I remember a Valentine's Day when I surprised my husband at his office. With a toddler in tow while our older children were in school, I ventured into his cubicle farm bearing gifts. For his coworkers, I brought heart shaped cookies with snarky Valentine messages. For my husband, I brought a basket of goodies with balloons floating from the handle. At first glance, my basket looked like wine and chocolates resting on satin, but on closer inspection, the fabric was slinky lingerie, an invitation to come home and play. I can assure you that my husband did not linger late at the office that day! Twenty years later, we still laugh about the mortified look on the office secretary's face when, hoping for some chocolates, she discovered the full contents of the basket!
The biblical book of the Song of Songs, sometimes attributed to King Solomon, describes relational joy and sexual intimacy using the imagery of a garden. One spouse invites another to enjoy their physical body as a place to explore and find delight. “Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits” (Song 4:16). The lover invites the beloved to delight in intimacy and find enjoyment.
In marriage, loving and being loved, seeing and being seen, holding and being held are all part of a deepening bond of belonging. My lover is mine, and I am my lover’s; we belong to one another. In a healthy marriage we share all aspects of our life together, finding a place of belonging and connection. Our foibles are known, and we are still accepted and loved. The lover’s invitation in the Song of Songs is a welcome into intimacy and joy.
Your body is one of the gifts that God has given to you as a blessing. We don’t always view our bodies as beautiful, attractive places. Our culture shamefully portrays a very narrow view of what beauty can be. Our youth may fade and our bodies change over the years, but to the eyes of a loving spouse, our bodies should remain beautiful and desirable. Sometimes we may feel frumpy and want to hang up a “closed for the season” sign. Yet that withdrawal is more about our insecurities than about how our spouse (and God) see us. We are not called to embrace our culture’s view of beauty, but God’s. We are not expected to have a perfectly sculpted body, but rather to steward all of our gifts well. Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made by God (Psalm 139). There is beauty in what God has made and given. Don’t let a poor body image get in the way of opportunities for intimacy with your spouse.
Intimacy in marriage involves being vulnerable and trusting that we will be received with love. We take risks in sharing ourselves. To give ourselves to our spouse requires an emotional and physical nakedness. We can share the goods and bads, the ups and downs, our intellectual insights, our raucous joys, broken hearts, and physical delights, and that’s all part of intimacy. In our nakedness, we share the intimate gift of ourselves, but we have to choose the vulnerability of being seen. There will be good days, bad days, and great days. Yet marriage hopes to endure for years and decades of growing together. Keep choosing to engage vulnerably.
Belonging also precludes criticism. Nothing will cut short a vulnerable invitation quicker than a harsh comment or unthoughtful complaint. Insensitive words are a slap to the hand that bears gifts, and makes gifts much less likely to be offered in the future. The appropriate response to an invitation is a “thank you” of gratitude.
Part of our calling in marriage is to be invitational. Isn’t that what romance truly is, invitation and anticipation of loving and being loved? Note that both parties are active; the lover invites, and the beloved explores. We are not to just be passive but instigators. Don’t wait for an invitation, take the initiative with an offer to spend time together.
Marriage is a gift, but like a garden, it takes work and cultivation. If ignored, weeds grow and fruitfulness slows. With the many demands of life, it is easy to become passive and forget to fuel the physical intimacy in your marriage. Physical intimacy can be the first thing to fall off the plate when life makes demands, but our marriages are not supposed to wither.
Even the Apostle Paul encourages us, “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:5).
When I brought those gifts to my office, I was a busy mom with three little kids clamoring for my attention. I did not always feel good about my body. I missed the figure I had as a young bride, but I chose to set aside my anxiety and be invitational and generous. I reached out in love and invited my husband to come home and delight in me as his wife. A gift to our relationship.
Rev. Deb Koster
Dr. Robert Ritzema
Rev. Dr. Rob Toornstra