This Sunday as we continue our series, Marriage Myths, we started unpacking the first myth: The soulmate myth. Our culture says that when we find our soulmate, everything about our life will be on the up and up from there on out. The truth is something entirely different than that…and a lot better. Keep reading (or listening) to find out what this is.
The “One” Syndrome
So, my boys were watching the movie Frozen again the other night. And I’ll admit it: I sat there and watched a lot of it with them. After all, I set it to record…for them of course. Okay, I’ll go ahead and admit it: Frozen is a good movie. It’s actually pretty unique as far as Disney princess movies go. Now, at one level it’s just like all the rest. But at another level it’s very different. It does something no other Disney movie I can think of does. Again, though, for most of the movie you wouldn’t know it.
I suspect most of you know the basic outline of the story. Sisters and princesses Elsa and Anna are orphaned when their parents’ ship is lost in a storm. Unbeknownst to everyone, Elsa has a secret: She has ice powers. All her life she tried to control them and keep them under wraps until she couldn’t anymore. When she finally breaks loose, she swings the pendulum in the entirely opposite direction, sets off an eternal winter for the kingdom she was supposed to be ruling, and builds herself an ice palace to keep everyone else away. Her devoted sister, Anna, isn’t content to see her big sister lost to her and goes after her. As they tussle over whether or not things can ever again be like they were (to music, of course), Elsa hits Anna in the heart with a blast of ice power. A quick visit with a wise rock troll reveals that only an act of true love can break the power of the ice and warm her heart once again.
At this point in the story, everybody knows what this act of true love is. She needs to get back to the castle as quickly as she can where her new fiancé and soulmate, Hans of the Seven Isle’s, is watching over things while she’s gone. If she can get a smooch from him—true love’s kiss—she’ll be healed, and everyone will live happily ever after. With the help of Sven, the Reindeer, Olaf, the Snowman, and Kristoff, her new friend, the quartet get back to town quickly and without incident. Kristoff delivers her safely into the hands of the palace staff and things are on track to a happy ending. At least they are right up until the moment the literary bomb goes off: Hans is not her soulmate. She’s doomed.
Speaking of soulmates, this morning we are in the second part of our brand new teaching series, Marriage Myths. In this conversation we are taking a look at some of the ways our culture understands marriage, why those may not be the best ways to understand it, and why the truth about it is so much better. Last week we started things out by not talking about any myths about marriage at all. Instead, we started with some foundation work so we had something to build on. Indeed, unless we properly understand what marriage is and what it’s for, we can’t very well talk about what it’s not. So, with the help of a close look at Genesis 2, we crafted both a definition and a purpose statement for marriage. As we said then, marriage is a covenantal relationship between a man and a woman designed by God in creation for the purpose of pointing people to Jesus. This idea gives us a place to start.
This morning, I want to take a look with you at the first myth about marriage offered up by our culture. Let’s call this the “one” syndrome. The idea that a lot of folks have when it comes to marriage is that in order to get things right, you have to marry your one, true soulmate. The idea is everywhere. In fact, if anything, as we continue down the path of becoming a post-marriage culture, the idea of finding a soulmate is becoming even more important to us because in the absence of a spouse you have to have somebody else committed to you no matter what. It is serving as a kind of substitute (albeit an insufficient one) for real marriage. If you were to do an internet search for “10 signs you’ve found your soulmate” you would get over 53 million hits. And if you were to hypothetically click on some of those links you would find bits of advice like this: Your soulmate is loyal. He makes you feel good. You just “get” one another. He’s always your number one priority. You may feel flashbacks to past lives when you were united with this person then too. You can’t imagine life without your soulmate. You look each other in the eye. Your soulmate knows how to make you feel special. Your soulmate always thinks you’re irresistible. She makes you feel safe. He’s always trustworthy. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Is anybody’s heart fluttering a bit? Is anybody ready to puke yet?
Another “expert” quoted some author I’ve never heard of named Richard Bach, who, in his book Soulmate, defined this person as “someone who has locks that fit our keys, and keys that fit our locks. When we feel safe enough to open the locks, our truest selves step out and we can be completely and honestly who we are; we can be loved for who we are and not for who we’re pretending to be.” If you need to you can turn to the person next to you to bat your eyes and hold your heart for just a second. And if the sappiness is starting to get to you, I promise I’ll dial it back a bit here in just a minute.
