Every so often it happens that I meet someone whose presence lingers in my thought processes for a while. The time afforded to them depends on the impact that they had on my mind and emotions to start off with. When they inspire me they usually stay for some time.
One such an individual in particular has stood her ground. She inspires me as someone that is able to deeply connect with others on all levels but also practices supreme boundaries and ambition. I imagine her as a competitive corporate giant and a most attentive and loving wife and mother. On paper she is brilliant and in life her personality brings out the best in those around her. She is successful on multiple levels. She inspires me. She is my pedestal person (well at least one of them).
A little while ago I mentioned to her that I would be travelling abroad. She was excited and explained (obviously having seen the entire world herself!) that the people of the country I would be visiting and their manner of being, still lingers in her mind to this day. She talked further of contentment and how very different her own life experience has been. Her experience in life articulated that regardless of what one does, one should be able to do it better. Her mind was still reaching, contentment a foreigner in another country.
I felt many things in that moment, mostly confused, a deep sense of sadness and then relief. How could she not see herself?? My pedestal person was a human being much like myself.
My mind wandered to hers. I wondered about her thoughts, emotions and behaviour. If she had felt that she had never been good enough, why continually strive? Why not give up? If what we assess is not up to standard, how then can we still move on successfully? Or maybe that is exactly what has always driven her?
Yet there in that moment my pedestal person had revealed a tender and vulnerable part of herself that overflowed with honesty and insight. Her revelation, although shockingly new to me, was not new to her. Her identity was right there in the midst of our conversation and she was quite aware of it.
It led me to consider sonship, the term we often hear in church but one I wonder whether we fully understand. It means that we will as sons of God, understand in oneness with Our Father, who we are and where we are going. To me, understanding who we are with all of our good parts, bad parts and in spirit opens up the doors to enlighten us to the paths He created for us.
As married couples we are one. We have spent four weeks looking at what God says our marriages should be and do, barriers to intimacy and finally we started to vulnerably explore our identities as individuals and how it impacts on what our marriages are at present. Not only did this process create an opportunity for greater intimacy with our spouses but it should also mean that in exploring our identities we can have hope. Hope that we are going somewhere. Hope in our purpose as an individual and as a couple. Surety that we are not married to wear a bling ring, have a housemate, be a Mrs or expect a plate of cooked food every evening, but surety that our marriages are meant to mean something to this broken world. Surety that there hope to reach contentment and joy in finding our purpose as a married couple.
My pedestal person is not free from struggles. She is a person just like me and she knows this. Her understanding of herself allows her to move onto the path created for her, her life is evidence of this and I realised in that moment, this is why she does not lose hope and continues on.
With the idea in mind that we want to pursue our purpose and destiny as a couple in order to honour God, continue to explore the identity of each individual in the group. Look at shame, selfishness, fear, self-esteem, self-doubt and in general, identity. May we all become pedestal couples!
Reflection question: how does selfishness, shame, poor self-esteem, or fear affect your marriage and you as an individual?
Post and reflection questions by Joanne Eksteen. Joanne is wife, a mother and a clinical psychologist with a passion to help people grow in healthy identity and relationships.
What do you do when your relationship is lifeless, communication is strained, interaction is difficult? Your partner feels like an estranged friend, someone you once shared life with, but now there is nothing left to share. There has been too many disappointments, too much pain. Hearts have become hardened and the passion is long gone. In fact, the affections are directed elsewhere. The marriage is on the rocks. All the signs are there: there is no coming back from this; it is THE END. You are beyond hope.
What is hope? And why bother?
Hope, simply put, is the anticipation of good. Hope, or vision, or a dream, is something desirable that you believe to be possible for you – those “plans to prosper… a good future” (Jeremiah 29:11). It is best captured by the imagination, illustrated in a picture, or envisioned in a story. It is an end-state that draws your affections and invites you to dream with. We have seen the power of phrases such as “offspring as many as the stars above you and sand below you” and “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Genesis 15:1; Exodus 33:3). Hope is powerful.
Hope is the attitude that looks up and dares to believe that this journey I am on is leading to something beautiful, something desirable, something worthwhile. That the best is yet to come!
Hope is like the architects drawing of the beautiful house in which you will have your kids and the two of you can grow old together, sitting on the veranda as the sun sets peacefully. Although the house is not built yet, these lines on the paper is thecatalyst of desire which will make you build the house. But more, this picture (hope) is also the reason and clear direction for every inch of effort that will go into making that drawing into your dream home. (Refer to Hebrews 11:1). Indeed, hope is very powerful.
Why is hope powerful?
Hope makes hard times bearable, because as you hold onto the belief in a good future you understand these troubles are temporal, and the hope you long for gives meaning to the things you suffer on the way there. A lack of confidence of a good future (or hope) is the cause for companies to close their doors, marathon athletes exit the race and couples end up in divorce court. We give up when we loose hope. Conversely, hope gives athletes strength to endure pain in order to gain the reward, what makes the soldier survive his wounds to see his wife again, and what causes the mother with cancer to keep on fighting and see her children grow up. Hope, the confident expectation of a beautiful future together, is the reason to endure hard times andhelps to see meaning in the daily grind. (See Romans 8:28).
Secondly this hope (a clear vision of a good future) helps us to navigate life’s challenges because it sets priorities in our activities and the direction of our efforts – in both good times and in bad. We know that the Christian hope of eternal life builds resistance to temptation, is the standard for our relational growth and gives strength to push through endure hard times. Similarly the marital hope of our beautiful and meaningful life together keeps us faithful, helps us grow closer and helps us overcome obstacles together.
