Brides and Butchers

my ring

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.

Eviscerated.

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?

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8 comments

  1. peacefulwife

    What a profound and holy perspective on covenants! I LOVE this post and all of the ramifications of what it means to die to self to preserve the covenant of marriage. I love the vivid imagery. THANK YOU for helping us see marriage and our relationship with Christ in a new light. I would love to have the honor of posting this piece on my blog if you will allow me to! Thank you for shining for Christ! Thank you for sharing what God has taught you! I praise God because of you!

    • towardabundantlife

      Please do! I’d love to share this with as many people as possible. I feel that it is one of the life messages God has given me. Anyone interested in a more lengthy description of a covenant ceremony can also check out the book the Miracle of the Scarlet Thread by Richard Booker. I don’t agree with all the the conclusions he reaches, but with the great historical background he gives, you can seek God for discernment to interpret it.

  2. Thankful for God's Grace

    Wow! This is very vivid imagery about the importance of covenants. (I for one am very glad we don’t have to slaughter anything to get married! But a powerful sign of how important a covenant is.) My husband and I renewed our marriage covenant at a Marriage Conference the year we were saved by God’s grace and since then have always said “Divorce is not an option.” Close relatives of our’s recently got divorced who have two children. We had the opportunity to take care of those children during that awful summer while everything was being finalized. We tried to let them know that they are loved and that they were not responsible for the divorce. We also told them that they could always call us and we would come and get them if they needed a haven. Fast forward a couple years and they seem to be completely different people and I’m not sure what to say. They are no longer young in years or innocent at heart. From someone who has been there, what advice do you have for us who desperately want to see them walking with Jesus?

    • towardabundantlife

      My advice is: do whatever you feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to do, no more, no less. He knows their needs better than you or I could. And don’t lose heart. They could be working through this for decades. I suspect that reaffirming your love for them and your commitment to be a haven for them would still mean a lot, even if they appear to blow you off now.

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