The point of all this is here: We are taught today to search out our soulmate. And when we find this person, fireworks will go off, the world will slow down around the two of us, we’ll stare deeply and lovingly into each other’s eyes, say, “I do,” as soon as we can, and be blissfully happy for the rest of our lives. We’ll live happily ever after, never mind the fact that 99.99% of those stories end with “I do” and don’t bother telling you what happened next. But, the true believer might protest, if you really do marry your soulmate, you won’t have to work on the relationship. Everything will just work. After all, if you “get” each other, you’ll never do anything to upset the apple cart. If it’s not easy, then maybe you just didn’t marry the right person. Maybe you didn’t really find your one, true soulmate. (And if you’ve been married for more than a decade, you can stop rolling your eyes now.)
Well, as with any myth, all of these stories sound really good. They sound adventurous and romantic. They sound harmonious and perfectly in tune. They sound like the kind of stories we want our own to mimic. So we try. And this works…right up to the point that it doesn’t. That’s the problem with fantasy. It always eventually crashes into reality, and we don’t always get a warning before the collision occurs. The truth is, this whole idea of seeking a soulmate as our culture would have us do is a terrible idea. Not only is it not Biblical in its origin, but it isn’t very wise. Think about it: Do you remember your first really serious relationship? Do you remember the first time you were “in love”? Do you remember the first person you might have dared to call your “soulmate”? Did you marry that person? Some of you may have, and that person is sitting next to you this morning. Some of you may have…and that person is not sitting next to you this morning. But, I’d wager a whole lot more of you didn’t. You didn’t, and now you’re happily married to someone else.
So then, were you wrong in those old feelings? Did you just think the person was your soulmate, but have now realized it wasn’t really? Or maybe…could you have more than one soulmate? Speaking of that, what if a person has three or four soulmates? Could you be a soulmate for more than one person? Could someone be your soulmate, but then grow to not be your soulmate after a season? Are you starting to get the picture here? The idea that in marriage we unite with our one, true soulmate is a myth.
Think for a minute about why. Imagine that it’s true that everybody has a single soulmate with whom they need to unite in order to experience the deepest levels of happiness and relational satisfaction possible. If one person were to marry the wrong person, the whole system would be thrown into chaos. If one person got off years ago, then the world has been out-of-balance ever since. If that were the case it would mean that not a single person in this room married the right person. Tough luck, huh?
More significantly than that, though, the whole idea of a soulmate as our culture pitches it comes out of a faulty view of people. It’s prefaced on the idea that people don’t ever really change in significant ways. Yet this idea is false before it gets off the starting blocks. You know this already. Of course people change. They change all the time and in monumentally significant ways. We are changed by life experiences. We are changed by our careers. We are changed by the hobbies we pursue. We are changed even simply by the passing of time. If you are married now, your spouse dated one person, was engaged to another, married a third, and has now been married to a different person about every ten years since. If you have kids, you are a different person on this side of their births than you were on the other. And not in small ways either. Unless the idea of a soulmate is a constantly moving target (in which case, how do you ever know when you find this person?), while you may have been your spouse’s soulmate at one point, you quickly became someone else and your spouse was tasked with deciding if the new you was also a soulmate, if she was going to put up with you anyway, or if he was going to try again for a different soulmate (assuming there even is such a person out there any longer).
Even more than this, our culture’s idea of a soulmate seeks from people what can only be obtained from God. It leaves us seeking peace and security and loyalty in places other than where they can be found. It puts us in a place of seeking to trust in people what can only be found in Jesus. Consider a warning offered by the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Judah: “Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the [one] who trusts in [people] and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land.’” Those are tough words. It’s not just that the person who looks to people for what can only be found in God is foolish, it’s that he’s cursed. She’s setting herself on a road that won’t end anywhere good.
There’s a better way. It starts with what Jeremiah says next. While the one who trusts in people is cursed, “Blessed is the [one] who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” If you are seeking a soulmate, someone who will be your rock in hard times, you’re ultimately going to be disappointed because no person is equipped to serve that purpose. When you seek all those things you desire from a soulmate in the Lord, all of a sudden, when your “soulmate” leaves you thinking that maybe he wasn’t after all, you will not need to fear the devastating disappointment that might otherwise come crashing down on top of you because your house is built on an entirely more stable foundation.