Why can I have hope?
If everything in your relationship point to failure and hopelessness, why could you trust that all will be well soon? How could you be persuaded of a joyful, meaningful future together? Indeed a fair question. If one has tried everything to keep the relationship alive and nothing seemed to work, you have come to the end of yourself, allowing a sense of hopelessness to set in.
But for the Christian, the end of oneself is not the end of a matter. With God there is always hope: our success or failure does not depend on our efforts alone, but we “hope in God” (or “trust in God”) as the Psalmists frequently sing (eg Psalm 39:7; 62:5; see Ephesians 2:13-14). When nothing seems to help we are confident of a good outcome because of God’s character, his love for us and his ability. To say “I hope in God” means to trust that God is indeed merciful, trustworthy and powerful enough to help me, and that he is certain to hear my pleas and help me from this seemingly hopeless situation. We further hope in God because of the hope intrinsic in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, showing that no situation is every truly hopeless to God who brings even the dead to lifer. No situation is ever too late, too hopeless, because “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27)
How does hope work in practice?
Hope works best in pictures and stories – something you can look at or recall in your imagination. Something that best illustrates the good future you desire.
So find or draw a picture like the stars above Abraham and the sand beneath his feet which reminded him daily of God’s promise that “so will your offspring be.” What he saw reassured him that his will have offspring – and many. These visual depictions of God’s promise motivated him to be intimate with his wife, reminded him daily that God was at work in his daily actions, and comforted them both every month Sarah discovered she was not pregnant. It also intended to prevent them from giving up altogether from the hope of a child together by finding other women to provide offspring. You need a picture like this – it can even be a picture of your wedding day or honeymoon when you were happy together.
Stories are also powerful sources of hope – the Bible is filled with those for a reason! If you marriage is in a tough spot, then consider finding the story of a couple who were about to give up and God turned it all around beautifully. Stories are very potent because you can identify with their suffering, and wish to share in their success. Look for these people, talk or write to them. Read their blogs and buy their books. Go to their seminars and workshops where you can listen to their stories, cry about their pain, celebrate their restoration and gain hope! Ask them to encourage you and pray for you. Because what God has done for the he will do for you. These stories are filled with hope because these people live the dreams you have – these people embody the hope you need.
These images and stories stir our imagination, and our God “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). So, like Abraham was invited to picture his offspring as numerous as the stars in the sky and the dessert sand between his sandals – so image your marriage in it’s prime. Imagine the greatest marital bliss, joy filled home, carefree moments of intimate pleasure, sweet companionship and potent partnership. Imagine what God can make of your marriage – with all his wisdom and all his might – what could God do in and through the two of you. What type of marital relationship between you and your spouse would bring God glory, would showcase his loving goodness to the world? Picture that!
I encourage you to “write out the visionandmake it clear” as God told Habakkuk (2:2). Talk to your spouse about it, pray about it. Tell your friends what you dream about. The challenge is to allow the hope (confidence of your good future) to overpower your anxieties (fearful expectation of failure and pain). Deliberately dwell on the good of your spouse and what you have in your marriage, while you also pray about what makes you anxious or sad, “casting your cares on the Lord, for he cares for you” (Philippians 4:6-8; 1 Peter 5:7).
If you really cannot see a future because you are so aware of the challenges and pain, do what Elisha did when his servant was only aware of the Syrian army surrounding them. “’Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ’Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed, ‘Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.’the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kings 6:14-17). Then the servant was not intimidated by the challenge they faced, because he was aware of The Lord of Heavens Armies who was right there with them.
Let this be a reminder today that although your relational journey might be laden with disappointments, miscommunication and frustration that left you both hurt and hopeless, with God there is always hope. Nothing is too hard for him (Jeremiah 32:17)! He is close to all who call on him, and look – picture it – he makes all things new! (Revelation 21:5)
So what is the most ideal picture of your marriage? What could your story be? What is your hope?
“Some say they have been married for 20 years, but truthfully they have been married twenty times the same year.” This statement by pastoral psychologist Jannie Botha has been ringing in my head ever since I have heard him say it few years ago. It’s true: just because we have been together for long does not mean we have grown together strong. Growth requires deliberate discipline (1 Timothy 4:7).
From the offset of our relationship my wife and I had a good spiritual partnership. We went to church together, did Bible School together, served in a student ministry together and even planted a church together before we got married. But although we shared some amazing times of worship together over the years, and although we pray together daily, we have not found a model for frequent devotional time together that worked well for the two of us. She has her way of spending time with God and I have mine.
Yes, we occasionally share what we read in the Bible and what God says to us, but we have always desired to grow spiritually together through a structured couples devotional time. Especially now that we have kids we longed some format of a family devotional time that they may grow into more and more as they grow older. And after more than a decade’s marriage I think we found something which works for us!
A Devotional Model for Couples
In his series Creating and Intimate MarriageJim Burns shares that he and his wife Cathy also have their own devotional time, but that once a week they would come together and have a devotional time where share on spiritually with each other and spend time in prayer together, especially regarding their marriage and family.
They would begin their devotional time together by sharing from their Bibles and journals the most significant thing(s) that that God revealed to them personally, and discuss this with each other. They would share what they have read, why it touched them and what it made them think and feel, and possibly how it would impact their current or future attitudes and actions. This is a time of spiritual discussion and reflection.
Thereafter they share their greatest joy, greatest struggle, and greatest desire of the past week. This can be a simple as “my greatest desire of the week is a weekend away from everything” or as deep and honest as “my greatest struggle of this week was you, Jim!”
