Soul satisfying joy

One of the women who testified at the sentencing hearing of Larry Nassar, the US Women’s Gymnastics team doctor who abused dozens of young women, was former gymnast Rachel Denhollander. She was the first to bring the abuses to light, and her courage inspired others to come forward.

But in the midst of sharing her horrific story, Rachel shared her faith: Because God exists, there is right and wrong. Because God is just, we can recognize evil and stand against it.

Then Rachel said this to Nassar: “I have experienced the soul satisfying joy of a marriage built on sacrificial love and safety and tenderness and care. I have experienced true intimacy in its deepest joys, and it is beautiful and sacred and glorious. And that is a joy you have cut yourself off from, and I pity you for it.”

Amid the darkness of abuse and fear and pain, there is still light. There is a God of love, who is love, who made us for love; to love each other and to love him. And not just love. God created us to experience deep, soul-satisfying joy, tenderness, and care. And yes, even glory and ecstasy.

In the creation story, God put the man to sleep, pulled out a rib, and fashioned the woman. The woman was created from the man, but the man wasn’t complete until the woman was complete.

Do you see? God designed us to experience his love, joy, tenderness, care, ecstasy, and even his glory, through each other.

What we live for

Five years ago, we started a wedding ministry for folks who aren’t church members. Our church is a bride’s dream, with a long center aisle, Tiffany windows, massive pipe organ, and close to many reception venues.

But being the perfect wedding venue isn’t easy.

When I first talk to couples, I ask if they want to take their vows with integrity. Do they think they should spend as much time preparing for marriage as they do picking a out a cake? Of course they say yes, and I’m pretty sure most mean it. Then I ask if they’re involved in church. Usually the answer is no. They figure they ought to be in church, but they’re crazy busy; the world tells them church is optional, and they don’t need a church to be “spiritual.”

Taking Christian marriage vows with integrity, without the support of a church, isn’t easy. So we spend a lot of time exploring the basics of the Christian faith.

When the big day comes, the church fills with people who are a lot like the bride and groom. They’re also crazy busy, and they too have been told that spirituality is a do-it-yourself proposition.

So I figure the wedding homily is one of the few chances these folks will have to hear the gospel. The world tells them marriage is all about you, so find a spouse who makes you happy. But they know in their hearts it’s a lie; it loads a spouse with burdens they were not meant to bear. I try to show them that Christian marriage is about gospel reenactment; mutual sacrifice, where the bride and groom take on the roles of Jesus Christ for each other.

People are starving to hear this.

After the wedding last Saturday, a young lady met me at the reception and told me how wonderful the service was. She said she’d never heard anything like it. Later, as my wife and I were leaving, she approached me again. She said she wanted to teach her child about faith, but didn’t know where to begin. We stood and talked for nearly an hour. She asked great questions. Her friend who was a member of an Orthodox church, joined us. She said she rarely went to church; it was too hard to get her kids to go.

At one point, the first young woman apologized, saying she was wasting my time with dumb questions. Her friend told her not to worry. “This is what he lives for,” she said.

Oh my, her friend was right.

The weeks and months creating this ministry, building it over five years, and the 25 or so hours’ investment in each wedding were all worth it.

I pray those two young ladies will continue seeking, and if they come to worship here, we’ll welcome them in a way that will make them want to go deeper in their faith.

This is what Christian mission looks like today. It’s meeting people where they are. Having conversations. Being real.

Sure it’s a big investment in others, but not to worry. It’s worth living for.