Marriage is a beautiful thing. It’s a lifelong journey of commitment to your spouse who will quickly know you better than anyone else ever has. They will know you more than your own parents and siblings. And I have found that for most families, this is a really difficult transition. Being a Christian family does not make that family perfect. They won’t have all the answers, and they definitely won’t get it all right the first try. But the day you say “I do” to your spouse, the family dynamics change, whether you’re ready for it or not.
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined (cleave) to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). This verse talks about the phrase we hear so often, leave and cleave- two very important concepts to a healthy, biblically centered marriage. But what does that really mean?
First of all, leave. In every family, there are two types of relationships: husband-wife and parent-child. The bible tells us that the parent-child relationship is the temporary one and the husband-wife relationship is the permanent one (Matthew 19:6). But problems arise in families that have reversed those roles and have made the parent-child relationship the primary one. If this is the primary relationship, then a new marriage seems to threaten that parent-child relationship, and a healthy transition will not come quickly. I love the way Dr. James Dobson said it, “Children are not casual guests in our home. They have been loaned to us temporarily for the purpose of loving them and instilling a foundation of values on which their future lives will be built.” Children are a gift. A temporary gift. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about family! My heart longs for the day when my family will all live within driving distance of each other. But the bible tells us that mentally (and sometimes physically) we need to learn how to leave that parent-child relationship to make way for this new husband-wife relationship, and to properly build it up in God’s image.
Secondly, cleave. Webster’s dictionary defines it as, “to adhere closely; to stick; cling to; to remain faithful.” So if a man is to cleave to his wife, that means he is to pursue hard after her in marriage. This cleaving indicates such a closeness that there should be no other relationship in your life that is closer than with your spouse. “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mark 10:6-9).
For my husband and I, it has been a messy, imperfect journey of learning how to put our marriage in it’s rightful place. And I will admit that about 80% of the time, that was my fault. I failed over and over again in choosing my husband over my family. I allowed myself to be emotionally manipulated by outside voices to the point where I was so confused what was right from wrong. I was allowing people to control me and ultimately have a say in decisions that shouldn’t have involved anyone but my husband and myself.
But in the last five years of my faith journey, God has been opening my eyes to see how he has uniquely created me and how that applies to this concept of leaving and cleaving. Me. Nicole. An imperfect, broken soul, so in need of God’s grace. I screw up all the time, but God doesn’t give up on me. He gives me second, and third, and fiftieth chances to learn how to be a wife who puts her husband first in our family of two.
Let me emphasize it again- the process of leaving and cleaving is messy! It is not an overnight transition. People can get hurt in the process because we are all broken and so in need of God’s grace. But we have that gift already. God sent his son to die on the cross so that we can freely receive that gift of grace and move imperfectly towards a healthier marriage every day. His grace allows me to forgive and to be forgiven with every mistake I make. He is perfecting me and telling me to keep my eyes on him, and everything else will fall into its rightful place. “We do this by looking unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2).