This is followed by a time of affirmation – where they would encourage one another by stating how they positively perceived one another during the week. Because they are committed to create an atmosphere of A.W.E. (affection, warmth and encouragement) in their home, they schedule these times of affirmation. This would lead to a time of accountability for physical goals they set for one another, and I think any form of accountability is healthy in such a session. And eventually these sharing with one another would lead to a time of prayer for one another, their relationship and their family.
Overcoming spiritual barriers to intimacy
It is important to note that the biggest barriers to intimacy include a lack of priority to meet together in such deliberate and disciplined ways – which these devotional times in themselves will overcome. But furthermore relational issues such as unforgiveness, anger, and guilt, are all spiritual conditions which these times of sharing and praying should address. These are the things that couples need to pray about together, asking God for love and grace to grow beyond.
The aim of this devotional time is to deliberately and systematically grow together spiritually as “draw near to God and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8) and so doing to grow in deeper intimacy.
This couples devotional method works for me – perhaps you and your spouse can try this and see if it works for you?
We’ve been blessed with two beautiful children: a boy and a girl. So whenever I conduct a wedding I intently observe the father walk his daughters down the aisle knowing I will one day fulfill that role. I try to put myself in his shoes: so many memories, so much emotion, such loving concern. She’ll always be “Daddy’s little girl” but now she’s about to become someone’s bride. In those moments I wonder: whom will I give my daughter to one day? What type of man will I entrust her to?
I’ll entrust my daughter to a follower of Jesus. I don’t mean convert to Christianity in the broad sense; I mean deliberate disciple – one who lives to emulate Jesus, obey his teachings; one who lives in relationship with him. Such a man, although young and imperfect, will continue to grow in grace – the Lord Himself forever shaping and helping that man. That young man is never alone as the Lord is always at hand. With him my daughter is safe!
I’ll entrust my daughter to a faithful friend. I don’t necessarily mean her friend although it would be nice. But there will be enough time to grow deep friendship after their wedding as marriage is per definition a promise ofcompanionship, friendship. But I will easily entrust my daughter to a man who has a track record of good, lasting friendships. Yes, I’ll look at his friends and consider his level of commitment, but in principle if this young man could show himself faithful in friendship to others for more than five years, he has proven his character to be devoted to my daughter. He has love for people that overflows in real relationships, and people respond and stick with him. God says if he was faithful with his friends he will be faithful with her. These solid friendships not only provide safety to their friend, but also to their spouse – there is accountability and support in those relationships. In such a relationship my daughter is not vulnerable and alone; these friendships will provide security and support and will keep them on track.
I’ll entrust my daughter to a courageous, humble person. I’ll gladly give my daughter to a man who lives not to please himself, but who considers and esteems others more than himself. A man who stands up for others even when it hurts himself. But humility is more than servitude; humility also implies being teachable. I’d entrust my daughter to someone who has this intellectually humility – someone who can acknowledge his wrong, who asks for help and takes the counsel of other people. God says he gives grace to the humble, and with such a man my daughter’s future will be secure.
I’ll entrust my daughter to someone kind. A kind person gives generously and forgives easily. A kind man responds to the needs of those around him by helping and blessing without obligation. This man is selfless and generous, and with such a man my wife will always feel loved, always feel cherished. With such a man her heart is safe. And God says that a kind, generous man will receive kindness and generosity from him.
I’ll entrust my daughter to a gentle man. Yes, it would be great if she marries a gentleman: a well-rounded, good-mannered person. But I mean gentle as in self-controlled, or meek as in older English, someone who has learned to remain calm and resist outbursts and retaliation. A meek man is patient, has the ability to control himself when provoked, can also resists temptations, and can take a step back to make room for others to grow. This gentle person is driven by principle and not by emotion; God promises to bless such a man with authority and entrustment. So such a person I can entrust my daughter knowing that his strength will provide safety and bring no harm.
Although I desire the best for my little girl, these qualities are what I pray her husband should be. A young man who fears and follows Jesus with his friendships. A man who has a gentle, kind and humble heart. Such a man is blessed by God and will be good to my girl. If she chooses such a man I’ll gladly hand her over at the end of the aisle.
We have all seen greeting cards like this one: The perfect man: sweet, rich, dark and handsome; and if he says anything wrong you can simply bite of his head and unwrap another! Wish relationships were really that simple!
The search for the perfect mate is a very personal and emotionally draining one, so I aim to write this blog carefully, lightly and humorous. Even as I am writing about “finding your life partner” I think of my friends whom I love dearly, that are suffering in what is described as the epidemic of with loneliness. I have previously written on marriage and our culture and do not wish to repeat everything I have written about, so I recommend you to read on the intent and definition of marriage I unpacked there.
I now invite you to laugh with me at popular crazy ideas and sentiments we hold onto in our pursuit of “finding the perfect life partner”.
In Plato’s The Symposium he writes that humans originally had four legs and four arms, and that they angered the gods. The gods did not want to destroy them fully, fearing the loss of their tributes and Zeus therefore split them in two as punishment (while doubling the amount of tribute given). Humans would forever wander miserably in search for their other half – their soul mate – and once they had found that soul mate there would be perfect understanding between and happiness between the two. Thus “love is the desire of the whole.”
In a study by Rugters University 94% of unmarried people agreed that the primary search for a marriage partner is one’s “soul mate”. This ancient myth has been popularized in contemporary movies, novels and even preaching, that there is a person “destined” for you to find and marry. While non-believers bank on “fate” to find their soul mate, authors and preachers have “christianed” this fable to sound Biblical, stating that God has created you for one mate. Although this statement sounds good, the core of the assumption is you’re your happiness rests in finding that one which God created you for, thus putting the thrust of your energy into “finding the right one.”
