“A potter begins by centering his clay on the wheel. When the wheel starts turning, he can’t just grab the clay. He must carefully but firmly keep the clay in the center of the wheel. He has to work it gently but deliberately, applying just enough pressure to shape it while constantly adding moisture. If he lets the clay get cold, it becomes stiff, resistant, and unworkable. If he neglects the clay and fails to add water, it will dry out and crack. If he stops the process and then starts again, he may force the clay off center, or he may mar it by putting his hands on it too quickly or aggressively. It takes time, but if the potter is patient, creative, and firm but gentle, there’s no limit to what he can create.”
This brief excerpt is drawn from Love That Lasts, written by Gary and Betsy Ricucci. Gary, who wrote these words, applies this metaphor to a husband learning to practice romance as an art. “I am to pursue my wife consistently, warmly, and affectionately, lavishing her with encouragement and affirmation.” What caught my attention as I read this section of the book was the lesson he seeks to teach through these words. While the lesson is meant primarily for husbands as they relate to their wives, there is such a strong parallel between the marriage relationship and the relationship of Christ to His people that I could not help but see a lesson for my relationship with the Savior. “Every wife is different, and so is every season of life.” We could as easily affirm that “every person is different, as is every season of life.” And here is the lesson: “But like the potter, we are committed to the process as well as to the outcome.” That little sentence stopped me in my tracks.
“Like the potter, we are committed to the process as well as to the outcome.” You see, I know that God has great things in store for me in heaven. I believe firmly that, when I die or when Christ returns, I will be changed in the twinkling of an eye. I will be instantaneously made perfect and will be restored to the state of perfection in which I was created to live. My relationship to God will be fully restored and I will no longer desire what is sinful. I know that this is God’s ultimate goal, to display His glory in transforming me fully and finally into His likeness. God’s goal for me is nothing less than glorification.
While I have full confidence in God’s ultimate plan, I find that I have far less confidence in His committment to the process that precedes this consumation. When I read Ricucci’s words I had to pause and reflect and ask myself if I truly believe that God is as committed to the process of sanctification as He is to the final act of glorification. Is Christ pleased with the baby steps He sees in my life, or does He lament that I do not grow more–that I do not grow faster? Does He rejoice with me as I grow in my knowledge and love of Him? Is He glorified even in the smallest, halting step I take towards being further transformed into His image?
I thought about this for a while. And then I saw in myself and in my attitude towards my wife just a shadow, a fleeting glimpse, of the work of Christ. I love my wife dearly. I love Aileen so much that my heart aches for her sanctification. I love few things more than seeing my wife reading her Bible, teaching the children about God, and being with her in times of worship. I pray continually that God will continue to mold her into His image. And, if I look carefully, I can see times when I have provided the leadership to help move her (and myself, and our children) towards this goal. I can see where I have been committed to the process. And best of all, I can see the joy I have taken both in leading her through the process and in seeing the results of the process. In my relationship with Aileen I can see, as if in a dim, clouded mirror, a reflection of the work of Christ in my life.
Of course I can also see with startling, shameful clarity the inumerable times that I have failed. I can think of opportunities missed or deliberately avoided. I can see times where my own selfishness and laziness have no doubt robbed Aileen of many a blessing. Yet my faith is stirred when I think that God never misses an opportunity. God is faithful where I am faithless, committed where I am laxadasical, strong where I am weak.
And I am grateful. My marriage ought to be a near-perfect metaphor of the relationship of Christ to His church. Because of my sin, and because of Aileen’s sin, it cannot be. Yet through God’s grace it can still be a shadow. It can still point to a greater, more perfect reality. It can point to Christ.
It also occured to me that there is a point at which the metaphor of marriage ends, for there is no glorification in a marriage. There will never be a time in which every marriage will be made perfect. Instead, marriage will cease. Like the sacrifices of the Old Testament, marriage will cease for it will no longer be necessary. We will no longer need this shadow to point to a greater reality since, thanks be to God, we will live within the final reality. As the feasts and festivals and sacrifices of the Old Covenant were fulfilled in Christ’s death, so the ultimate purpose of marriage will be fulfilled in His return.
What became clear to me as I read this book is that by studying marriage as it is presented in Scripture, we are studying Christ. When we learn about how a husband is to love and care for His wife and how a wife is to submit to and respect her husband, we are learning how Christ cares for us and how we are to respond to His love. When we, as husbands, commit ourselves to the pursuit of our wives and to shape their hearts and lives through loving leadership, we learn how Christ molds and shapes us as we learn of the loving committment it takes to do this. When wives submit to the leadership of their husbands and respond to their initiative, they display the love and faith they must also have in the Savior.
Love That Lasts is a book that is well worth reading for both a husband and a wife. It is, in the words of Jerry Bridges, “thoroughly biblical, very practical, and quite convicting.” The Ricucci’s are members of Covenant Life Church in Gathersburg, Maryland and one can clearly see within their writing the influence of the ministry of C.J. Mahaney. I dare say that if a person attempted to combine C.J.’s books Humility and Sex, Romance and the Glory of God along with Carolyn’s Feminine Appeal, he would end up with something much like this.
My only real disappointment was that it sometimes seemed that the authors were holding back. I know that they know so much more about marriage than they were able to relay in the 160 pages of this book and I wish that I could have learned more from them. Perhaps God will provide the opportunity for them to write more thoroughly in the future. I hope He does.
This is a book about marriage, about the relationship of a husband and wife. But on a deeper level, it is a book about the church, about the relationship of Christ to His people. And this is the way it ought to be, for marriage exists primarily for His glory. Marriage is not about me, it is not about her, and it is not about us. Marriage finds its purpose primarily in God. As the Ricucci’s say, “A truly Christian marriage starts with the reality that the institution of marriage does not belong to us. It belongs to God. He designed marriage, and his purposes for it are paramount.” Having read this book I can truly say that never has marriage seemed so important, so worth the investment, and so great a means of sanctification. I will let this sentence stand as my endorsement for this book, for I’m quite sure that there is no higher praise I could provide.