March 9, 2015


The figure beside me in the middle seat was all of stone, a silent 30-something traveler whose three-day stubble suggested he was in it for the long haul. The signs of insularity were obvious: Bose headphones wrapped around his head; eyes deeply closed; arms tightly folded on his chest. There would be no conversations with the traveler in 9B.

And I’ll admit to being glad in a completely I’m-too-tired-to-share-my-testimony kind of way. A dozen talkative seatmates in the past six months had taught me something of the joys of silence—and far more than I ever wanted to know about software engineering, food seasonings, and the value of life insurance. I had checked my role as a witness to Jesus at the same moment I handed my Samsonite suit bag to the ticket counter agent.

Somewhere over Nevada the traveler in 9B stirred, roused to sentience by some inner restlessness, or the memory of a task forgotten. Soon he was fingering a cell phone, composing a long e-mail on his iPhone 6. He leaned into his task as though protecting the words he typed on his small screen from prying eyes.

I hadn’t meant to look—not really—and all I saw in lines of text were five words in stark Helvetica: “Jill and I are separating.” Chagrined for having witlessly invaded such a private moment, I settled back against the headrest and closed my eyes, promising to keep my gaze directly in front of me from now on.6 1 5 6

“Jill and I are separating.” The words floated across the dark screen of my imagination. Was this, in fact, the decisive trip now taking my seatmate away from a pledged lifetime of fidelity and love? To which friends or family was he breaking this awful news through the cool, dispassionate medium of text? What feelings must be roiling in the man who had to write such words at 30,000 feet?

It was, of course, his private world of hurt: there was no invitation, real or implied, for a stranger to express concern, offer support, or simply share the woundedness. But like so many of my generation and my church, I had stumbled into the trap of choosing solitude instead of engagement, allowing the apparent coolness of others to determine the warmth of my witness. The cultural imperative of protecting another’s privacy had grown more vital than the command of Jesus to carry healing in my carry-on.

It’s easier—far easier—to wait until the wounded actually want to cry on our shoulders, to soothingly offer hugs and comfort when the marriage cracks apart. But can the One who invented marriage—and hates divorce—really bless His remnant people when they ignore (yes, that’s the word) the dissolution of so many covenants He blessed? The collective password of the modern church—“We can’t see it; we can’t hear it”—yields in life connections broken, children displaced, souls dispirited, and members lost to both God’s church and His eternal kingdom.

It’s time—no, actually, long past time—for Adventists in both pew and pulpit to become pro-marriage as the Word demands we should, to start an honest and continuing conversation about the health of marriages among us. It’s no secret what is happening in our congregations, where rates of separation and divorce, especially among Millennials, now nearly match the cultural “norms.” We need an open, upfront, Sabbath-morning candor about the challenges every married couple passes through that legitimates the kind of conversation I didn’t start with the man in 9B.

End-time prophecy is no comfort to the men and women whose most vital and intimate relationships are coming to an end, unsupported and unhelped. The Lord who walks among the poor, the naked, and the hungry also walks among the wounded marriages we know. Dare we say to Him as we now say to many others: “But we respected your privacy: we didn’t want to intrude”?

Good helpers ask good questions, and offer ears instead of counsel. Connecting hurting men and women to the spiritual and professional resources where they can find healing and—who knows?—mended marriages is surely one much-needed piece of that “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18) Christ has given His end-time church.

It is, after all, a marriage supper we say that we are headed for.