3 Lessons For Incompatible Soul-Mates

We saw it coming. As much as a 21 year-old far-sighted new grad and a 32 year-old eye-doctor standing before the wedding altar can. Because every marriage starts sight unseen.

The wedding guests shook their heads. “They’ve met their match,” some said. The guests, the bride, the groom- all knew that sparks would fly as sure as love would grow. That the cakewalk would end the second we left the three tiers at the reception hall and entered the January cold.

No. We weren’t giddy. Weren’t head over heels. Our love was not blind.

Bound But Not Blind

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 6:8

We knew to keep our eyes wide open before the wedding and half shut afterward. But half shut’s not blind. Because, like GK Chesterton wrote, blind is the last thing love is.

Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind. And if we don’t love the unlovable it’s not really love at all.

We knew these truths. We could see that our love was not blind. We were quite aware of our different ways of seeing and doing and saying things.

Which is why we picked those those verses from 2 Corinthians 9 for our wedding text.

Pastor Berg asked us, Are you sure you want to use this? It’s really not a standard wedding text like 1 Corinthians 13. The context is actually grace to give money. Is that okay?

Oh, yeah. For sure. Because we two strong, determined types knew we’d need all grace, in all things, all the time to stay bound. Which is exactly why God gives this abundant grace. 

That’s lesson 1: God gives it, so we can give it. Because we all need it

And 20 years in we still need all God’s strong grace to make our marriage workEspecially when in the heat of the fight, we might be tempted to wonder, Did I make a mistake? 

Mistakes and Soul Mates

J.R.R. Tolkien was married for 55 years. Happily, from all accounts. He and Edith understood that real love means self-denial. That takes grace. And that in a certain way, most marriages are mistakes. He explains this in a letter he wrote to his son Michael.

Tolkien’s take on marital love is not sentimental. I think that’s why I like it so much. I’m not so sentimental.

If you take nothing else from this post, please take this:

The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called “self-realization” (usually a nice name for self-indulgence…); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriages entails that: great mortification.

When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think that they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only—. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’.

And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.

But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. In this fallen world, we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will…(Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52)

That’s lesson 2: Your ‘real soul mate’ is the one you married. (Yes. Love the one you’re with.)

Jim and I both may possibly have found a more suitable mate. May have. But as for soul mates: he’s mine and I’m his.

The Unquestionably Incompatible on the Practice Court

G.K. Chesterton, also happily married, once wrote, I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when the incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such are incompatible. Hear, hear and three cheers for Chesterton.

Have you been there? Are you now? Wondering if you made a mistake? Feeling how unquestionably incompatible the two of you are? If you do, please take heart. 

Because we have and we do and, I suspect, we will still feel our incompatibility until death do us part. Twenty years in and I still can’t believe he thinks that. He can’t believe I said that.

That’s lesson 3: Incompatibility is not a marriage breaker. It’s a place-for-grace given. 

Thankfully, we have the perfect place to practice grace; a practice court for love. That’s what Gary Thomas, in my favorite Sacred Marriage book, calls Christian marriage. On that court what makes a win isn’t getting your way  and achieving your dreams.  No.

A deny yourself, serve your spouse, forgive first love wins. A robust holy love that has contempt on contempt and picks gratitude over entitlement scores points. It’s a holy love that knows faithfulness matters because marriage is meant to mirror God’s faithful love for his bride and her glad submission to him.

But, good night! Who knew how grueling hard this test would be. T.S. Eliot called it the greatest test in the world. It’s much more than a test of sweetness of temper…it is a test of the whole character and affects every action. We fail lots of tests and we miss a lot of shots. But we do keep fighting through when incompatibility flares

Which, incidentally, takes all grace. All God’s strong grace for grace to abound in our house. 

I won’t say I didn’t think we’d come this far. 

We knew God could make all grace abound. We thought we would. He give it so we can live it. But I will say we had no idea how hard living it would be. We’ve both had some high hopes smashed and big dreams dashed. Some shattered in the hands of the other.

So, yes, there has been hard. There have been sparks. But no matter, how hard and the sparks. Game still on. Because God gives more grace, strong grace to get us back up so we can give and forgive, bear and forbear, respect and submit. He does. God gives it, so we can live it, to the praise of his glorious grace. 

We’ve been working grace out as God works it in for the last 7300 days and it’s one score us, score one grace. And I admit it. I’m getting just a teensy bit sentimental when I see how far, by grace, we’ve come now.

