Surrender in Marriage – Part 3
In Part 1 of this series, we began by clarifying what surrender in marriage looks like and how the “surrender of self” is a key component. For some, maybe for many, this begs the question, “Does surrender mean losing myself?”
Truth in Tension
In answering this question, I often point out how the Bible is full of truths in tension. Yes, life in the Kingdom is full of truths in tension, which seem to present us with two countervailing truths that, on the surface, seem to run in opposition to each other.
To understand, we need to look no further than the foundational Christian belief that God is one but also three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), This marvelously mind-bending mystery is truth in tension.
Jesus himself was a walking truth in tension. He was fully God, yet he was also fully man. He possessed all the power of the universe, yet he humbled himself and surrendered himself to be put to death by those who hated him. He was truly all-powerful, yet he was unwaveringly all-good. He was completely holy, but he associated with prostitutes and all kinds of “despised” people.
True Surrender – Naked and Unashamed
Surrender in marriage, with the accompanying focus on selfless giving and laying down your rights, may seem to imply a loss of self. That’s not at all the intent of a surrendered marriage. In fact, it’s the opposite.
In a surrendered marriage, both husband and wife bring the fullness of who they are (spirit, soul, and body) to their marriage, applying their true selves in a way that honors and blesses each other and deepens the level of intimacy in their relationship.
Intimacy reaches its deepest and most intense level when both of you are willing to be totally naked with each other in every sense (physically, emotionally, spiritually) but without any sense of shame or fear.
Stated another way, we reach the pinnacle of intimacy when we are fully known and yet completely loved. That’s how God is with us, and that’s how he meant it to be in marriage. We can see this truth when we look back to the first marriage in the Garden:
Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.Genesis 2:24-25
Living naked without shame with each other isn’t easy. Many live full of shame and fear when it comes to who they see themselves to be. Shame and fear make us want to hide from one another. But shame and intimacy cannot coexist.
As Adam and Eve did, we are quick to put on the fig leaves of pretense and falsehood, as we try to cover over our perceived weaknesses and failures. But there is no place for fig leaves in a surrendered marriage.
The Great Mystery
It’s important to properly understand what it means when the Bible says we are “one flesh” in marriage in the same way we are one with Christ.
Clues to solving this “great mystery” are found in our relationship with Jesus. When I come to faith in Jesus, I become one with him, but I don’t stop being me. Though I am a “new creation” I am still the person God created me to be, only more so. I am still me, though I am in Christ.
Enjoying all the fruit and benefits of our oneness with Jesus is a continual process of surrender. With our past dealt with by the cross, we have uninhibited access to the deepest possible intimacy with Jesus if we will but embrace it and yield ourselves to it. As we bring the fullness of who we are, struggles and all, to him, we are transformed through an intimate connection with him.
The Meaning of “Two Become One”
In the same way, fully enjoying the benefits of oneness in marriage involves a similar kind of surrender.
Being one is a state of being: you are one. But enjoying all the benefits of the oneness you share is a matter of surrendering your true self by bringing the fullness of who you are to your marriage, naked and unashamed.
Intimacy requires you to come to each other as you are, but that doesn’t mean refusing to grow and change in ways that benefit your marriage, your spouse, and yourself. You “hold onto your self” through the process of becoming all you can be.
In answer to the headline question, no, surrender does not mean losing yourself. In most cases, it actually means finding yourself.
What Does Surrender Look Like?
Let’s try to clarify how this aspect of a Surrendered Marriage works with an example scenario involving sexual surrender, since that’s the context in which the question was posed.
Michael and Dianne have been married three years. Sex has been a source of increasing struggle in the past year. Michael is constantly badgering Dianne to have sex, and it makes her feel demeaned, objectified and inadequate. Dianne’s constant refusal, on the other hand, makes Michael feel unloved and leaves him constantly frustrated and discouraged. There seems to be no solution. Who surrenders to whom?
The “loss of self” type of surrender might have Dianne giving in more often with pity or duty sex. But that is only going to make her feel less desire for sex and reinforce her feeling objectified by her husband. Michael could give up on his desire for more sex and just try to grin and bear it. He could see this as “laying down his life” for Dianne by denying his own sexual self. He could “take care of himself” when frustration gets unbearable and try to redirect his sexual energies into other things. It won’t work, of course, and his frustration level, admitted or not, will only grow. The marriage will eventually face peril.
There is no chance for deeper intimacy in either of these “loss of self” scenarios. But let’s look at what a “fullness of self” Surrendered Marriage solution might look like.
What Michael needs is not to surrender his sexual desires, but to stop making Dianne feel like less of a woman for not being more sexually responsive. Loving her unconditionally means loving her as if she were after him all the time for sex (if that was his wish) and then gently leading her toward becoming more fully aware of her own sexual self. Cherish who and how she is in the present, and nurture her toward discovering the mutual joy of sexual intimacy. He can fully embrace his own sexual desire, but learn to express his desire for her in ways that affirm her as a woman and a wife.
Dianne’s surrender, in this case, has nothing to do with reluctantly having sex with Michael more often or even faking her way through sexual encounters. In response to Michael’s loving affirmation, she can learn to surrender her sexual inhibition, her shame, her fear or whatever it is that is keeping her from embracing her own sexuality and keeping them from enjoying the fruit of deeper sexual intimacy in their marriage. She can accept the fact that as a woman her sexual wiring is always going to be rather different than Michael’s, but she can also learn to delight in delighting her husband and bringing him pleasure while at the same time learning to give voice to her own sexual needs and desires.
You might look at my prescription for Michael and Dianne and protest that it was Dianne who had to do most of the giving and changing. You might even say that Michael “won.” But if you think I’m just describing a scenario in which Michael gets more sex then you’ve totally missed the heart behind the surrender.
The goal for Michael and Dianne, as it is for every marriage, is for their marriage to thrive and for both individuals to thrive. Clearly that was not the case before. God wants every marriage to enjoy the kind of incredible intimacy that only sex can bring. The goal is for Michael to see that sex is more than a biological urge and for Dianne to see it as more than a wifely duty. The goal is for them both to see sex as the glue that holds their marriage together for the long haul, as something that can energize them both as individuals, and for them to realize that sex is an arena where giving your body to your spouse for their pleasure is truly a delightful and unique privilege of married life.
Keeping your self does not mean refusing to grow and change in ways that benefit your marriage, your spouse and your self. Maybe what I’m trying to get at is more accurately described as “holding onto your self” through the process of becoming all you can be.
In answer to the headline question, no, surrender does not mean losing your self. In some cases it may actually mean finding your self.
What do you think of my Surrendered Marriage scenario for Michael and Dianne?