Jesus Christ: Wedding Crasher

Posted: January 21, 2010 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horan

My first date with my wife did not go entirely according to plan.  We were in college, and I’d invited her over to my fraternity house to cook her dinner on this new deck we’d just finished building.  So I spent all afternoon cleaning my gross fraternity house, and have the place all ready to impress a girl.  Susan shows up, walks out onto the deck, and it started pouring.

So instead of the deck thing, we went to the Olive Garden.  Had a good time eating and talking, but then I got an idea to test this girl out by trying something more daring.  I said, “I know it’s raining, but do you feel like going rollerblading?”

I’ll never forget her response: “My rollerblades are in my car.  Let’s go.”

We laughed, we raced, we got soaked, I fell in love—it was great.

Toward the end of the trail we were skating, we rolled along and talked side by side.  We got talking about more personal things, and at one point I made a joke, to which she responded: “You know, you make a lot of jokes to hide how you really feel.”  I went from wondering if she could keep up with me to wondering if I could keep up with her.

My relationship with Susan was something different than I’d ever experienced before.  She wanted to know things about me that I never suspected that anyone would ever want to know.  She wanted to know things about me that I never wanted anyone to know.  And even those things—my failures, embarrassments, weaknesses—she wanted to know them, and she decided to love them.

I had no idea how to love somebody before I met her.  She listened to me, asked about me, and uncovered things in me that I didn’t even realize were there.  Turns out that, by letting someone else get to know me, I was able to discover more about myself.  I have never been as good at it as she is—partly because I have a mental disability called “being a man”—but once she showed me the depths to which someone could know the soul of another, I learned how to know her soul too.  I learned how to explore what it’s like to be in her shoes so that I can empathize with her.  I was the worst listener in the world—everything I’ve learned about listening I learned from her.

Fittingly, Susan is exhausted by small talk.  Until someone sits with her and begins to share their real self, shallow conversations that don’t scratch the surface just tire her out.  She’s a social worker, and she sits with people all day who are in various levels of distress, hardship, and suffering.  She’s worked in runaway shelters and children’s hospitals.  She’s worked with Alzheimer’s patients.  She’s worked in Elementary, Middle, and High Schools where 9 out of  10 students lives below the poverty line.  She sits with them and patiently listens as they share their experience.  She is present, she is with them.  Turns out that, the way she lives, the job she does—she reminds me a lot of Jesus, also called Emmanuel,” God with us.

I love that Jesus’ first miraculous act happened at a wedding.  The party is going along famously, when all of a sudden they run out of wine.  Major faux pas.  His mother tells him of the situation, to which Jesus responds, “What does that have to do with me?  My hour has not yet come.”

It would be fascinating to know more about the exchange between Mary and Jesus here, but this is all we get—she doesn’t even seem to respond to him. Maybe she heard Jesus response and gave him the icy stare of a mother who knows better reminding her son to remember who gave birth to him, and without an epidural, before turning to the servants at the party to say, “Do whatever he tells you.”

At that point, Jesus is on, and he does not disappoint.  He rescues the bride and groom from certain embarrassment.  In fact, the master of the banquet declares that this wine is even better than what they’d been serving before Jesus intervened.  Turns out that when Jesus arrived, things got better and better.

Mary, by this time older and wiser, surely has compassion for a young couple and how they might start their life together.  Wouldn’t she, who gave birth to a son before her wedding, understand the challenge of starting off on the wrong foot?  Wouldn’t she empathize with a young couple facing public embarrassment at the start of their marriage?  Mary can put herself in their shoes, and orders her son to do the same.  Perhaps one last lesson in compassion from his mother before his ministry begins.

A good relationship of any kind requires an investment of empathy, of being present with each other, just as God—in Jesus Christ—comes to be present with us.  In a season of great volatility for our financial investments, perhaps it is time to take stock of the investments we’re putting in our marriages, friendships, and in our relationships with our parents or children.  Those investments are guaranteed a good return.  When Jesus got involved—this marriage ceremony, got a serious boost.  As we add Christ-likeness to our relationships, they will get better and better as well.

Before I do a wedding I require that a couple come in for at least four sessions of pre-marital counseling.  The first thing we do together is to talk about reflective listening—how to have a productive conversation when these two people disagree.

We always use, as our first try, the last argument that they had.  I make the groom go first, as he should be willing to go in first and face the danger to protect his fair lady.  I have him face his future spouse and tell her what he observed and how it made him feel.  So, he uncomfortably begins and stammers out his observation and feelings, and then his future spouse’s job is to respond by saying, “So what I hear you saying is…” and then she gives back her understanding of what he just said.  She can’t argue the facts, can’t complain that he shouldn’t feel that way, etc.  All she’s allowed to do is say back to him her understanding of what he just said.

Then, he gets the option to clarify if it seems like she did not really get the gist of what he was saying.  “Well, that’s sort of right, except…”

Then, after he clarifies, she tries again to express her understanding of what he saw and how he felt.  If he doesn’t feel understood, the pattern goes back and forth.  If, however, she gives back to him a version that clearly reflects his observation and feelings, he says, “Yes, you understand me.”

Now, once you can say that, something powerful happens.  There is something powerful in believing that there is another person out there that really gets you; that understands you.  It actually has powerful physiological effects on your circulatory and nervous systems.  It’s akin to the feeling you get when you understand something, when you remember something that was on the tip of your tongue, or when you get the punchline of a joke.  Isn’t there some kind of feeling that goes through you that you can feel even in your toes?  We get a similar thing when we know that there is another person out there that really gets us.  What’s further, is that we have a harder time using hurtful and destructive tactics to fight with them.

Once one spouse feels understood, it’s the other’s turn.  The bride-to-be expresses her observations and feelings, and the groom then works to understand.  The go back and forth until the bride can say as well, “Yes, you understand me.”

Once there is mutual understanding and empathy, the couple is more ready to solve the problem than they were before when they didn’t have the ability to see the issue through their partner’s eyes.  But now they do.  Now they understand.  Now they empathize.  Now they are with each other.

After this meeting, I give them homework to try it next time they disagree.  They always report back that it was one of the most unnatural things they’ve ever tried to do.  It never feels natural to work that hard at something.  Understanding—really knowing what it’s like to be another person—does not ever happen naturally.  It requires stepping into their experience—listening, reflecting, investing time.

This is the power of presence.  In Jesus, we had God with us, because that is the way to forge a relationship.  To be there, with someone, investing time.  If we don’t do that, our relationships will shallow.  Our marriages will feel flat and uninspired.  Our friendships will become acquaintances.  Our children will feel estranged.  Only by investing presence can we keep our relationships healthy.  You’ve heard the timeless cliché—the most common regret people have is not that they didn’t spend more time at work, but that they didn’t spend more time with their spouse, their children, their friends.  Do you ever wonder why the relationships you had in high school or college were so close, so formative and full of stories compared to the ones that developed later in life?  It’s because you spent time with them, sat around with them at lunch, at practice, after school, at the mall, around campus, at each others’ houses, or on the phone talking about everything.  Once we graduated and got busy, other things competed for that time, and those other things won.

Close relationships are unnatural.  They don’t happen automatically.  Our tendency is to drift apart.  But remember Jesus Christ.  Once he intervened—the celebration got better.  Once he intervened, we had the hope of a restored relationship with God.  If we will follow His lead, being present and investing time and working to understand our spouses, children, parents, and friends; we can expect to have the sort of relationships that can celebrate with us through the best of times, and mourn with us through the worst of times.  But the constant will always be that, no matter what, they will be with us.

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