This Sunday we will celebrate and give thanks to God for the people we are closest to in our lives, our partners. I have always been struck by that part of the wedding liturgy when it speaks about the commitment and loyalty promised in marriage as a firm foundation on which to build our lives. When I think back to my childhood, I think I took my parents’ relationship for granted. It was a very loving and mutually supportive relationship and that enabled us as children to feel a deep sense of security. I am grateful for that early sense of security for I am only too aware of those whose early life was very different. However for me their relationship acted as a model, their loving faithfulness was a gift to us. And wherever we find that in our own lives we know it to be a very special gift. The story of Ruth in the Jewish Scriptures we call the Old Testament, show just how powerful steadfast love can be in turning our lives around.
When Naomi had lost her husband and then her two sons through early death and was utterly bereft it was Ruth’s pledge of steadfast love and loyalty that provided the ‘foundation’ on which Naomi could rebuild her life from the chaos she was in. Wherever you go, I will go – wherever you stay, I will stay – your people shall be my people – and your God my God. The book of Ruth could well be described as a commentary on the Hebrew word HESED, which I have had inscribed on my wedding ring. It means in short, ‘God’s steadfast loving kindness’. That’s what holds us in life, and which constantly seeks to weave order into our chaos when our relationships begin to fray at the edges.
I have often regarded the Christian concept of love as ‘love with backbone’ – love that is able to stay the distance, or as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13, love that bears all things and endures all things. In defining love, Paul goes to great lengths to show that love is a gift we both give and receive, and it is an every day engagement. However I believe it is both ‘gift’ and ‘choice’! The choices we make can help to safeguard the gift we give and receive of ourselves. We can choose to hold our tongue or temper, we can choose to forgive or withhold that forgiveness; we can choose to be gracious or generous, or mean spirited, and we do need to work on this.
Marriage as with any ‘covenanted’ relationship (whether married officially or not) engages us in a ‘vocation’ of ‘life together’ as Bonhoeffer says. I believe that human beings are meant to live in community – even if that community is that of two people living as a couple. We need one another and are the more ‘human’, more whole, when we live well together, dealing with our conflicts and expectations, hopes and dreams and not avoiding them. It is my prayer that we all continue to be enriched in that life we have found together.