But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
You probably know enough about trees to know there's as much beneath the surface as above it. The root system girding the tree in place and serving as its conduit for nourishment reaches as expansively downward as the trees branches stretch upward and outward.
There are some trees, many, I'm told, in the oak species, that have something more than just the fibrous root system of other trees. They have what's called a taproot. It's a thicker, meatier root that shoots almost straight down, protruding deeper than the rest of the system. It serves to anchor the tree more firmly, while also acting like a kind of water-conservation system that preserves the tree during arid seasons. It provides what the diffusely splayed root system nearer the surface cannot.
We bring to a marriage certain attributes and assets that facilitate its maintenance—just like the fibrous root system of a tree. Our attention to detail, our sense of humor, a knack for problem-solving—any number of aptitudes and experiences work complementarily within a couple for its ongoing nurture. Those individual attributes help hold us in place and find nourishment for our preservation.
But they're not enough.
It matters not how quick you are with a joke, how clear you can be in communication, or how fearless you are in a pinch. That divorces ensue in marriages that seemed to have the most intrinsic integrity and solidity is at least indicative, if not probative, of how what you bring to a marriage is insufficient to sustain that marriage. For just as a poison can infiltrate a fibrous root system of a tree until it depletes the tree of life, so there is a poison that may subtly but deftly seep into a marriage and kill it slowly but surely.
Except the poison doesn't always have to be administered from without, for it lies within every human heart. We carry within us a toxin that easily breeds rivalry and conceit (cf. Philippians 2:3). Upon reaching a critical mass, it culminates in a contempt—that insidiously slanderous emanation of the heart—which consumes both its source and its object simultaneously. And no degree hanging on a wall, no membership in any organization of influence—neither esteemed pedigree nor hallowed progeny—can, by itself, hinder the havoc the human heart can wreak in and against a marriage.
If, as Mark reminded us Sunday, Moses' instruction on divorce was but a concession to a situation spinning out of control—a provisional tourniquet to stanch the flow of more marital disintegration; and if Jesus cast a soberingly narrow set of valid circumstances for the pursuit of divorce; then it follows we need more than just what we bring to a marriage—more than what we have in ourselves, or even what our spouse can motivate in us—to stymie the wiles that threaten our union.
We need something like a taproot, that which reaches deeper into the soil beneath it, anchors it against what the world whips up above the surface, and sustains it when the inherent attributes of the marriage are compromised by what is poisonous, (or even become the very source of the poison!). An enduring marriage requires a bond with what is deepest and least affected by the vicissitudes around us. Something that puts all tensions in perspective and confronts us with enduring reasons for gratitude. Something that shakes the pride from us, but by lifting us in love rather than just covering us with shame. We need something external to us yet which acts like something internal in us to warn us of our unconscious drift into lovelessness.
What can supply all that? An unrelenting rootedness in the love of God in Christ (cf. Ephesians 3:14–19). And how shall that rootedness occur? From Dennis Okholm's mild chiding, consider one aspect of its cultivation:
"It is strange that we take the advice of our dentist and floss regularly to maintain healthy gums or follow doctor's orders to exercise on schedule to enhance our physical well-being, while we often spurn the counsel of spiritual physicians and trainers to develop habits that will maintain and enhance our spiritual life. It's not a bad thing to wake up every morning reciting the Psalmist's words "Open my lips, O Lord" as if it were second nature, any more than it is a bad thing to go through a morning ritual of showering, shaving, and brushing teeth." (Monk Habits for Everyday People)
Okholm reiterates what we've heard before from those like Ann Voskamp. Our spiritual lives rest on "rhythm, routine, and regularity," which, she explains is applicable to all dimensions of life: "If set times are the necessary catalysts for spiritual growth, so are set times critically compelling elements for life growth."
Might not the same be said, then, for marital growth? With the diligence of a farmer we nurture our soul's soil as God's grace forms a taproot to eternity.
A taproot that will not let man tear asunder what God has joined together.