A Marriage Blessing for a Young Man
On this night, a week before your wedding, I am encouraging you to get a tattoo. In fact, two tattoos.
But first, let me explain.
In the middle of the Bible, we have the wisdom literature—Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Each of these books covers a practical topic of everyday life, such as suffering, worship, family and work, the meaning of life, and marriage. Just think. Here, within the pages of inspired writings, are God’s very thoughts about things we experience every day. So, what does He say about marriage? (I imagine this topic has some interest for you at the present time!)
Admittedly, the Song of Songs is difficult to interpret. A love song, with many flashbacks and the musical equivalence of montages, this inspired poem is mysterious. Perhaps the form itself is teaching us about marriage. Instead of a life lesson learned in the linear fashion of step one, step two, and so forth, marriage is messy, something we learn by experience as we go, with memories of the past and dreams of the future crowding within the turbulent present. And yet, even with the patchwork structure of this book, there does seem to be a very, very basic timeline of married life.
The middle of the book is the wedding night, with its veiled descriptions of intimacy and its rich imagery of taste and smell. The section closes at the moment of union with the encouraging words, “Drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers” (Song 5:1). This line is a blessing on the physical union, the divinely-sanctioned oneness of the newlywed couple. It shows us how physical intimacy works with God’s blessing. Literally, it is a blessing of inebriation. While it is a sin to become drunk with wine, it is wise to lose your mind in the moment of marital union. A true wonder. What happens next in the book, however, is what interests us today.
When the honeymoon is over—both physically and metaphorically—the man comes home late one night, all damp and drenched with dew, and asks his wife to open the door. She refuses with the typical, petty excuses of everyday marriage life, “I have taken off my dress, how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, how can I dirty them again?” (Song 5:3). It is as if she said, “Honey, I have a headache, and that headache right now is you.” He still advances for a bit, but once she relents of her pity party, the man, in typical fashion, is gone! The couple is no longer clicking, and this progression in the poem from the wedding night seems intentionally linear to me, as if we have here a typical pattern of marriage.
Right now, you and your bride-to-be are in the stage of marriage that veteran counselor Gary Chapman calls euphoria. Like a Mountain Dew rush, you are running on the rarified fumes of high-octane love. And this may last for a year or two. Couples in this stage are very clingy and love to touch each other at any spare moment. At some point, however, the honeymoon ends, and the Holy Spirit is warning you of a fallout. No longer clingy, it will even be hard to look the other in the eye. And it will feel difficult for you, perhaps even hopeless, to know how to repair the ruins. In this stage of my marriage, my wife strongly resented me as the source of her unhappiness; but she would never tell me, because it would have hurt me. However, I remember telling myself in those days that I was romancing the stone (a play on words from a movie at the time). Then, after a decade, I remember feeling the frustration of her irritation with inner blurts in my mind, “Well, just divorce me then!” Those days were not fun. Again, what does the word of God say about this post-euphoria fallout?
First, it takes risky initiative to repair the ruins. While earlier in the book, the woman is unharmed in her dreamy search for her lost man, she now is beat up (cf. Song 3:1-4; 5:7)! Admittedly, both episodes are dreams, but I see reality portrayed. It is a challenge to search for an estranged spouse, especially in taking the first step!
Second, it often takes counsel. She is helped by the ladies who ask her to describe her man and then offer to her their assistance. Rather than receiving counsel for divorce, the wife is led to recall what about him she first enjoyed. In doing so, the original match is struck and the search continues.
Third, once reunited, the couple enjoys even deeper intimacy than before, with both richer details of beauty and fresh plans of being together. Ironically, studies have shown that marriages with seasoned love often have more satisfying sexual oneness than those in the early years of euphoria. Marriage love is far more than physical touch and sufficient hormones. In the words of counselor Larry Crabb, marriage love works best as the sequence of spirit oneness, soul oneness, and then body oneness. As you and your wife find satisfaction and security in Christ, you will manipulate less and minister more. You will become true friends and true lovers (cf. Song 5:16). Such marriages have beautiful body oneness. But it is gained through the risky reconciliation of post-euphoria fallout.
Here is where the tattoos come in. At the climax of the book, the wife tells her husband, “Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD” (Song 8:6). Like “Susie” inked on his shoulder of an old sailor, she too wants to be visible on his arm. As a seal signifying ownership, she too wants to be proudly displayed as belonging to him. And I too want you to wear your wife with pride before the watching world. Be proud of her. She is yours. But even more, I want you to wear her on your heart. It is perhaps significant that she mentions the heart first. Just as the mouth speaks what fills the heart, so also a man will be outwardly proud of what he inwardly prizes. Please, please take this message seriously. Do not just tattoo her on your arm. Tattoo her on your heart. Make her the permanent possession of your deepest cherishing. Obviously, as in the poem itself, we are talking about something much deeper than physical tattoos. I believe that deep love—love that fights through the fallout—will first impress her deeply into your heart and then express her naturally in your pride. Do not settle for anything less than such a deep impression and natural expression.
In the effort to fight euphoria, too many preachers and counselors point to the will. “Love is a decision,” they say. Or, “Love is obedience.” And certainly, there is a truth here. Love will lead to obedience. “If you love Me,” Jesus said, “you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15; cf. 2 John 6). Love will lead to patience and kindness and a whole list of virtues, but love itself is something mysteriously deeper. It treasures and desires and holds onto what we love with natural tenaciousness (cf. Matthew 6:24). No wonder the wife describes love as stronger than death, an unquenchable fire that can never be bribed or purchased for any price (Song 8:6-7). Truly priceless! That is what I want for you. Do not be satisfied with mere willingness, let alone tolerance. Strive for love, pursue it; ask for it, and beg it. When the euphoria evaporates and you are tempted to be either separated or stay irritated, hold onto the hope of a better day. A renewed, deepened love will tattoo her deeply on your heart and tattoo her proudly on your arm.
One final word. Ironically, you are already tattooed. As a believer in Christ, your heart is already tattooed. It is a promise of the new covenant, which we have in Christ through the gospel, that God Himself will write His law on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). While the Ten Commandments in stone failed to transform a people, the life of Christ in our hearts supplies what the law requires, and the law is summarized in love. Praise God! “Love is from God” (1 John 4:7) and you have already received this love. Love is truly the “flame of the LORD” (Song 8:6) and you are already on fire. You already possess what you need to love your wife for life. Therefore, enjoy the euphoria, but know that the marriage tattoos will someday come through the tattoo of love which you already have in Christ. God bless you much! Amen.