The Wife-Swapping Club

(My last repost in this series. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be able to tell you what’s been happening.)

“If you get bored, then look at the windows.”

So said our leader at the beginning of a course I attended.

“They are beautiful stained glass, I’m sure you’ll enjoy them if you find what I say is boring.”

I didn’t need to gaze at the windows. But her self-deprecating comment reminded me of other occasions.

There was my friend Pete, struggling through a boring and lengthy sermon by an earnest and well-intentioned preacher. “I know exactly how many window panes we’ve got in the church,” he told me a few days later.

But there was also the time at college in Manchester. Once a year the college put on a lecture to which old students and friends were invited. A distinguished speaker was always invited. This was my first year. I wasn’t any the wiser.

He was well-known for his views on marriage. We, however, remembered very few of his views from that lecture. His inspiration level was that of window-pane counting.

Except that … we all latched onto one of the things he advocated. He said that given the fragility of marriage today, it should not be viewed as a life-long commitment but as something that should be reviewed by the couple after ten years. More like a fixed-term renewable contract. This was not what we expected to hear from a Christian speaker on the subject.

And so it was that over coffee afterwards, one of the students went around canvassing to start up the college wife-swapping club. He was generous enough even to include the single students.

Christians may be known for sharing (or we should be), but this is not an area to which our generosity is expected to extend. An early Christian leader called Tertullian said, “We share everything except our wives.”

I suppose our distinguished speaker wanted to take seriously the tragedy of relationship breakdown in our society. Being married now to a divorcée myself, I am not without sympathy to that concern.

I know too the statistics that suggest second marriages on average last fewer years than first marriages. I have heard the saying that a second marriage is the triumph of hope over experience.

Yet for all this there is no way I want to model a relationship on the fixed-term renewable contract idea. My understanding of love must come from Jesus, whose love is unconditional, unchanging, and a covenant commitment of faithfulness.

Yes, that means relationships where we burn our bridges. But what kind of love is it that does not have risk and vulnerability at its heart?

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