So, yes, Dr. Jim, I do take you. For sure. You’re still the one.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 

Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. 

2 Corinthians 9:6-8


View comments

  1. That was great to read given our current situation. Thanks! Congratulations on your anniversary…


  2. Thanks, Jackie. The way you and your beloved talk to each other and how he brings lunch and you listen so well is grace upon grace. You’re strong that way. I’ll pray for you to live your next chapter well. Luke 12:22-32


Assertive, Right?

When to Waive, When to Claim 

Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ. 

1 Corinthians 9:12b

Bless this food we’re about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

We opened our eyes to find this food, these four burgers, beside us in the hands of our waitress.

Here you are, folks. Anything else I can get for you?

Don’t think so. It all looks great. 

We dug in. Three of four diners were well- pleased. One was not.

They got it wrong, Hon, I sighed. This is well done, not medium. And I asked them to hold the mayo, but it’s in there. Should I say something?

You could, Jim shrugged. You have a right to get what you ordered. We’re paying for it. 

Why I didn’t say anything. 

We do not find happiness by being assertive…The Scriptures don’t teach us to be assertive. The Scriptures teach us—and this is remarkable—the Scriptures teach us to be submissive. This is not a popular idea. 

That from Rich Mullins; still spot-on, spoken decades ago. Culture says, Stand up for your rights. Assert yourself. Never surrender. 

Submission is a dirty word, I learned looking for online images just now, and yielding-waiving one’s rights- is anathema.

In 2 Thessalonians 3, Paul gives-and lives-two principals that are as counter-cultural now as they were then. He upends our upside-down wisdom about when to demand rights and when to surrender them. Paul wrote to a church body loaded with free-loaders. 

So, for the public good and for the sake of the gospel, he commands that they work. He demands the right, not for himself, but for the greater group. Work must precede bread. The workers among the church have a right to demand that the idle among them work not mooch.

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness… For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat (vv. 6-10). 

Before and after describes waiving his own right, Paul claims the right. He justly demands that each man work for his own bread. Implicit is the right that hard-workers have to say no to feeding free-loaders. Love for the welfare of the idle is explicit: Warn him as a brother. 

Sandwiched between a command to work and naming the right he has to share bread with those he serves, Paul waives that very right. Out of love for his brothers and sisters and for the sake of the gospel, he yielded. He didn’t insist.

It’s as if your pastor or a church missionary came for lunch and insisted on leaving a $20 on the table. They have the right to a free lunch. More than a free lunch. But Paul worked harder than he had to and took less than he had a right to, all for the privilege of sharing the gospel with a spotless witness. To give you, he explained, an example to imitate.

Justice or mercy: Should I claim my rights or let them go?

Sometimes it’s really hard to know. Should you insist your your friend pay you back as she promised at the restaurant? Should you demand the school board enforce its rule, that all students have a right to bully-free school bus ride? Do you force the issue if your child is bullied?

And, do you insist that the bully’s single parent, who’s gone-you happen to know-before the bus comes, change his schedule? Or do you change yours, mercy to a single parent?

So we pray and seek God’s wisdom. There are principles, too. John Piper offers these three guidelines to help us decide when we should claim and when we should wave our rights. 

  1. Know your personality well and be vigilant not to indulge your bent carelessly. If you are naturally merciful, consider justice seriously. If you are naturally judicial, consider mercy seriously. We are very likely to indulge our natural bent at the expense of love.
  2. The more personal and private a matter is, the more likely surrendering rights will be the loving way. But the more communal and public a matter is, the more likely demanding rights will be the loving way. The reason for this is that, in public, demanding rights can be seen as a way of caring for others, not just yourself; but in private a demanded right will almost surely communicate self-aggrandizement, and a failure to treasure Christ above all.
  3. Be sure in either case—loving with mercy, or loving with justice—that your burden is the greatest good for the greatest number. That is, seek to help the greatest number enjoy making much of Christ forever.

I’m glad I didn’t return the burger. 

The waitress had just seen us pray. I waived my right to the burger I ordered so that Christian would not be connected with complainer. For me on that night, a browner burger with mayo was well worth a witness to our waitress. For you, on a different day, it might be right to claim your right.

Culture shouts, Take every cent your owed. Tap the system-you’re entitled. Get all that you’ve got coming to you.

But Christ beckons, Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s sake will save it.