This popular theory has two major contemporary relational consequences. Firstly, loneliness and late marriages singles persistently search for their “soul mate”, or the one to complete them.This search for a mystical satisfying union provided in a specific individual person “out there somewhere” is in my opinion one of the greatest contributors to the loneliness epidemic of young adults. Secondly, the belief that there is “one perfect soul mate for me” out there somewhere causes even people in steady relationships to doubt the legitimacy of the that relationship, wondering whether everyday conflict and the normality of the relationship are indications that they are not with the “wrong one.” Counseling professionals warn that this myth is very destructive relationally, some going as far as saying “nothing has produced more unhappiness than the concept of the soul mate.”
What does the Bible say about this? The whole counsel of the Bible teaches very little about who to marry, except that that person should be a Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14; 1 Corinthians 7:39). The one clear instance in the Bible where God instructs someone to marry a specific person is the prophet Hosea – and it is because God commanded him to marry a prostitute, something immoral and foolish! (This marriage was meant to display prophetic significance of the character of unfaithful Israel, to their own shame).
I personally know of one or two individuals to whom God spoke directly about their marriage partners, but this is by no means normative, as we can see from Scripture. The Biblical text says a lot about marriage, but very little about who to marry. The focus of the Scripture is on who you become and how you ought to conduct yourself in marriage – because love and fulfillment in found in how your marry, not who you marry.
“The Consumerist Gambling” – there must be a better one out there
The second popular trend is what I like to call “consumer-based relational roulette”, where potential life-mates are compared with each other as we do with clothes or cattle or cars, weighing up their apparent strengths and weaknesses, dismissing those who fail to meet our standards. This comparison happens either virtually by viewing an online dating catalogue, Facebook pages or in real life interactions. Consumer-based relational roulette results is either serial dating as the “consumer” tries out the “products” or in passivity where “buyers” wait for the perfect specimen to “procure”.
Where does the gamble come in? The gamble comes in when one disengage from a promising relationship or dismiss a potentially good life-mate in the hope for a better one, just like gambler would bet all his winnings in hope of gaining more. The relational result is the same as in the previous section: late marriages with agonizing loneliness, and break-up of good relationships (even marriages) in the hope of better ones.
What does the Bible say to this myth? The answer is simple: marry a Christian, and be faithful and be content with whom you have.
“The Cupid deception” – all you need is love!
We are well aware of the Roman Cupid myth as he is the popular icon of Valentines Day. The myth of this demi-god tells that he has the power in his bow and arrow to strike his unsuspecting victim with uncontrollable passion for the one he/she lays eyes on: instant infatuation as the victim helplessly “falls in love” and blindly does whatever it takes to be with the object of obsession. This myth is also popularized in contemporary films and drama, novels and poetry, and music. It is this love which quite literally makes people’s worlds go around.
Emotions of love are not bad at all – emotions are created by God and God himself expresses very passionate love and anger through the prophets in the Bible. The danger in this myth is when life-long relational decisions are based upon feelings alone. Infatuation causes people to say and do stupid things, like “I have to follow my heart” and marry an abusive man who was divorced three times, because “I cannot deny this feeling”. Love-struck people who follow this loving feeling alone can cause themselves tremendous harm; after all, “love is blind.”
We live in a society primarily lead by emotions; the anthem of our younger generation is “if it feels right, it is right!” But we know that emotions are fickle, evidenced by the many heart-aches and bitterness from people who woke up one morning released from the “spell of cupid” having “fallen out of love.” The Biblical teaching on this emotional desire is clear: be aware of luring emotions, since “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”(Jeremiah 17:9) and can tempt us to do foolish and sinful things (James 1:14). Secondly, love is not enough for a fulfilled relationship, as Paul teaches us that we need faith (shared conviction and trustworthy character), hope (a common or complementary vision or direction) and love (the bond of perfection manifesting in grace for each other) (1Corintians 13:7, 13).[i]
I must just point out that the our cultural understanding of love is far removed from the love we read about in the Bible. Contemporary definitions of love reads something like “tender feelings,passionateaffection, deepaffection or sexual desire foranotherperson.” Biblical love on the other hand (as defined by Voddie Baucham) is action-oriented: “The biblical definition of love is that love isan act of the will (it’s a choice) accompanied (not led) by emotion that leads to action (it’s proved by our efforts) on behalf of its object. ” Or simply put by Dr Dallas Willard “Love is a decision to do good.”
Loving emotions are not wrong, but left unchecked it has the potential to lead us into great trouble, as many of us have experienced in the past. Biblical love leads to loving actions for others, and that always leads to goodness and life. So if Cupid hits you with his arrow and the “poison tip” fills you with this second type of (Biblical) love, there is no harm in that!
“God will send her my way”
The last myth to be busted in this post is that of passive waiting: “if we are destined to be together, God / fate will make it happen!” But we know this passivity does not work in any area of life. We don’t say “if God wants me to be a doctor, He will make it happen” and then do nothing. We agree with the plan and then pursue it with hard work an excitement, recognising His grace along the way.
The writer of proverbs recorded a proverbs that instruct the young men to “find” a virtuous wife (Proverbs 18:22; 31:10), implying intentional, intelligent effort. I know many young men who spend hours behind computer screens or some odd hobby who desire a life mate, but make no visible effort. The same holds true for young ladies – make yourself known. If you seek you will find, Jesus said.
