Friday, May 23, 2014

On Co-laboring and Having a Soft Place to Land


This Scripture was the first reading read at our wedding almost seventeen years ago. Its last line is engraved inside our rings. I fell in love with its imagery and the truth I perceived in it the first time I heard it. And I have learned just how true it is in the seventeen years I have endeavored to live it, sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing miserably.

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 the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.
And I love the connotations in this version from The Message:
It’s better to have a partner than go it alone.Share the work, share the wealth.And if one falls down, the other helps,But if there’s no one to help, tough!11 Two in a bed warm each other.Alone, you shiver all night.12 By yourself you’re unprotected.With a friend you can face the worst.Can you round up a third?A three-stranded rope isn’t easily snapped.

The lovely ladies at Velvet Ashes have been talking about marriage this week. And they have had some really good stuff to say that has had me thinking. Actually, I've been thinking a lot ever since I read Amber and Seth Haines' letters on co-laboring a couple of weeks ago. This business of making one life out of two is interesting stuff, no? The way we all go about it differently, the way there is really no formula for making it work other than making it work, the way it is so hard and yet so beautiful at the same time. Its seasons and transitions and ups and downs all shaping us into better versions of ourselves if we let them.

In my ponderings, I have come to see a pattern that emerges in my married life. It is a rotation that marks our days and seasons as either co-laboring or being the soft place to land. In our life of parenting, ministry and work, I find that we have seasons where we as a couple have a shared goal and purpose and we dedicate ourselves fully to making it happen, dancing the dance of how to work together well and leverage our collective strengths against our collective faults. They are intense, focused seasons geared toward a particular goal. Sometimes they last months, and sometimes they are days. It might be the month of planning and execution we just had to coordinate a full scale medical mission or it might be a day when we commit ourselves to getting the yard raked. Or it might be a week where we huddle and commit ourselves together to the hard work of grieving or forgiving or repenting. Surely, the whole of marriage and family life is one long season of co-laboring to get to heaven.

On the Indian Ocean in Tanzania in March

These times where we co-labor, sometimes they come easily. We shift responsibilities seamlessly, we each seem to understand our part and shoulder it well, and we can see the reward for our labor right there in our reach, so we work with energy and strength.

Other times, shared work is not as simple. We hit fits and starts, not able to figure out who is pulling from the front and who is pushing from the back, ramming into obstacles and stubbing toes on rocky paths. We co-labor through sweat and frustration and sore backs and scraped arms and lots of slip ups. Words fly that would have been better left unsaid and unthought. The shared reward seems far away and vague and not all that worth it. And yet, somehow, in the economy of grace, we keep working. And in the end, I have found that the greatest reward of this kind of co-laboring is who become in the process. Not who we are in the moment, mercy, no, but who we become when fight on until the end, snap open a cold beer, celebrate with a high five, put our feet up and apologize for our behavior in the midst.

After a season of co-laboring, I find we often hit another stride, a routine where we grant each other space, where one flies the coop for a while and the other stays back to guard the nest. Each of us finding rest and liberation in our solitary pursuits or cocooning into ourselves to process and rest. Then, we become for each other a soft place to land. 

Oh how I need soft places in my life. I am not a naturally soft person. I am an achiever, a doer. I prize competency and strength. I am openly vulnerable only insofar as it shows that I have triumphed, that I have overcome, that I have it together. It is easier for me to lay my mess out there to a crowd than to look one man in the eyes and say that I need him. But I must. Because that place, where I admit that I am not capable not competent nor able to go it alone, that is the place where God meets me. In my deepest fears lay my deepest needs. And God knows the way to meet them if only I will lay them before Him. And the man he has given me to keep warm with.

And when this man curls into me and just needs me to be his safe place? It takes my breath away. It brings me to my knees. And honestly, it scares me to death. Because who I am? Really who am I to be worthy of that responsibility? That kind of trust? And it is a holy fear, the way my voice cracks and my hands tremble in those moments. Because in knowing that he knows my unworthiness and keeps coming back to me anyway, keeps trusting that I will soften to his need and cup his sacred needs in holy hands, I hear the call to become. To become the one who is worthy, who is faithful, who deserves to be trusted.

That, friends, is holy ground.

And I am blessed beyond measure to get to walk it every day. To see its physical and spiritual fruit. To experience its physical representation in satisfying embrace. To weave a cord with the Master Weaver that in its beauty and brokenness will not be easily broken.

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