Between Keith And The Nuns

April 18, 2011

There is a mystery to belonging.

I’m usually reminded of this early on Sunday mornings. I bought one of those clock alarms with a CD player so you can wake up to the music of your choice rather than some annoying radio station or a loud buzzer.

We usually have a mix of tunes that begin our morning with a heart of worship, giving glory to God, which certainly helps our attitude as we start the day. The first one that comes on is an all-time favorite, Easter Song by Keith Green, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

My wife, Zolla, and I always enjoy hearing this song as we awaken, but on Sunday mornings, it means a bit more. It begins a time together that is just our own, with no job to worry about, no dogs or cats to take care of, no television, no ESPN or SportsCenter, no friends, no family, no phone calls, no Facebook or internet–just my wife and I waking up together, talking and enjoying each other without distraction.

There’s a visceral sense of peace and belonging between us that no one else knows in the exact same way as we do during that time. And most often, it doesn’t matter if we had a big argument the night before. It doesn’t matter if I was an insensitive jerk or if she was critical or anxious.

When we hear Keith’s piano bursting through the web of our fitful dreams, we remember a mercy that comes renewed with the morning, and we remember that in our own little world when it’s just the two of us alone together, we get to experience the truest sense of unconditional acceptance and intimacy. It’s probably the time, more than any other, when I feel the most “married.”

But then, a few songs later, we hear the nuns of the Salzburg Abbey from the musical, The Sound of Music, invoking a glorious welcome to the industry and tasks of the day, and this is our reminder that it’s time for us to get out of bed if we’re going to make it to church on time. And so, we both groan for having to get up, but also for the loss of those fleeting moments.

Sure, we could set the alarm to go off earlier, which we have. Sure, I in particular could create more moments of quiet and intimacy, which I do and am working to get better at doing more. But for now, this has simply been our pattern, and because it’s this temporary moment of grace, it feels all the more precious to both of us.

My wife and I have been working with married couples for a number of years, and next week, I’ll be starting a new class on marriage at our local church. It was just an arbitrary matter of scheduling, but the class will begin the day after Easter, and so during this Holy Week I’m preparing for the class and have marriage on my mind as much as I have the suffering and resurrection of Christ.

But I wonder whether that’s really a coincidence. Marriage is perhaps my best daily example of the suffering and resurrection that Jesus experienced for our sakes. Paul said of him:

“I want to know Christ—to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” – Philippians 3:10-11

We sometimes make jokes about the archaic phrasing in the Bible where Adam “knowing” his wife is simply a polite euphemism for sexual relations. And while it is perhaps just that, I think it also means a great deal more. Biblical knowing certainly goes beyond the cognitive knowledge of someone, and this is represented by the physical intimacy of marital sex, where the two become one in a mysterious one-flesh relationship.

But, anyone knows that there’s a lot more to a happy marriage than just sex. There’s intimacy in the realm of the intellect, of the emotions, and ultimately, in the realm of the spiritual. And, that, like marriage, is related to the way we can know Christ–a knowing, a communion, that can last for eternity.

Knowing Christ and this eternal sense of belonging, however, can only be reached through a crucifixion. In other words, the power of his Easter resurrection must be preceded by a participation in his suffering and death.

And so it is with marriage. When you get married, you can’t hide your selfishness any longer. It shows up in spades after you say your vows. And so the only way to truly have a lifelong marriage of happiness and true belonging, to truly know that other person physically, emotionally, spiritually and become one-flesh, you must die to that selfish desire to always go your own way.

My wife and I have felt this suffering, this not wanting to let go of our way of doing things, many times in our marriage. It hurts to let go of what I want. It feels like a death. I’ve spent ample time in mourning for the loss of my own way. But, no matter how justified I’ve felt in standing up for the conviction that I’m right, if it means that she and I end up not speaking to each other and living separately under the same roof, then all I ultimately feel in being right is dead right. Without her, I have no life that’s worth living. And so to know this type of resurrection life, I have to give myself up:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…’For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:25,31-32

We all want to be accepted. We all want to belong. But most often, there is a price that must be paid for that acceptance. Christ paid that price 2,000 years ago so we as his church could know and belong to God, and through his power and guidance, my wife and I have the surreal opportunity to engage in this mystery of belonging in our marriage as well. In spite of all our weaknesses, she accepts me and I accept her.

So, it’s probably no accident that some of the most precious times in my marriage are heralded by a song about new life and the Easter resurrection. Not so coincidentally, it’s early on a Sunday morning when this mutual mercy is renewed with the dawn and I’m reminded of the price that was paid for my acceptance: both the price that is paid when my wife and I make the choice to put the needs of each other’s life above our own, and the price paid when Jesus placed the needs of the world above his right to life itself.

I don’t think there is a coincidence. There is a connection between marriage and the implications of Holy Week, except perhaps in their duration. With me and my wife, the celebration of our mutual acceptance so often occurs between Keith and the nuns, and it will last so long as we both shall live. With Christ and the church, the marriage celebration will never end.


About John Michalak


An author, speaker, musician, and minister, John Michalak has spent more than 25 years equipping others in the areas of life-change and personal relationship. John’s inspirational new book, 365 Devotions To Embrace What Matters Most is now available from Zondervan publishing.

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  • Joyce Wagner
    April 19, 2011 at 5:17 pm

    Sounds like a great seminar. Hope it is very successful.
    God bless your work. You and Zolla are a special couple.

  • John Michalak
    April 19, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    Thanks, Joyce. Looking forward to seeing you and Claude again soon. 🙂

  • Colleen Foshee
    April 19, 2011 at 11:02 pm

    Beautiful post full of gut level truth John. Praying many will respond and attend your classes. I can tell you’ll be sharing life changing stuff.

  • John Michalak
    April 20, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Thanks, Colleen.

  • Mary Allison
    April 21, 2011 at 11:35 am

    Thank you for sharing this post with us John 🙂

  • John Michalak
    April 21, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Thanks, Mary. Praying for your upcoming wedding. 🙂

  • Melody Campbell
    May 1, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    “And so it is with marriage. When you get married, you can’t hide your selfishness any longer. It shows up in spades after you say your vows. And so the only way to truly have a lifelong marriage of happiness and true belonging, to truly know that other person physically, emotionally, spiritually and become one-flesh, you must die to that selfish desire to always go your own way.”

    Beautifully written. This is both the pain and the pleasure of the marriage covenant. The pain in the dying to the selfish desire to go ones own way, but the pleasure of being loved and accepted in spite of it. God’s design for marriage is a beautiful mystery.

  • John Michalak
    May 1, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Melody. 🙂

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