What to do
We have busted some destructive relational myths, but how do we respond? I counsel single people with these four things:
Evaluate your expectations. Are what you want from a life partner, or the meeting of this life partner, fair and Biblical? How much of what you expect or desire is culturally informed and how much is what God intents? Re-evaluate your image of marriage and lovein prayer, study and discussions.
Become marriable. Marriage is great when both you and your spouse are loving people, meaning you are patient, kind, gentle, humble, faithful, honest, etc. So grow to “have love” ( 1 Corinthians 13:1) – spend time with friends and family where you deliberately grow in the loving character of Jesus our example.
Marry a Christian. Rather than building catalogues of potential mates to build through, marry a good Christian. Any good Christian whom you respect and can have pleasant conversation with. Re-evaluate your “check lists” – cut it down to “godly man” / “virtuous woman” who has friends and family that prove he/she can maintain healthy relationships. Don’t look for the perfect partner – find a suitable partner who share your convictions, because once you marry you find out that imperfections are part of relational life, which mainly get dealt with inside the marriage. [I don’t propose marry without discretion and counsel, I simply mean to
Grow in contentment. In the pursuit of your life mate, learn contentment as Paul did with being single now. Use your flexibility and time well now to noble causes that you cannot do once you have family responsibility. Don’t allow the desire for marital intimacy consume you; learn contentment and find joy in your situation now. But never loose hope – God hears and God cares!
[i] From a teaching of Ps Fred May “Love is Not Enough” 2002 in Shofar Christian Church, Stellenbosch.
Earlier this week the legendary actor Robin Williams was found dead in his own home. He apparently committed suicide, an act aptly described by reporter Andrew Solomon as “A crime of loneliness”. In the Reuters news article about his death, Alex Saphir writes what many of us think: “His tragic end stood in stark contrast to the many on-screen characters he portrayed who encouraged those around them to tap into their own inner vitality, a wellspring of creativity to which he himself gave full vent in films such as “Good Morning, Vietnam” and “Dead Poets Society.”” Not many people knew of Robin’s deep struggle, since loneliness by its nature is rarely observable to others.
Being lonely and loneliness are two separate things; solitude and isolation are not the same. One can be alone in a room without feeling lonely, yet many of us have experienced the feeling of loneliness especially in a crowded place. It is a well-known fact that around 10% of older people feel chronically lonely , understandably so due to immobility, mental decline and friends passing away, etc. But a 2010 Mental Health Foundation report found that today loneliness is more prevalent among young people. 
This is extremely worrisome since loneliness is detrimental to one’s mental and physical health. In one study 42% of people linked depression to their loneliness.  Low self-esteem, hopelessness, paranoia and anxiety are commonly associated with loneliness. Lonely people often indulge in behaviors that are harmful to themselves, such as over-eating, binge drinking, risky sexual relations and drug use; these sensual behaviors numb the pain of social isolation. Furthermore, feeling lonely can literally break your heart  – thus it is not strange that loneliness in itself increases the probability of an early death by as much as 45% .
Our society is lonely and consequently hurting. Our society desperately longs for connectedness, intimacy and belonging – that is the way we were created by God. Loneliness is not a sign of weakness or spiritual immaturity – it simply speaks of a legitimate desire created by God that is not appropriately met.
In your face(book)
Although at least one Canadian newspaper article referred to loneliness as “the disease of our time… an epidemic… with millions effected”  in 1982, the problem is much more prevalent today. Social media gets the brunt of the blame for making relationships superficial, as studies show that the more time one spends on Facebook the more lonely, less sociable and less happy one becomes.  In her acclaimed TED Talk Connected, but alone?, MIT professor Sherry Turkle argues that electronic relationships has the potential to leave one empty and alone, since we present idealized versions of selves through filtered images and edited conversations, so we have online relationships with constructs of others, not the real self. This leaves us with the feeling that everyone is projecting but no one is hearing us.
However, the 2010 Mental Health Foundation report also states that social media is an obvious benefit to rekindle and maintain relationships where face-time is not possible due to immobility (due to long-term sickness or a new-born baby), or in a situation where family and friends relocate. This is an important factor in perceived social isolation (a.k.a. loneliness): people who live and grow up in an environment that constantly changes do not put down deep relational roots, nor do they learn how to build deep and meaningful relationships. Factors that aggravate this relational disconnect include increased working hours, work-related travel, and especially family break-ups. The family break-ups again points to another important factor of societal loneliness: people are afraid to be hurt in close relationships when they have been betrayed, abused, rejected or shamed in the past by one with whom they have been vulnerable. In such cases skillful, patient love must facilitate healing for trust to be regained.
So our lonely world is made of Facebook “friends” who pretend to talk while no-one is listening and others who cannot meet one another due to immobility or distance, the ones who perpetually uproot and relocate and the ones who set up fences because of past hurts. Ours is a detached, broken, vulnerable society raising insecure, unloved and angry children who are disconnected and unsure of their identities.
How do we respond to this as Christians? Isaiah 61:4 speaks prophetically of a people saved and healed by God, who in turn will build up a broken down society, bringing complete restoration to “devastations of many generations.” Thus we ought to be restored relationally, and then rebuild society relationally by the loving power of God.
What does the Bible teach about God’s answer to loneliness?
Marriage as God’s solution to loneliness
Genesis 2:18-20 “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him.”
