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 (Manna 34: Facing Life's Challenges)
Nakedness without Shame
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The husband awakens from deep slumber and sees his wife. Overcome with love, he whispers ever so adoringly to her, "sweet bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." Ah, such intimacy. Such tenderness. Seems like love in paradise, doesn't it? In fact it is—in a paradise called Eden. God intended Adam and Eve, the man and woman He created, to share a blissful intimacy that joins the husband and wife as one flesh, without any separateness between the two (Gen 2:21-24). The sense of oneness and closeness is so complete that the Scripture goes on to emphasize that "the man and his wife were both naked and they felt no shame" (Gen 2:25).

I have often wondered about this verse: of the countless possible qualities that may depict a perfect spousal relationship, the Scripture chooses this one—nakedness without shame. Let's think about this for a moment. Why is our capacity to be stark naked in the presence of our spouse and feel no shame of such great significance? We often assume that the Scripture is talking only about nakedness in physical terms. But imagine, also, the likelihood of Adam and Eve being naked, emotionally and spiritually, with each other and feeling no shame. Why is this significant and how does it apply to our marriages today?

Physical Nakedness

Physical nakedness without shame in a marriage is an easy concept to grasp. We can all understand and accept its relevance in a happy marriage. Few would argue that a concrete and immediate way that we can show our love for our spouse is to accept whatever shape, size, or form our loved one may be in. The artificial coverings that help us to stay selectively protected and hidden from the rest of the world should be unnecessary within the intimacy of marriage.

But with age, our bodies undergo unbecoming changes; perhaps most common are those flabby, not so lovely "love handles" around the hips and waists. There may also be unforeseen life circumstances that disfigure the body, such as accidents, diseases, or medical conditions and procedures. Even one of the natural miracles of life, pregnancy and childbirth, can change the mother's once slim figure into something else. Accepting each other's physical nakedness in these and many other situations is a challenge that becomes even more important for maintaining a healthy marriage.

Physical intimacy between husband and wife is a profound mystery created by God. In no other love relationship do we expect to find this physical consummation. This union involves the total giving of oneself and the receiving of another, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. God created this intimacy for a husband and wife so that they may share an exclusive, special connection with each other. This bond is shattered when we choose to share this intimacy with someone other than our spouse. Therefore, we should take care to protect and nourish this marital blessing by being loyal and monogamous to our life-long partner so that we can continue to stand before our spouse naked and without shame.

Emotional Nakedness

Now, let's go beyond the physical body. Consider the different ways that the vicissitudes of life can leave us feeling rather naked emotionally. Losing our job, for instance, may strip us of our self-esteem. Encountering disappointments big and small may cast our spouse in a new, unattractive light, exposing his or her hidden weaknesses and insecurities.

When these situations arise, can we share our deepest pains and our darkest worries with our intimate other? Are we able to show our loved one the most private and vulnerable emotions within us? Conversely, can our spouse count on our unconditional acceptance, patience, and support when baring his or her soul to us, even when we may not be in the mood to listen? Being emotionally naked and feeling no shame with our spouse means being able to do any of these things. But for one reason or another, we often cannot.

It is not merely external changes that can shake up the harmony in a marriage or strip us of dignity, leaving us feeling naked. In fact, both partners bring into a marriage many different views and ways of doing things, and these differences can often lead to an emotional rift in the relationship. But isn't it true that every husband and wife, even the most compatible of all, encounters differences with each other? How could two people who grew up in different families and with different norms not be different from each other? From varying tastes in furniture to conflicting spending habits and communication styles, differences are inevitable.

The question is how we resolve our differences with our spouse. Sometimes we handle this problem by avoiding it, kind of like hiding behind protective barriers in order to not fully expose and deal with our discrepancies. We may feel shame and fear about being emotionally naked, because we don't trust that our spouse could understand our perspective. And perhaps we are too painfully familiar with the road that leads to arguments and hurt.

Spiritual Nakedness

Similarly, the reluctance to shed our emotional defenses in order to allow our spouse to see our inner core may apply to our spiritual side. In particular, the longer we are married, the more spiritual weaknesses we may see in our partner. This may crush our ideal of him as the spiritual head of the family or shatter our image of her as a steadfast companion.

During these times, we may find it difficult to be kind to our spouse and accept his or her spiritual flaws. Instead of gently pointing out the imperfections as normal shortcomings to improve on, we may unleash insults on our loved one and inflict unnecessary wounds with little respect. In a similar vein, just as we find it tough to accept our partner's spiritual flaws, we in turn fear baring all of our spiritual weaknesses to our loved one. Shame paves the way to fear, which then creates barriers to our ability to communicate with our spouse or to lend a spiritual helping hand. Not only is this harmful to the relationship but it also goes against God's will for the spouses to be each other's suitable spiritual helper (Gen 2:18).

