On Being “Naked” And Unashamed
About a decade ago, Arlie Hochschild of the The New York Times released an essay called “The State of Families, Class and Culture.” She observed that in modern times, we have a curiously consumerist approach to love:
On Internet sites and television shows, we watch potential partners searching “through the rack” of dozens of beauties or possible beaus. Some go on “speed dates;” others go to “eye-gazing parties”—two minutes per gaze, 15 gazes—to find that special someone. If advertisers first exploited the “restless spirit” by guiding consumers’ attention to the next new thing, a market spirit now guides our search for the next new love. The culprit is not the absence of family values, I believe, but a continual state of unconscious immersion in a market turnover culture.
According to Hochschild, many treat love less like a committed covenant and more like a cost/benefit proposition. In the modern west, where divorce rates are high and people delay marriage longer than ever before, love is often treated as a means to personal fulfillment and little else. As long as there is sexual and relational fulfillment; as long as we continue to enjoy one another’s company; as long as our emotional connection comes naturally and we don’t have to work for it; as long as we both feel that this relationship benefits us more than it costs us personally…we will keep going.
But as soon as one or more of these things changes, we hit eject.
Said another way, love is in crisis these days. Because whenever “…as long as we both shall live” is replaced with “…as long as our love shall last,” love ceases to be love.
The biblical vision for love between men and women is much different than this. Love’s starting point is an other-orientation versus a self-serving orientation. Words like love, covenant, submit, give yourself up for, lay down your life on behalf of, feed, nurture and respect are freely used in Scripture to describe God’s vision for his two image-bearers—male and female—coming together as one (Ephesians 5:21-33).
These principles from Scripture also translate into non-romantic, cross-gender and same-gender friendships. For Christians, the point and trajectory of marriage and friendship is the everlasting union between Christ and the Church. Our goal whether single or married is to prepare ourselves, and also each other, for that union.
Naked and Unashamed
In the early chapters of Genesis, God describes how a man shall leave his parents and be united to a wife and the two will become one flesh. He also describes how Adam and Eve, the first and prototypical human couple, lived their lives before one another: “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:24-25).
They were completely exposed and comprehensively loved.
They were fully known and not rejected.
Naked and not ashamed. This is the ideal not only for marriage but for all other human relationships also.
This “naked and not ashamed” dynamic sets the tone for redemptive exposure between persons. In Ephesians, we are told that marriage includes a “washing with the water of God’s word” for the purpose of one party presenting the other to Jesus cleansed, purified, and made lovely…holy and without blemish. Though husbands are to take the lead in this, both husband and wife become the best version of themselves by submitting to one another in these things (Ephesians 5:21, 25-27).
A lot can be said about the biblical teaching on love between genders. But one of the most overlooked benefits of love is how God works through it to mature us. Part of why he puts us in each other’s lives is to create tension for us, a redemptive pressure, that has the effect of improving our character. If romantic love isn’t leading both men and women to grow in the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, then the love dynamic is malfunctioning in some way (Galatians 5:16-26). It hasn’t fully become what it was meant to be.
You see, all of us need partners in life who know the whole truth about us. We need “significant others” who know full well that our social media profiles, resumes, and best behaviors tell a story about us that is, by itself, more cosmetic than real. All of us need people who know us as well in private as they knows us in public. Because only those who know us like this can help us in the journey of becoming our truest and greatest selves.
I need you to call my bluff.
You need me to call your bluff, too.
Physicians for the Soul
In his book, Dangerous Calling, Paul Tripp tells of a time when he and his wife were getting along very poorly. At the time, he was a successful and beloved pastor to his congregation. In the eyes of the members of his church, he could do no wrong. But his home life told a different story, because with his family and especially in his marriage, he was an angry man. Once, during a heated argument with his wife, he told her that she should be thankful because ninety-five percent of the women in their church would give anything to have a husband like him. To this, she responded that she was among the five percent.
Dr. Tripp would later say that this response from his wife, words that cut him deeply in the moment, worked more like a scalpel than a sword for him. They became words that healed him instead of crushing him, that restored him instead of destroying him. The “faithful wounds” of her words became a turning point in their marriage, one that would trigger a sorrow and repentance over the angry man that he had become, and that would set a course for him to become a better, more gentle version of himself.
Like Paul Tripp, all of us need our covers blown every now and then. Otherwise, we will never feel pressed to deal with the spots, wrinkles, and blemishes in our character.
I have certainly needed the same. This is one of the many reasons why I’m thankful for Patti. Through twenty years of marriage, time and time again she has nudged me back toward health when I have believed my fears over God’s promises, clung to money and other false securities, dropped names to feel more important, worked too hard and rested too little, been a million miles away while sitting at the dinner table, responded to stress and disappointment with hurtful intensity, and become a different person in public than the person I was in private. Without Patti there to confront these illnesses in me as with a surgeon’s scalpel, who knows how my character would have languished over the years? Her necessary, spousal critique the worst things about me, her generous refusal to let me get away with being less of the man God has created me to be, has been part of God’s process of completing me.
Think about it this way. If you are married, there are only three people who have access to your private parts: you, your spouse, and your doctor. If you are wise, you allow your doctor to examine you, to probe your body, and even to perform invasive procedures on the most intimate parts of your body, to expose things in you that are sick. Because unless your doctor points out the things in you that are sick, a curable thing could end up killing you eventually.
If we welcome this kind of exposure and prodding and probing for our bodies, why would we not also welcome the same for our character?
If we want healing not only for our bodies but also for our souls, why would we not welcome a significant other—be it a spouse or a friend or a small group or a mentor—to be a faithful partner for the healing of every part of us?