(I know this is an unusual format, but give it a whirl. Read the following passage, and then see how the illustrative story that follows grabs you.)
Romans 7:1-6 Do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to men who know the law—that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives? For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man.
So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature (flesh), the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Italics mine.)
I know this woman who is delighted about her new husband—her second husband. She goes on and on about him: he loves her like crazy and regularly makes it obvious; he does lots and lots of wonderful things for her, both little and large; he never ever gives her reason to doubt her security with him; his plans for their future together are wonderful and believable. He’s just sure she’s perfect. She is completely convinced that, although she doesn’t deserve him, he is God’s gift to her.
But she still struggles with her former husband.
He was a perfectionist, and even though he’s not around anymore, the way he made her feel about herself lingers on. He was always watching her. Always. She remembers that he never let up on his criticism and faultfinding. Never. Sadly, he wasn’t really wrong about her, and it hurts to this day. She was never able to earn his approval.
Haunted by his memory, she finds herself acting like her new husband is her former husband. Does that make sense? Because her former husband left such a mark in her mind, she thinks she will soon do something wrong enough to lose his approval and affection—it’s only a matter of time, she thinks. So, some of the same old fear plagues her: I don’t keep things clean enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m too fat, I don’t do things right, I get grumpy and bitchy and say bad words (see?), and I’m not always lovable. Dogged by fear, she tells me that either she works hard at doing what she thinks her new husband will like, or that she gets depressed and doesn’t do much of anything.
“How could he want me?” she wonders. But he does.
Her new husband doesn’t seem at all impressed with her slave-like efforts, particularly because he doesn’t think she’s getting any joy or pleasure out of doing them. He’d take one little loving kiss over a clean house and a dozen obligated roses any day. Lately, he’s been telling her that he didn’t marry her because of her abilities and talents—he just loves her and wants to be with her, not caring if she lifts even a finger. She tells me that she’s just starting to believe him, and that her behavior is a little less influenced by the one time fearful scrutiny of her former husband.
Last night he told her that her former husband is gone, never to return, and that he planned to prove for the rest of her life how marvelous she is. “I’m right about you!” he said. As she looked into his eyes, she realized she had become a little more convinced that he was right. It felt really good.
Over coffee this morning, she said, “Ralph, my problem isn’t so much that my life is up and down or good and bad, it’s that, in my mind, I keep swapping husbands. I hate that I do that! It’s like trying to impress my new husband by getting a good relationship with my former husband—impossible! So I’ve asked my husband to help me bury the past by enjoying him in the present. I don’t think there’s any other way, and that’s fine with me! He said he would, and that I would grow confident and find myself as I relaxed around him and by listening to what he thinks of me. But even if the memory of my first husband should darken and haunt me, he will always come for me and lead me out—I’m his now. Oh, how he loves me!”
Oh, how He loves you.