The Mystery of Oneness
By Mike Mason
Two become one even if it doesn't feel that way.
I've often pondered the strange idea of oneness. Of all the mysteries of marriage, oneness strikes me as the deepest and most beautiful. So deep and beautiful, in fact, that for many years, I knew (or thought I knew) that my wife, Karen, and I didn't have oneness in our marriage.
Why? Because Karen and I share much in common. But not that much. The greatest correspondence is our shared faith, which makes up for a great deal. But even here, there are dramatic differences in the way we think about and practice our faith. The wonder is that we get along at all.
So for many years, I felt that although Karen and I were married, we weren't connected as one. After all, it certainly didn't feel that way.
True oneness is distinguished less by its sameness than by its differences.
But not too long ago I discovered the error of my thoughts. Whether or not I feel one with my wife isn't the issue, because oneness isn't based on a feeling. The truth is that Karen and I are, in fact, one.
From the moment we exchanged vows, God made us one. This is what marriage is; the very word means a joining or uniting. And therein lies a way in which marriage reflects our relationship with God. From the moment a person believes in Christ he's united to God in spirit, yet it's the work of a lifetime to realize fully this oneness in daily life.
All progress in spirituality comes not from striving to be closer to God, but rather from realizing and accepting that already we're one with him. Already Christ lives in us by faith. Already we've been reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus.
Surprisingly, this same topsy-turvy wisdom applies to marriage. We've already given our life to the other person. The words and the rings have been exchanged. There's no going back. Yet neither need we move an inch in order to advance. It's a matter of realizing what has already taken place.
The unity of love cannot be forged anew, for it was never forged in the first place. It was given. Suddenly it was there, and it hasn't gone anywhere.
What keeps a marriage healthy is that everything comes down to a recognition of this truth: A husband and wife are one, as Christ and the Spirit are one.
Strength in weakness
At the beginning of creation God saw one thing that wasn't good: "The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone'" (Genesis 2:18).
God identified an incompleteness in his creation, and the answer to this was Eve. Eve was created (and with her, the order of marriage) to make humanity and all of creation strong and complete.
Through vulnerability comes strength, for God's "power is made perfect in weakness" (2 Corinthians 12:9). Paradoxically, marriage makes people stronger by making them more vulnerable. Vulnerability allows for intimacy—or as the word is sometimes rendered, into-me-see. Marriage exploits the fact that humans are not opaque, but are full of holes. Eyes, mouths, ears, sexual orifices are the channels for intimate communion. Through our cracks, love seeps in.
A crack was how it all started, when God took part of the man's side and made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man (Genesis 2:21–22). Ever since then the man and the woman have been trying to get back together, seeking to recapture their essential oneness. The act of sex goes only so far toward this goal. The more perfect solution is marriage. God brought the first woman to the first man, and this has been his main business in the world—drawing people together into unity. Marriage is a living demonstration of the extravagant intimacy into which God wishes to draw all people.
A perfect fit
Recently I talked to an engaged couple who described their relationship in rapturous tones. "It's as if we're on the same wavelength about everything," they crowed. "We think the same way, have the same way of doing things, share the same vision and dreams. It's amazing!"
If this is oneness, it won't last. True oneness is distinguished less by its sameness than by its differences. One partner is a man, the other a woman, and that's just the beginning. One is sociable, the other reclusive; one likes a down quilt for sleeping, the other a light blanket—and only half a light blanket at that! How can two such opposites ever be one? Might as well ask how a glove fits a hand. Oneness arises from differences fitting together, from contrasts corresponding.
How then do we know we're one? I'll work all day at my desk with the phone turned off, when suddenly it occurs to me to turn it on, and one minute later Karen calls. Or I'll watch her prepare supper in the kitchen and I'll know suddenly that right here, with her, is my home. Or we'll walk together and I'll take her hand, and all at once I'm not just aware of her, but I know she's a part of me. Or we'll talk or pray, and the words she says are the words I need to hear, the ones that fill in the blanks of my perplexity.
Oneness is the freedom to speak one's mind to the other about absolutely anything. Oneness is being as comfortable with silence as with speech. Oneness is perfect trust. It's acting the same way apart from one's spouse as with him or her. It's anticipating the other's needs, and feeling the other's hurts as one's own. Oneness is habitually setting aside all differences for the simple joy of living in peace.
Thus, to be at peace with our spouse, we should simply be at peace. Over and over the Scriptures tell us, "Be at peace with each other … Don't quarrel … Get rid of anger." If only we could grasp who we're truly yelling at, picking at, berating, manipulating. If only we could remember who lies in the bed beside us or looks back at us across the breakfast table. It is (or might as well be) ourselves! The apostle Paul reiterates this in Ephesians 5:28–29: "He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it."
To pursue stubbornly our own way at the expense of oneness with our spouse is to play a self-defeating game. Our God is a relational God, which is why he created Adam and Eve. The image of God is not in the man alone but in a relationship. Only through loving, harmonious relationships can God be known, for he himself exists in such a relationship through the Trinity.
If you aren't feeling one with your spouse, neither are you experiencing harmony and wholeness in your own soul. If you aren't intimate with your spouse, intimacy with God will suffer. Indeed the way you feel right now toward your spouse is the way you feel toward God. Any shadow in the one relationship will necessarily fall upon the other.
How can oneness be nourished? There are two prerequisites.
Prayer. Almost every day for more than 20 years Karen and I have prayed together. Like lovemaking, prayer requires, in a sense, taking off our clothes and removing our shoes to touch holy ground. Such acts of deep communion carry tremendous power for healing and renewal.
To pray together is to draw water from the same well. Each time we go there, the bond of oneness, the very secret of our marriage, is strengthened. Prayer is a means of returning daily to the altar where husband and wife were first joined.
Unconditional love. So often the poor, miserable thing that goes by the name of love, which we hope will be enough to sustain a marriage, has no hope of sustaining anything because it isn't unconditional. It isn't the same love God lavishes upon us; the love that accepts us as we are without criticism or without coercion for change. We change, paradoxically, only as we come into the light of unconditional love. Such love initiates growth by always taking the first step—being first to understand, first to soften the heart, first to forget a wrong, first to apologize.
In a difficult marriage this comes as harsh news. The only way to embrace it is for each partner to receive God's unconditional love, daily, moment by moment. God wants us to love unconditionally because this alone makes us happy.
Amidst all the difficulties of a shared life, unconditional love may not always be felt, but it can always be intended. And in the final analysis this is what counts. God sees and values not our performance, but the intent of the heart—our heart as one.