserve our marriage, if we are willing to die.
I’m not referring to Jesus’ atoning death. It factors into the equation, but there’s no need to repeat it. We die in the sense that we daily put “us” over “me”. We trust God to meet the needs the other person can’t meet. We release the other person from the debts they owe us.
Jesus’ death makes this possible. We’re only capable of offering real love to the extent that we’ve received love from him.
If you’ve been cut in two by a broken covenant (yours or someone else’s) there is healing for you. If you are in a marriage that seems beyond repair, there is hope for you. There are no easy answers, but there is love that lasts forever.
Thinking back on our first 13 years of marriage, I have a lot of regrets. We’ve had to work through so much dysfunction, and we’re not done yet. But that’s also the good news: we’re not done. We’ll be celebrating a friend’s wedding this weekend. As we rejoice with them, we’ll be remembering the daily deaths we’ve died, and the new life that sprang from each one. When has your own heart been split open by a covenant that was broken? What relationships have given you hope that love can last?