Surprisingly, God is the first to mention loneliness in man. He states “it is not good that man should be alone…” This is profound, since this loneliness predates the rebellion of man and the devastating effect of sin entering the world and human nature. Adam had a perfect communion with God, and yet God says “man is alone… this is not good.” Adam’s desire for a mate is part of Adam’s sinless perfection before the fall; the longing for Eve is good and appropriate. I never tell a single person that their relationship with God should be sufficient, because God said the opposite.
But then God leaves Adam until he himself recognizes his own loneliness by observing the bliss of companionship among the animals he governs. Then God made Eve and brought her to Adam. In fear of some old lady reading this with a poodle on her lap, or a farmer with his German Sheppard in the front seat of his truck next to him, I must mention that Adam’s loneliness was not satisfied by all the animals in the world – his loneliness was only cured in another human being. Nor could Adam’s job solve his need for human companionship. Eve was the answer God had in mind.
God’s first cure for loneliness is a spouse. (Read a previous blog On marriage and our culturefor more the design of marriage and the challenge within our culture).
Family as God’s solution to loneliness
Psalm 68:5-6 “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God sets the lonely in families…”
God’s plan for mankind has always been families. As the Perfect Father (Ephesians 3:14-15) He embraces those rejected from society, those who are vulnerable and marginalized. He adopts them into His loving family, giving them a safe place where they find identity and belonging in a loving environment.
Not only does God adopt us as children into His heavenly family, but He also places the outcast, the vulnerable and the lonely in families on earth. This is a simple way of rebuilding society and stilling the pains of loneliness – whether by formal, legal adoption or merely by a radical inclusion of people into your home and heart. Follow God’s example and seek out the lonely widow in your street, the single mothers in your community, the neglected neighborhood children, the fitness-freak bachelorette or the burger-eating computer-game-bachelor, and draw them into the family of God by bringing them into your heart and home. Let God place the lonely into your family and friendship circles, and let’s love them as Jesus loves us.
(For more on how to practically show love as Jesus did, read a previous blog on Known by your love. )
Friendship as God’s solution to loneliness
Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
A third way in which God solves loneliness is by means of friendship. This friendship is not merely an emotional connectedness or recreational filler. As seen in the Ecclesiastes text above, Biblical friendship implies partnership and sharing, co-dependence, mutual support and protection, and communion. This is the shared life of friendship David had with his mighty men while living as mercenaries during King Saul’s reign. This is the shared life of friendship Jesus enjoyed with his disciples while on earth.
This is friendship that satisfies the hungry heart and answers the relational call of loneliness. This is the friendship that is ”closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
God with ’s indwelling Sprit as solution to loneliness
Isaiah 7:14 “He shall be called Immanuel” – God with us”; Hebrews 13:5 “He will never leave us or abandon us.”
In most Western cultures Christmas is one of most joyful times because it brings families, friends and communities together is a time of celebration. Yet Christmas time is the worst time for countless many people since their loneliness is accentuated by the family festivities of everyone else, resulting in the highest suicides occurrences in any calendar year in the West. This is especially sad since the birth of Christ is about eradicating loneliness and hopelessness in the world: “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [meaning ‘God with us’]” (Isaiah 7:14; compare John 1:14-15). In Jesus God again walked with man as God walked Adam at first.
And not only was Jesus Immanuel, God with the disciples and people in Israel during his short life on earth as a first-century Jewish man, but he promised his abiding presence with his disciples as they left continued his work of discipleship everywhere they go, until the end of time (Matthew 28:20). So that promise remains for us – God dwells in us as believers through his Spirit living in us (Romans 8:9-11; Colossians 1:27). We are never alone – he promised to never leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5).
This changes the way Christians experience loneliness, because even though we feel lonely at times, like Adam we feel lonely in the loving fellowship of God our Father. Being lonely with God means I can share my loneliness with God. Or in the words of Peter, I can cast my burden of loneliness on him, because I know he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).
And this loneliness is at times a good thing since it seems that God deals best with us when we’re alone, as we see in the life of Jacob, alienated from his family by his deceit, but God met him at the river bank. Jacob became Israel – he was never the same again, because he wrestled God alone (Genesis 32:24). The same can be said of Jesus, when he felt lonely and scared the night before the crucifixion and his disciples fell asleep: He needed to carry that burden alone, and again the next day being forsaken by everyone, he carried the burden the Father entrusted to him alone, and it changed all of history (Matthew 26:39; 27:46).
In your loneliness know that you are never alone – God is with you. So “draw near to God, and we will draw near to you” (James 4:8). Share all your loneliness and desires with him. Allow him to heal you, so that you can rebuild your society with the loving power that overflows from your times with him.
Marriage is still very popular, but it is increasingly reported that single Christians struggle to find suitable life partners, which is ironic in this information-age where a Google search for “dating web sites” return 122 million responses in under 1 second. This seems to indicate that a multitude of possible life partners does not solve the problem of loneliness. But why not? Is it because there are too many options, or that a more perfect partner is perhaps one more click away…?
Another possible explanation why single people today struggle to find suitable life partners are due to unclear or unrealistic expectations from marriage and marriage partners. The myriads of writings and media resources bring varied opinions and ideologies about marriage which leave a world in confusion about the essence and design of marriage as God intended it. In particular three most destructive trends keep people from finding and enjoying fulfilled marital lives: firstly the culturally accepted norm of “falling in love” where marital partners are selected (and de-selected) based primarily on emotions. Secondly, the belief that there is a “other half” or “soul-mate” you need to find in order enjoy a fulfilled marriage relationship. Thirdly, the consumerist mindset that markets, searches and compares potential partners to seek an ideal fit, as we do with accessories, cars or clothes. These secular ideas are perpetually propagated and fueled by contemporary music, films and novels, and has become normative in our Christian thinking.
