Find me in the garden
There is a very moving scene in the Bible, where Jesus is in anguish the night before his death, he finds himself in the garden of Gethsemane, his soul full of sorrow. And he asks his disciples to stay awake with him. Sadly, they fall asleep. Jesus finds them deep in slumber and says to them ‘Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?’ (Matthew 26:40).
We too, may have times in our marriage when we feel pain and anguish, when we want our spouse to come alongside us and understand how we might be feeling. But sometimes it’s difficult to stay awake to our partner’s emotions. Sometimes we metaphorically fall asleep like Jesus’ disciples. We switch off, we absence ourselves, we cannot stay present with the pain. We may not want to hear it. We may choose to shut down, in many subtle or not so subtle ways. Modern technology provides us with many new ways to disappear – we may sometimes find ourselves lost behind a screen. But take this as an encouragement and a helpful challenge for our marriage: the challenge to stay awake.
The story of Rizpah: see my pain
The difficulty in seeing and acknowledging pain also reminds me of biblical story of Rizpah, the concubine of King Saul. She bore King Saul sons, but the Gibeonites wanted revenge against King Saul and they asked King David to hand over seven of his sons. So Rizpah’s sons were amongst those who were executed at Gibeon, the mountain of the Lord. But their bodies were left up on the mountain and they weren’t given a burial. Rizpah in her pain and anguish wouldn’t leave her sons’ dead bodies she ‘….spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night.’ (2 Samuel 21: 10).
Day after day and night after night she kept watch. She used her body to protect their bodies. Soon everyone in the land knew of the plight of Rizpah. Her vigil to protect the remains of her loved ones reached King David’s ears. On hearing this, he understood her pain and: ‘Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father…..After that, God ended the famine in the land….’ (2 Samuel 21: 14). King David honoured this woman’s pain and her love for her family. In turn God honoured King David and the famine stopped.
Rizpah stayed awake and present with her sons and their bodily remains day and night. She kept watch. In our marriage, perhaps one partner has laid themselves out bear in pain, like Rizpah. Day and night they may be mourning something, a loss, the pain of an affair, the emotional absence of a spouse whether that’s through addiction, disconnection or separation that has been enforced, like when a soldier is deployed. Our partner might be waiting and hoping for some recognition of their anguish to be seen and heard. Just like King David heard and understood Rizpah’s grief and took action. When we stay awake in our marriage, we can be receptive, hear out partner and then there’s the possibility for something healing coming in: something restorative. Just like how King David’s action must have brought healing and relief for Rizpah.
God abides with us
If one or both of you find yourself on your knees in the garden, like Jesus, in pain and sorrow for whatever reason – we know that God is with us. He sees and hears our pain and responds. We know that he is always awake, for ‘…the one who watches over you will not slumber. Indeed, he who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps……The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.’ (Psalm 121: 4 & 8). Thank you God for being faithful in our marriage. Ever-present and awake to our needs. Help us to be awake and present to one another more and more. Day by day.