The older I get the more my sin shows itself. As painful as that is, I'm so grateful. It's a sign of God growing me up. I'd be pretty concerned if as the years passed, nothing in me changed. That would be a sure sign that I'd hardened my heart to His Spirit. But, I am changing, and my sin is definitely not in the dark. Marriage, the great mirror, has unearthed many ugly things that could have otherwise laid dormant in my heart for the rest of my life. But Matthew Darling sees it all. We live in too close of proximity to not see past the surface of each other's hearts. He sees my kindness, my compassion, my tenderness, and my quirky humor, but he also sees my anger, my jealousy, my desire for control, my envy, and the many other characteristics of my brokenness.
Marriage was created by God to help us understand our relationship with Christ. I knew that before I got married, but I didn't quite get it. I also didn't get it when friends a little older than me said to be ready to face myself, but oh do I understand now.
In his book about intimacy and relationships, Donald Miller said about marriage that "God is going to reveal me as a flawed human being as fast as He can and He's going to enjoy it because it will force me to grapple with real intimacy." That's the best way I know how to tell you what marriage is doing for and to me. Now don't get me wrong, there are lots of Norah Ephron-esque bits too. Most mornings I spend at least a few moments in awe of the gift that is waking up to Matthew. However, God is not messing around when it comes to using our marriage as a refining tool to rid of us some of our rough edges.
Marriage isn't the end all or the be all of life and, because that's true, the refining process is going to happen to you (if you continue to offer up your life to God) whether you get married or not. I've said it once, and I'll say it again: He loves us as we are, but He loves us too much to leave us that way. So, the refining is coming, one way or another.
Do you feel clueless as to what I'm talking about? Maybe this excerpt from CS Lewis' novel The Voyage of the Dawn Treader will help. This is one of the books from the Chronicles of Narnia series. In this particular adventure, Eustace, an obnoxious boy with a terrible attitude, has been turned into a dragon due to his greed. While living as a dragon, he has a change of heart and begins to treat others well instead of poorly. In this scene, Aslan the lion (and God figure) comes to Eustace's aid. It is written from Eustace's perspective.
The water was as clear as anything and I thought if I could get in there and bathe it would ease the pain in my leg, but the lion told me I must undress first. Mind you, I don't know if he said any words out loud or not.
I was just going to say that I couldn't undress because I hadn't any clothes on when I suddenly thought that dragons are snaky sort of things and snakes can cast their skins. Oh, of course, thought I, that's what the lion means. So I started scratching myself and my scales began coming off all over the place. And then I scratched a little deeper and, instead of just scales coming off here and there, my whole skin started peeling off beautifully, like it does after an illness, or as if I was a banana. In a minute or two I just stepped out of it. I could see it lying there beside me, looking rather nasty. It was a most lovely feeling. So I started to go down into the well for my bathe.
But just as I was going to put my feet into the water I looked down and saw that they were all hard and rough and wrinkled and scaly just as they had been before. Oh, that's all right, said I, it only means I had another smaller suit on underneath the first one, and I'll have to get out of it too. So I scratched and tore again and this underskin peeled off beautifully and out I stepped and left it lying beside the other one and went down to the well for my bathe.
Well, exactly the same thing happened again. And I thought to myself, oh dear, how ever many skins have I got to take off? For I was longing to bathe my leg. So I scratched away for the third time and got off a third skin, just like the two others, and stepped out of it. But as soon as I looked at myself in the water I knew it had been no good.
The the lion said - but I don't know if it spoke - 'You will have to let me undress you.' I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.
The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt. The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off. You know - if you've ever picked the scab of a sore place. It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.
Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off - just as I thought I'd done it myself the other three times, only they hadn't hurt - and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there I was at Iast, smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me - I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on - and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I'd turned into a boy again. You'd think me simply phoney if I told you how I felt about my own arms. I know they've no muscle and are pretty mouldy compared with Caspian's, but I was so glad to see them.
After a bit the lion took me out and dressed me - (with his paws?) - Well, I don't exactly remember that bit. But he did somehow or other: in new clothes - the same I've got on now, as a matter of fact. and then suddenly I was back here. Which is what makes me think it must have been a dream."
I can't read that without crying. Every. Single. Time. Do you KNOW what Christ has done for me? What He is still doing for me? He is undressing me. He is shedding the skin of my false self. What is my false self? It is everything I am without Him. It is me lost in my brokenness. It is me before the refining work He does in my heart and soul. My false self is every thought, action, and identity that I have apart from Him. Without Him, I am the worst of dragons. I am a fire breathing, murdering, selfish, beast who is unable to be anything but a beast.
Like Eustace, we all get to that point of absolute desperation where we know surrendering our lives to Him is going to be painful, but staying a dragon isn't an option anymore. Living as a filthy beast isn't an option anymore. Shedding the skin of our false self is the only way to really live here on Earth, but we can't shed that skin on our own.
I love the imagery of Aslan turning Eustace into something new. In fact, everything Lewis writes about Aslan has helped me grasp more of God. And while I do believe that there is that first true experience of Christ, where we hand our lives to over to Him for the first time and He breathes new life into us, I think He then spends the rest of our lives, undressing and redressing us. Just when we get comfortable with ourselves, He brings in another tool to expose our beastly hearts and the process begins all over agin.
If you read the rest of the story, you see that Eustace is never the same hateful boy he was before, but he is also not quite perfect. The narrator explains that the boy sometimes slipped into old habits, but that they never ruled over him in the same way again. Isn't that true of us as well?
When I reflect on my own life, I see very distinct seasons and in each of those seasons, God has used different means of slaying the dragon within me. Currently, He is using my marriage, and like Lewis writes about Eustace's experience with Aslan, it can be painful. After all, I would prefer we operate under the illusion that I'm perfect! I have no flaws, we have no arguments, and Matthew can go to his grave never seeing me at my worst. But, that's not reality and that's not God's design for marriage.
Don't be afraid of giving up on trying to shed your own false self. Don't be afraid to get of your own way and let Christ undress you. Is it scary? You betcha. Is it painful? Absolutely. Is it necessary? Only if you want to become something new in Christ. In this season of life God is using my marriage to make me more like Him. What, or who, is He using to refine you?
No one is too much of a dragon to be made new. NO ONE. Even Eustace ponders just how many skins he had to get off! He was scared of being made vulnerable. He was scared of being exposed for what he was. He was even scared when his dragon self was done away with and Aslan embraced him fully. New things often are scary. But not nearly as frightening as living all of life without letting God address our brokenness.
The grace and the unconditional love that Matthew Darling shows me through our marriage has helped me better understand my desperate need for God's grace. It is His grace that accepts me in my beastly state and it is the same grace that slowly makes me holy.
I am so thankful for Matthew, our marriage, and the saving grace of God.
The old me is slowly dying into the new me, the one compatible for intimacy, And this slow death and resurrection will likely last the rest of my life.
-Donald Miller, Scary Close