I believe that finding a marriage partner is not primarily about falling in love, not about finding my soul mate, and not at all about comparative shopping. These ideas are foreign to Scripture and does not lead to fulfilled marriage. This leaves us with the questions “what is marriage?” and “what makes marriage work?”
In the light of this confusion I find God’s message through the prophet Malachi refreshingly clear and concise. Although the tone of the conversation we pick up is quite negative: God says that He has no interest in listening to the religious elite’s prayers because of their lack of respect for the institution of marriage and their marriage partners (Malachi 2:13). Then the the Lord clarifies the intent and meaning of marriage, cautioning them regarding the destructiveness of promiscuity and divorce for both the couple and the children. Malachi 2:14-16 reads as follows:
But you say, “Why does [God not hear our prayers]?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”
The terms God uses to define marriage in and it’s intent in this passage are companionship, covenant, union, for children, and faithfulness. Let’s look at each one of them to re-evaluate our understanding of marriage.
Marriage is companionship: “she is your companion”
In definition and defense of marriage in Malachi 2:14-18, God first mentions companionship. Here in Malachi 2:14-15 companion refers to the wife, but in Proverbs 2:17 it refers to the husband. Marriage is companionship.
The common interpretation of the role of the wife as “the helper” quoted from Genesis 2:18 is understood to mean that she should help in the purpose of the husband and running of the household.
However, that interpretation misses the intended meaning of Eve as helper, and the primary intent and definition of marriage. Genesis 2:18 reads “LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’” To understand the meaning of the term “helper”, one should ask “in what area did Adam need help when the Lord graciously sought to solve his problem?” The answer is clear from the context: Adam was lonely – in the midst of a perfect world! Adam needed someone to share life with, to take away the sting of loneliness. Adam needed companionship, and the Lord gave him a helper, a companion.
This first picture of marriage is important since it reveals God’s design intent of marriage: to remove the sting of loneliness, so that man and woman may share the fullness of life together in intimate relationship.
Another important point to notice here is that while Adam was in a perfectenvironment, in a perfect relationship with God – with no sin and consequently no separation because of it – Adam had a need for companionship which God recognized, God articulated, and God acted upon to solve. (The solution was marriage). I mention this because I have read and heard too many times that single people should “find their happiness and contentment in God.” The sentiment is great, but it seems as though God did not meet that need for companionship in Adam, and that He was the one who recognized (and even created) that need in Adam, and provided that for that need in companionship.
Marriage is companionship. Marriage is given to eradicate loneliness. This is the primary task and responsibility of the marriage partner. Every other motive for entering into marriage will set one up for disappointment and eventually marital failure.
Marriage is covenant: “she is …your wife by covenant”
In Christian circles we frequently hear that marriage is a covenant (legal promise). But less frequently the covenant is defined. We frequently read or hear about the ceremony regarding ancient vow-taking, but the essence of the vow is mentioned less frequently.
However, every person who contemplates divorce remembers his/ her vows to be something like “I will never leave you nor forsake you… in good times and bad… in sickness and health…” And that is the essence of the promise: marriage is a covenant of companionship – a promise to never allow the other person to feel lonely again. Marriage is a promise which bind two people together in this life in mutual partnership. Where two is better than one. It is not a contract of mutual performance (“you do this – i do that”) but rather a promise of companionship (“being with you always, regardless of your performance or state”) as Ruth did to Naomi. 
Marriage is covenant – a partnership by promise to remain together and share all “until death do us part”. Marriage is a covenant of companionship.
Marriage is unity: “make them one”
One of the most frequently quoted Old Testament text by New Testament authors is Genesis 2:24, where we are reminded that the essence of marriage is to “leave” what is familiar and “cleave” your spouse, and “the two shall become one flesh.” Thus the unity requires in part our participation (perpetual actions that move us towards our spouse (“cleave”) and move away from our old familiar life of singleness (“leave”). But God’s strong hatred for the Israelite’s prevailing indifference and unfaithfulness towards marriage in Malachi 2:15 also reveals His part in marital union: “did not I make them one with a portion of the Spirit in their union?”
This phrase shows the essence of marriage is a mystical, spiritual union of two people, brought about by God. “Mystical” means something difficult to explain, but can be understood through participation. This truth is also taught by Jesus when He is asked to comment on the practice of divorce made cheap in His day: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mark 10:8-9). It is a mystical unity that speaks of a shared life, a shared identity.
Although the unity is difficult to observe, the effects of separation – what Malachi calls “violence to one’s flesh” (Malachi 2:16) – is observable. The well-researched, traumatic effects of divorce affect the loss of identity, decreased emotional and physical health as well as shortened life expectancy, lowered social status, increased financial pressure and lowered relational attachment. The devastation in children affected by divorce include behavioral problems such as aggression and rebellion, psychological effects such as depression, anxiety and lowered concentration, followed lower academic achievement and poor self-esteem. These adverse effects in physical, emotional and spiritual well-being makes sense when one considers that divorce is a tearing apart of two people that have in reality become one, causing tremendous injury and death in all involved.
Marriage is for Godly offspring: “what was… God seeking? Godly offspring.”
Contemporary Western civilization is self-seeking, bent on entertainment and consumerism. It is a culture that opposes long-term commitments, any difficulty and a sacrificial lifestyle. This lifestyle hates children and views such dependent relationships as burdensome and thus undesirable. Even within good marriages children will be delayed as long as possible to ensure a time of care-free enjoyment. And a family who has more than 2-3 children will be followed by stares and comments such as “don’t you have a TV?” from passer-by’s wherever they go.
