When we were pregnant with our first son some 15 years ago, we received lots of diapers and advice. Love your spouse first, and your children second. Fight the temptation to center your life around your children; children need the security of a strong marriage. Train your children to go and your spouse to stay.
I absolutely agree with these bits of advice, and we have fought hard to prioritize our marriage as our children (and their needs and schedules) have grown. However, there can be an unwitting replacement of one leaky valve with another in these ideas. Are we merely replacing the potential idol of children with another potential idol of marriage? Is a strong marriage enough to provide the security both we and our children need to bear up under the weight of suffering and to survive the strong temptations of this world?
In a culture where everything is being deconstructed, the nuclear Christian family feels like the last stronghold of stability. However, if the family is at the center, it won’t be able to bear the crushing weight. Even the best marriages are shaken by cancer and car accidents, deployments and disappointments. Our best attempts at creating impregnable forts are laughable in light of the realities of this broken world. Don’t hear what I am not saying: It’s a good and necessary fight to maintain a strong marriage; however, we need something more secure than that for our stability—we need the security of Triune love.
If our children are looking to our marriages for a sure foundation of secure love, we must be looking to something (or someone) to give our marriages such a sure foundation. If their security is tied up in our ability to keep control and retain composure, we’re headed for trouble. There aren’t enough date nights or marriage retreats to equip us to be a strong center, because we were never intended to be at the center (Col. 1:17). However, if their security is based on our dependence upon the strong, secure love of the Trinity, we’re building upon the rock (Matt. 7:24-27).
The Three-Ply Love of the Trinity
On the night before his death, Jesus ended the upper room discourse with a long, priestly prayer. His disciples were rightfully confused and shaken. They had begun the celebratory Passover week with high hopes that Christ would finally restore Israel to its former glory by freeing her from Roman oppression. However, at the Passover meal, Jesus continually talked about impending trouble. He warned them that, despite their best intentions, they would deny and leave him (John 13:36-38). He would be going away, and they wouldn’t be able to follow him where he was going (John 13:33). He talked about his body being broken and his blood being shed (Mark 14:22-25).
Jesus recognized their confusion and insecurity. He alone fully knew what was coming and how their own lack of fortitude and strength would be exposed in a matter of hours. So he prayed for them in what is known as the high priestly prayer. He prayed truth over them, reminding them that their security was anchored in the strong love of the Trinity (John 17:1-2). He pointed them past the changing realities of this earth and into the unchanging realities within the Trinity (John 17:20-21). He painted a circular picture of the self-deferring love within the self-existing Godhead (John 17:22-24). He reminded them that, in him, they are invited into this secure communion.
He knew they needed the unshakeable, three-ply love of the Trinity to endure the days of great shaking that were coming. He didn’t keep them from hard things, but he reminded them of the love that would be able to endure all things (John 17:14-19).
This love was nothing new; it was everlasting. The prophets had seen and spoken glimpses of it. Isaiah, filled with the Spirit, invited a shaking Israel into this unshakeable love:
“‘For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you”.Isaiah 54:10
However, in the person of Christ, specifically in his life, death, and resurrection, the love of the Trinity was put on display. And we were invited into it through the Holy Spirit who makes his home in us and invites us to make our home in the Trinitarian love.
Our children need secure marriages, but they also need to know that their security is far more secure than their parents. They need to know that their parents borrow their love from the source of everlasting, uncreated love. They need us to lead them to a rock much higher than ourselves (Ps. 61:1).