Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Element of Surprise

During one of my middle-of-the-night feeding sessions during which I WASN'T watching endless hours of my new show Parenthood (an entire season in less than a week? That's me!), I read this blog post at Focus on the Family's "Boundless" blog. The author talks about a recent New York Times article that dissects one of the newly-discovered reasons for the divorce epidemic in America: boredom.

Apparently, our brains take about two years to acclimate to something and make what was once exciting more pedestrian. So, the romantic love that compels you to get married lasts a few years into your marriage, and then your brain interprets its newfound comfort level as a lack of love (however defined) and sends you looking for the real thing. Again.

The antidote, then, is the element of surprise.

Says the NYT and quotes Boundless: "The realization that your marriage no longer supplies the charge it formerly did is then an invitation: Eschew predictability in favor of discovery, novelty and opportunities for unpredictable pleasure."

And, thus, the Christian blogger concludes:  "For those of us who've been influenced by our culture's unrealistic messages that true love is both effortless and everlasting, Lyubomirsky's perspective serves as a healthy, realistic reminder that a durable, satisfying marriage requires imagination and intentionality if we want to enjoy a lifetime of love with the spouse of our youth."

I don't want to be a super-snob, but I think we can do better. I think the gospel is crying out to speak into this new discovery about the human brain and its impact on our relationships. And the beginning point is to realize that a Christian marriage thrives when both partners are not oriented toward one another but when they are oriented together toward God.

I think the same thing is true where the element of surprise comes into play: we must be surprised at God first, and not at one another.

 So I missed a little bit more sleep by thinking about where in Scripture do we see the element of surprise. I think we see people being surprised in two primary categories: surprise at God's holiness and surprise at God's grace. Of course, the two go hand-in-hand.

Surprise at God's holiness usually results in a physical reaction like throwing oneself on the ground in terror and/or humility. When you see God for even a fraction of who he is, the proper response is to do what Isaiah did: to prostrate cry, "Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips!" I think we can try for our entire lives to wrap our minds around God's holiness, but it's still going to be so much bigger, so much more intense, so much more ... surprising.

Surprise at God's grace happens in two sub-categories. The first is surprise at God's grace toward other people. We don't want to be in this category -- this happens to the pharisees when they see Jesus showing grace to those they deemed undeserving, the tax collectors and other sinners, the sick and the unclean. They were surprised that Jesus would stoop to that level. It's the kind of surprise that makes you shake your head in disgust. I'd venture to say that these are the people who haven't experienced surprise at God's holiness.

Let's strive to find ourselves in the second sub-category. Having been surprised at God's holiness, let us be surprised when we find ourselves to be the objects of his grace. Let us, with the song-writers, exclaim, "And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior's blood?" "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!" and "Hallelujah, grace like rain falls down on me!"

Forgiveness is The Great Surprise, when it comes from God, and when it flows from God through other people, including a spouse. Every time I need forgiveness, I should be surprised at this deepening understanding of my own need and at God's power in restoring our relationship. I will keep on needing forgiveness until I die, and so I can only hope to keep receiving the mercy of forgiveness from my husband until death do us part. I think this is the element of surprise that will make for a marriage that lasts.

PS - Speaking of surprise, here's a great prayer from Scotty Smith about renewing our surprise at who God is during this advent season.

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