At the heart of this culture, marriage is for self-enrichment and pleasure for self children is an after-though or necessity to prolong society. However, God says He made marriage as a union to solve the problem of man’s loneliness through the covenant of companionship. Yet, what He wants from this union is “godly offspring”. Marriage is the only setting where godly offspring can be raised, in the secure setting of mutual faithfulness. This is the place where godliness is modeled and grafted into the young children, and where children are protected in their identity and perception of others from the “violence” of divorce and unfaithfulness. Thus the immediate context of the phrase in Malachi 2:15-16 teaches us that “godly offspring” require “faithfulness” in the union between husband and wife, to not bring about “violence” to the home.
When God thinks of marriage, he thinks of children. What God wants from the union of marriage is godly offspring.
Marriage requires faithfulness: “do not be faithless”
“However, “Why does he not [hear our prayer]?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant… So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.” (Malachi 2v16)
Marriage is a divine union through a covenant of companionship, a place where Godly offspring is raised. And marriage requires faithfulness. Two reasons for faithfulness emerge from the text:
Malachi 2:14 starts with a question from the Israelites who faithfully offer to God sacrifices to maintain good relationship with Him, and entreat His favor. But God says clearly that He does not hear their petitions, because of their marital unfaithfulness. About 450 years later the Apostle Peter again wrote to the people of God “Husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel… so that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7). This is a profound statement – that God cares so much about our marital relations that He either hears our prayers or not! Thus the first reason for faithfulness in marriage is because God sees, God cares, and God requires faithfulness (and honor) at home before He accepts public worship or answers prayers.
Yet a second reason in the text seems to be the core reason of the appeal to marital faithfulness from God: to not cause “violence” to self, your spouse or your children. This text enriches our understanding of our sexuality, teaching us that sexual practices are not merely physical or biological activities, but also spiritual and relational. Malachi warns that sexual promiscuity has a negative impact on your own spirit and therefore cautions us to “guard yourself in your spirit”. Your spirit is the seat of your identity and relationships, is your capacity to create and dream (hope), to rejoice, to endure, to trust (or have faith), to communicate, to understand or perceive etc. God says “preserve this! – do not be sexually unfaithful!”
But God also says to remain faithful to your wife for the sake of your wife and children – since the breaking of the covenant brings violence to the spirits of the entire family (as mentioned in the previous section). It seems as though the covenant family enjoys protection from God as God enters into the marriage with “a portion of [His] Spirit in their union” (v15), and faithlessness regarding the covenant allows violence to spirits of the family members, especially if the faithlessness leads to the breaking of the covenant (divorce).
Conclusion and practical response
Thus a clear definition and intent of marriage from Malachi 2 could read:
Marriage is a covenant of companionship by which God makes the husband and wife one for the sake of godly offspring, which is preserved in mutual faithfulness.
How do we respond to this revelation of marriage from Scripture? We need to re-evaluate our expectations of marriage and our (potential) marriage partners in light of God’s design. For a fulfilled life, we need to approach marriage from a Biblical perspective otherwise we will not find the life of satisfaction and joy God contained therein.
Our first mental adjustment from this definition is that marriage isnot primarily a romantic notion. It is a relationship built on companionship, trust, faithfulness and a shared life. Thus the marriage partner is not firstly a lover, but a companion. The aim is an intimate life, not an erotic life. What one seeks for in a marriage partner, and seeks to maintain in marriage is good companionship: someone trustworthy, someone supportive, someone with whom you can live well and work well. Someone to take away loneliness by living a shared existence.
Secondly, marriage is permanent. Malachi’s understanding of marriage re-enforces the truth that marriage is indeed “until death do us part”, and the consequences of faithlessness and divorce is “violence” – death and destruction to all involved. This requires loyal devotion as well as patience and forgiveness from both marriage partners. Thus marriage cannot be approached with the self-centered consumer mindset, where marriage partners are compared and traded in.
Thirdly, the end of marriage is not merely “my happiness” but a Godly legacy, including God-fearing children. The pursuit of self-indulgence (“my happiness”) increases selfishness – the worst enemy of marital joy and bliss.
How do we renew our minds about Godly marriage? I suggest three ways, the first of which are obvious: study the Scriptures to prayerfully evaluate and re-adjust your own opinions of marriage. I do not believe that a mere reading of the Bible is sufficient for transformation here – one has to systematically study it, preferably in discussion with your spouse. Secondly, once a good Biblical understanding of marriage is established, one needs to actively evaluate the underlying presumptions and messages in contemporary music, novels and movies, etc relating to love and marriage. For the trout to swim upstream he needs to know the force with which the river is flowing downstream, and compensate appropriately. Lastly, and sadly this is a difficult one: find a godly example of marriage and make deliberate effort to spend time with them and learn from them. A good, living example is still the best way to grow in godliness.
So, in light of this Scripture – how does your view of marriage compare with God’s design and intent?
 A search into the Amazon online shopping database on “marriage” results in more than 230’000 books and related resources. Accessed 14 July 2014.
 From the Roman Cupid myth where the belief is that the angel Cupid shoots arrows and the victim falls helplessly in love with another upon sight. Refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cupid
 From the Greek creation myth where the humans were created both male and female in one body, one soul, but for their rebellion Zeus split them in half so that they male and female would forwever wander miserably in search for their other half or “soul mate” Refer http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul_mate
 Adams J.E., Marriage, Remarriage and Divorce, Baker House Books (Grand Rapids, MI, 1980), p8