Reconciliation through God

Given the challenges and obstacles to our capacity to bare body and soul to our spouse with no shame, how then do we attain the complete oneness and openness shared between the first man and woman? To discover the key to this question, we need to return to the story of Adam and Eve and first try to understand the reason for their downfall. Sadly, only seven verses after the portrayal of their perfect relationship, this same couple that knew no bounds to their connection and openness with each other suddenly felt ashamed of their nakedness. They felt a need to sew fig leaves together to make coverings for themselves (Gen 3:7).

What happened? Did the husband and wife have a fight with each other? You might think that some kind of interpersonal friction must have arisen between them to stir up mistrust and shame, right? Yet what is so striking about the story is that it was Adam and Eve's sin against God that created the rift they experienced between each other. It wasn't an interpersonal conflict between them, but rather their transgression against the Lord. Immediately after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they suddenly realized that they were naked. And this was no longer okay for them, because the moment they fell away from God's grace and presence, the perfect harmony that they once shared with each other was forever disturbed.

What a sobering teaching this is! Our relationship with God is an essential component of our marital relationship. How close we are to God and how blameless we are before God directly impacts the level of intimacy we have with our spouse. But why is this so?

God as the Source of Love

On one of several occasions, Jesus taught, "If you obey my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commandments and remain in his love" (Jn 15:10). To remain in God's love, we must obey His commandments. This in turn is crucial to our ability to love our spouse, because "God is love" and "love comes from God" (1 Jn 4:7, 8).

Think of this analogy: to obtain a constant supply of water, we would need a pipeline that carries the water directly from a lake or river, wouldn't we? Similarly, in order to love our spouse truly, unselfishly, and wholesomely, it makes complete sense that we would need to be close to the source of that perfect love, God Himself. When we are initially caught up with the visceral feelings of being in love, we cannot appreciate the profound mystery of this teaching. But look to the Scripture and we see that "there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love" (1 Jn 4:18). To be able to bare our soul, our body, our all to our partner, without shame and fear, we absolutely need God to live in us so that we can draw upon the source of perfect love.

God as Our Strength

Recognizing the value and necessity of His presence in our marriage is only the beginning of understanding how God works to bring us closer to our spouse. Turning to the Lord in the midst of our marital strife is the next step in making this concept a reality. In the heat of the moment, when insults and criticisms fill the angry expanse between our spouse and us, it is impossible to think kindly of that unreasonable "shrew" or "iceberg" we think our partner to be. Often we walk away feeling hurt and unresolved, believing that once again our spouse was wrong and has let us down. "How could he have done such a stupid thing?" "How could she say something so nasty?" we wonder ever so self-righteously, don't we? It is precisely when we are least able to feel love for our spouse that God can supply us with the wisdom and strength to cross the angry divide, but only if we turn to Him and seek His assistance.

This is an incredible mystery and wonder. We may not be able to comprehend it fully, but it is true. Some of the most moving experiences that couples have gone through come from seeing and experiencing God's loving intervention, which enabled them to soften their hearts toward each other and to realize something they did not realize before. Often these unforgettable moments come as the wonderful result of prayer. The Spirit of God helps the believer to see his or her own flaws and role in creating a hurtful argument. As God's teachings and love fill the person, self-righteous anger gives way to humility and repentance. Who is right or wrong no longer matters. Ultimately, the believer can initiate a sincere and loving reconciliation with his or her spouse and, in return, experience the partner's tender extension of forgiveness and apology.

This is the wonder of divine intervention. The Scripture records that the Spirit of God "will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment" and is "the Spirit of Truth" who will guide believers into all truth (Jn 16:8,13). By helping us see our own faults when we are least able to, by guiding us to the truth of His teachings when we are least open to them, God can bring about kindness, humility, and, yes, even love in our wounded, bitter, and unforgiving heart. He can help us restore that precious intimacy with our spouse when we are least likely to know how to do it alone.

The complete unity and trust that Adam and Eve enjoyed before they fell from divine grace is the intimacy that God intends for every husband and wife today. How truly wonderful it would be if we could bare our body and soul to our intimate other and feel not shame but closeness, joy, and trust. This blessing is what God wishes for each of us to experience, perhaps as a way to taste a bit of heaven and tranquility in a turbulent world. So long as we live in God's presence and love by obeying His commandments and seeking His assistance, His promise will be realized in our marriages today. Nakedness without shame. It would be a return to paradise lost.

"Love & Marriage" seeks to address and provide biblical advice on a wide range of questions and issues related to dating, singlehood, and marriage. If you have any comments or suggestions for this column, please write to love.marriage@tjc.org.

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Publisher: True Jesus Church