This idea is one that the apostle Paul talks about as well in a passage that is going to serve as the jumping off point for this and our remaining two conversations as well. These verses are found near the end of his letter to the believers in ancient Ephesus and they are a source of much controversy and theological angst for many folks today, believer and unbeliever alike. Starting in Ephesians 5:22, Paul begins offering some counsel and commands for how followers of Jesus can “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which [they] have been called” in their marriages. And much to the chagrin of modern readers who have been influenced by two generations of feminism shaping the culture (and not always in unhealthy ways), Paul’s first command is for wives to submit to their husbands as to the Lord. The reason for this command is that “the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.”
We’re going to talk about that…next week. So you’ll have to come back if you’re at all curious. We’ll be back in the fellowship building. As you wade a little deeper into what Paul says, though, he offers a command to husbands a few verses later that points us in the direction of a healthy alternative to our culture’s soulmate myth. If you’d like to follow along with me, open the nearest Bible to Ephesians 5:28 and check this out. After making some observations about a husband’s duty to his wife that we’ll talk about in a couple of weeks, Paul says this: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.”
In other words, what Paul does here is to root a husband’s love for his wife (or a wife’s for her husband) in the love and care he has for himself. And Paul’s not running out on shaky rails doing this either. When Jesus offered the much more general command for how His followers should approach the people around them, He called us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Now, granting that there are folks with a deeply unhealthy self-regard which is an issue with which they need help to overcome, most people have at least a reasonably healthy self-image. What I mean by this is that they want good things for themselves and do what they think is necessary to see those good things come to pass. In other words, they work on themselves, for themselves. Jesus called us to take this natural love of self and let it become the model for how we treat other people. Paul just takes this general command and tailors it more narrowly to the marriage relationship.
So, what does all of this mean? It means that rather than expecting your spouse to try and fit into your box, your mold for what your ideal soulmate looks like, you move yourself in the other direction. Instead of seeking a soulmate, become one. Don’t seek a soulmate, become one. Okay, but what does that mean? It means that instead of spending a lot of time dreaming up what your ideal husband or ideal wife looks like, you make a shift and begin focusing instead on what kind of person this ideal spouse is looking to marry. Then, you do whatever it takes to shape yourself into this image. To put that another way, instead of dreaming about a certain person, work to become the kind of person the person you are looking for is dreaming about.
If your perfect match, your soulmate, is patient and loving and kind and generous and physically fit and gracious and positive and tolerant of your faults and loyal and beyond reproach and the list goes on, what kind of perfect match do you think this person is seeking? Listen: Somebody that ideal isn’t looking for somebody like you…unless you happen to be patient and loving and kind and generous and physically fit and gracious and positive and tolerant of their faults and loyal and beyond reproach and the list goes on. So, do you measure up? Odds are, a lot of the time…you don’t. I don’t either. So what do we do? Stop seeking a soulmate, become one. Begin now to do the work in your life that will shape you into the kind of person that is the person you’re looking for’s soulmate.
If you’re already married (as most of you are), there’s something here for you too. Maybe you’re still honeymooning and have starry-eyes for all your spouse’s faults. Enjoy that time. It won’t last. For the rest of us who have already experienced that moment when we realized that this other person might not measure up to every single one of our highest expectations for a soulmate, the worst thing you can do is to respond to this moment by seeking out a new soulmate. That won’t be a solution. It will merely create new problems. The second worst thing you can do is to try and subtly shape and change your spouse to better fit your ideal image. Trying will just leave your spouse resenting you for not accepting her as she is. And if you are to succeed, you won’t respect him anymore for not having more confidence in who he was to start with. Instead, ask yourself this question: Who is my spouse’s ideal spouse? If you’ve been paying very close attention, it shouldn’t take long to come up with at least a pretty solid starting point from which to begin working. The next thing to do is to start intentionally working on yourself to better fall into line with these expectations. In other words, don’t try to squeeze your spouse into some vision you have of your perfect soulmate, make yourself into hers; into his. Don’t seek a soulmate, become one.
