Yesterday afternoon at church, I managed to listen to most of the sermon message after having my Sabbath school class, and the message was for fairly straightforward reasons a particularly awkward one for me to listen to. It is my point today to work my way through the awkwardness in one of the most characterstic ways I have of doing so, namely of writing it, so that my awkwardness is both exposed to the general public (at least those interested in reading such matters) while also allowing me to feel less awkward by having worked through the matters that made me such an uncomfortable listener to what was a worthwhile message, albeit a message that I could not view with equanimity due to the circumstances of my own existence. The fact that I had the closing prayer yesterday at serves after that message was done only made it more awkward, as I was in the place of trying to draw lessons that would be applicable to all and yet not sound too unpleasant coming from someone whose struggle for harmonious relationships are fairly transparently obvious.
The message itself was about marriage, and that is always a subject I find awkward and uncomfortable . The message detailed four types of marriages, from conflicted marriages where couples are either functionally divorced through living largely separate lives or in a state of conflict, to traditional marriages where couples do their role but not much else, to harmonious marriages where couples have some difficulties by are able to resolve them through good communication, to vitalized marriages where couples are able to be an active force for good for each other through having become truly at one with each other. Our pastor sought to compare our own spiritual lives to this, as he was no doubt aware that not everyone in the audience could relate to the discussion about marriages, but at the same time it was the sort of message that rather forcefully in being about marriage was clearly awkward for a certain portion of the audience. The rest of the message was a comparison between two marriages, one that was based on faith (namely Rebekkah’s willingness to depart from her family and marry a man she had never met before) and one based on lust (Samson’s ill-fated marriage to the Philistine woman of Timnah).
One of the more striking aspects of the minister’s discussion of Samson’s marriage was the encouragement for people to seek the advice of their parents concerning relationships, with the expectation that parents would be able to give wise counsel in matters of the heart. Neither my father, when he was alive, nor my mother, have ever been shy about this. Even to this day I regularly receive somewhat pointed commentary about such matters in phone calls and messages and posts in social media from my mom. Like Samson’s parents, my mom has gotten the whole warning her son about evil women part down pat, despite the fact that I have not been in a romantic relationship for more than a decade, and struggle against despair in ever finding a happy marriage for myself. I often wonder if my mother would approve of any woman in my life, or if there could be a lady who happened to meet her fairly demanding standards, and often I wonder if my mother understands at all that I am a person, like her, who does not particularly enjoy being alone and who has deep romantic longings that this life simply has not addressed to a very satisfactory level at all.
Be that as it may, the sermon was an awkward one for all kinds of other reasons as well. For one, I know I am not alone in finding the subject matter of the message uncomfortable. As I reflected on those around me and looked around our hall, I could see quite a few examples of broken marriages and conflicted marriages among the people around me. I know people who are married to each other but live largely separate lives and do not let their spouses know what they are about, to the frustration of others. I know people who can scarcely bear to be in the same room as their exes. To be sure, there are plenty of marriages that I would imagine to be at least harmonious, which I would consider the minimum acceptable standard for myself, but I can see plenty of failure as well. At what point does pointing to an example of a glorious marriage like that of Boaz and Ruth, or Priscilla and Aquila, or the marriage described in Proverbs 31 become a hopelessly distant goal that mocks one with one’s total lack of progress and and what point do such glorious examples become models for us to follow as we are able? I suppose each listener must answer that for themselves based on their own situations.
 See, for example: