Imagine a building destroyed, bricks covering the ground, some wildly stacked, crookedly teetering before one more whistle of the wind takes another brick hostage. Dust, rubble, pieces of yesterday scattered all around. A mess. A memory. An overwhelming picture of devastation and destruction.
When the building fell, it was like watching in slow motion as the bricks cascaded down like a roaring waterfall. While the pieces fell, hearts sank, pits formed in stomachs, weighing heavy and hopes left. Oh the wound, it was so fresh and biting. So raw that even that same small whistle of the wind caused a deep penetrating pain that causes a person to cover his/her eyes, fall into the fetal position and rock while desperately sobbing for answers. How in the world would this building ever be restored? Impossible.
Maybe this is the way the people of Jerusalem felt when the armies of Babylon destroyed their temple – God’s house, the very symbol of His presence. Maybe they were so devastated at that time that they could not imagine the mere thought of even attempting to rebuild such a monument. Maybe, when they were finally given the chance to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple, they just couldn’t bring themselves to face the reminder of their pain in each and every brick required for restoration. Maybe?
Or actually…as the bible tells us, they lost their focus, they went their own way…they had just too much to do in building their own lives and homes to put time and effort into building back the temple of God. Their self-centeredness kept them from realizing they even had a need for God’s temple, the symbol of His very presence. They had it all figured out and did not need God’s intervention, they did not need His blessing, nor did they receive it…
“And then a little later, God-of-the-Angel-Armies spoke out again: “Take a good, hard look at your life. Think it over. You have spent a lot of money, but you haven’t much to show for it. You keep filling your plates, but you never get filled up. You keep drinking and drinking and drinking, but you’re always thirsty. You put on layer after layer of clothes, but you can’t get warm. And the people who work for you, what are they getting out of it? Not much—a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that’s what. That’s why God-of-the-Angel-Armies said: “Take a good, hard look at your life. Think it over.
Then God said: “Here’s what I want you to do: Climb into the hills and cut some timber. Bring it down and rebuild the Temple. Do it just for me. Honor me. You’ve had great ambitions for yourselves, but nothing has come of it. The little you have brought to my Temple I’ve blown away—there was nothing to it.”
“And why? Because while you’ve run around, caught up with taking care of your own houses, my Home is in ruins. That’s why. Because of your stinginess. And so I’ve given you a dry summer and a skimpy crop. I’ve matched your tight-fisted stinginess by decreeing a season of drought, drying up fields and hills, withering gardens and orchards, stunting vegetables and fruit. Nothing—not man or woman, not animal or crop—is going to thrive.” (Haggai 1:5-11)
As I do each time I write a post on this BLOG, I pray before, during and after writing. This time, my time in prayer was more lengthy. A lot of…”really, God? You want me to talk about marriage? I could talk about how this scripture relates to my own self, my work, my parenting…but marriage- yes, I could definitely go there, but it’s too touchy, too hard, too individual…” He continued to encourage me, so what I offer now is something that I believe God wanted my heart to share.
I have sat at my kitchen table more times than I had hoped in this life, talking about the breakdown of the family, read: the breakdown of marriage. I have had hard conversations about how very difficult it is, how crushing its crucible, how seemingly conflicting its purpose. I have heard heart wrenching cries and pleas for healing, for understanding and for mercy. I have also seen a lot of the same “going of their own ways” much like the people of Jerusalem did when they neglected to rebuild God’s temple.
I have experienced it myself, that going of my own way. The mind is a powerful powerful thing…and what you feed your mind is what your mind begins to believe. I have ashamedly muttered those words in my mind – “He only thinks about himself. He’s doing that intentionally to hurt me. He isn’t considering my feelings because he doesn’t really care about me. He this…and he that…” And then, my mind slowly started to believe those lies…the lies that Satan most certainly planted deep into the tiny cracks within the mortar of my marriage bricks. The lies that…unless they are recognized and rejected…can destroy.
Culture lures us to compare our marriages to those we see in Soap Operas and Sitcoms. Culture assures us that if he/she is not doing it for us, there is a better “fit” out there, one what can really make us happy. Maybe you know someone or you are someone who has seen a marriage slowly, but surely crumble before your eyes. It could have been harsh words, bitterness, unmet expectations, disappointment. It could have been betrayal. It could have been any number of hard sad things. At first, those bricks fall slowly, maybe not even making a difference in the overall structural soundness of the covenant. But over time, the bricks of distrust, mistrust, confusion and fear…add up…and lead to the fall, the broken messy ruin that truly seems beyond repair, especially when Satan gets a foothold into that marriage mortar…
After the prophet, Haggai, brought the above message of God to the people of Jerusalem, the bible says that the people of Jerusalem really listened to God’s voice and obeyed Him, they loved him, they honored the Lord…
“Then…all the people listened, really listened, to the voice of their God. When God sent the prophet Haggai to them, they paid attention to him. In listening to Haggai, they honored God. Then Haggai, God’s messenger, preached God’s Message to the people: “I am with you!”
Sit a while. Listen to this truth. First they really listened, then He said it…”I am with you.”
“I am about to shake up everything, to turn everything upside down and start over from top to bottom—overthrow governments, destroy foreign powers, dismantle the world of weapons and armaments, throw armies into confusion, so that they end up killing one another… I’ve looked over the field and chosen you for this work.” (Haggai 2:21-23)
God’s plan to rebuild and salvage struggling and estranged marriages is counter-cultural. Top to bottom? Just how can you rebuild anything from top to bottom? You can because God has chosen you for this work. He is at the top. God Himself wants to be at the pinnacle of the marriage covenant. Just like he told these people of Jerusalem, He has told us that nothing will flourish without His presence. Even if we use the very best brick and mortar money can buy, we hire expert masonaries to guide us as we rebuild, we cannot expect to fully understand and embrace all God’s best for a lasting marriage relationship without Him at the top.
The people of Jerusalem rebuilt that temple. They really listened because they realized, in their own failures, that there was no other way. None of their self-directed plans were flourishing. They had to fall flat on their faces in the disgusting overwhelming mess they created and admit failure of self and need for God. God’s ways are against the grain – conquering sin, hurt and brokenness? He does this in a way that does not leave us alone, but hemmed in on all sides with His presence.
Now imagine, each person picking up the pieces, the big and the little, the sharp and the blunt, the straight and the jagged and finding the matching broken piece(s). Broken pieces… broken hearts…broken souls…broken hopes and broken dreams. Imagine the moment when each person really listens…looks up beyond the ruble and sees God and His vision – a vision of wholeness from the top down. Keeping eyes focused up enables the rebuilding to occur God’s way.
Putting these broken pieces back together again to rebuild the marriage temple is an experience exactly opposite the one of the tumbling, crashing, avalanching fall of the same marriage in the first place. New, clean mortar must be used, the kind of mortar that might just be reminiscent of a certain honey…a certain honey that Francis De Sales said this of: “The state of marriage is one that requires more virtue and constancy than any other. It is a perpetual exercise of mortification…In spite of the bitter nature of its juice, you may be able to draw and make the honey of a holy life.”
Let us take that new mortar, that honey extracted from the bitter juice of human self-centeredness, pride, arrogance and fear and lather our deep wounds with this love salve. Let us build back our marriage temples, from the top down, with God at the pinnacle. Let us take a minute to really listen…this time, really listen and hear the still small voice of the one who triples that cord of three, that marriage covenant cord, increasing its strength and resolve exponentially. Let us stop “going our own ways” and tending to all of our “stuff” while leaving our marriage temple in ruins. God told the people of Jerusalem that he was with them. He is most certainly with us too…we just have to really listen.