How? Well, to start with, consider taking out the trash. All of us have garbage in our lives of some form. It may be emotional garbage. It may be relational garbage. It may be financial garbage. It may be spiritual garbage. Whatever kind of garbage you have going on in your life, clean it up. If you have fractured relationships that are keeping you from bonding as fully with your spouse as she desires, start working to repair those. If you have daddy issues or mommy issues, get some help with those. Go see a counselor for a while if you need to. There’s no shame in that. It’s better to work those things out with a counselor than it is to simply express them through your spouse. Not only will that not fix the problems, it’ll embitter your spouse which creates a new one. Nobody wants to be a punching bag for somebody else to deal with issues from their past that didn’t get dealt with then. In fact, issues in our past never stay in our past. They become a part of our present which sets the tone for our future.
If you have a habit that isn’t building up your character in the direction of Christ, a habit that is pulling you away from your spouse instead of pushing you toward your spouse, get rid of it. Don’t try to reshape it or scale it back or do anything else that involves keeping it in some altered form. Just get rid of it. If you’ve got debt going on that your spouse doesn’t know about, come clean about it, and commit to getting it paid off as quickly as financially possible.
If your relationship with God isn’t where it needs to be, get that fixed too. The truth is that if you try and connect to your spouse via some conduit other than a healthy relationship with Jesus, your connection will never be what you both want it to be. And, guys, just as a bit of a bonus for us, the apostle Peter offers the warning that if we don’t treat our wives right, God won’t listen to our prayers until we do. And why not? If you have a daughter, how willing would you be to engage with a son-in-law who was mistreating your little girl? Oh, you might engage with him, but it’ll be to threaten his existence if he continues. Well, your wife is God’s little girl. He doesn’t take kindly to her being mistreated by anybody, but particularly by the person who is supposed to be making sure she is being formed well in the image He created her to bear (that’s you). In other words, if you want a good relationship with God, don’t try to twist your wife into some vision of a soulmate you’re carrying around (a vision that is probably shaped by cultural trends that should have had no business in shaping it), make yourself into hers. Don’t seek a soulmate, become one. Make yourself fully into the image of Christ and watch the magic happen. After all, marriage is designed to point people to Jesus, but it can only do that if we are ourselves in a growing relationship with Jesus. Absent that it will point them somewhere else. When that happens, the thing isn’t working like it should. That’s never a good situation.
It’s never a good situation, and if we are still stuck on the soulmate myth it can be a devastating one because that’s not what’s supposed to happen with a soulmate…or so our culture says. If someone buys into the soulmate myth, then the first time something happens to suggest that our partner is maybe not our soulmate after all, our whole vision of reality can come crashing down. That’s when people go into a self-preservation panic mode and begin to do things that may seem helpful, but really hurt in the end. How much better to stop seeking a soulmate and focus our attention on becoming one?
And hey, if you become a soulmate and you’re not married, the likelihood that you get found by the person you are looking for goes way up because you’ll be the person you’re looking for is looking for. If you are married, becoming your spouse’s soulmate will make a huge injection of life into your relationship that it may not have had for quite some time. It will move you to the place where you can truly become one flesh. It will radically increase the likelihood of intimacy in your relationship. When you increase the relational intimacy in your marriage, all the other kinds of intimacy are going to come along with it.
The reason for this should be obvious. There’s nothing quite like watching people work to become the best possible version of themselves to encourage us to do the same thing in our own lives. How many of you watched The Biggest Loser when it was on and were motivated to make some lifestyle changes of your own? Guess what, when you become a soulmate rather than seeking a soulmate, not only will you not put an unfair and impossible-to-meet standard on your spouse, but you will likely encourage him or her on to becoming the very best possible version of himself or herself as well. In marriage we are becoming one flesh with another person. Who wants to become one flesh with someone who’s broken in a million different places? Better yet, why would you want to do that to someone else? Stop seeking a soulmate, and start becoming one.
Don’t seek a soulmate, become one. Become one because somebody is looking for you and you want to make sure they can find you when the time is right. Become one because there’s somebody who has given up her life for you and she deserves to be married to the man of her dreams, not the man you’ve let yourself become. Become one because there’s a man who wants to be a knight in shining armor, fighting the battles of his beloved in order to honor her like the queen she is, and he deserves to have a queen who is worthy of his service and sacrifice. Become one because whether you have a spouse in your future or not, you are called to be a part of the bride of Christ, and He deserves your best, not your rest. Don’t seek a soulmate, become one…and come back next week as we tackle another marriage myth. See you then.