Summary: Is divorce inevitable, or could there be another way? A Sermon in series on RELATIONSHIPS.

Some time ago a friend of mine held a "Celebration of Marriage" Service in his Church. He sent out invitations to 150 couples that had been married in his Church in the previous eight years. "Only one couple came to the Service" he said. "By far the largest number of replies came from the Bride`s Mother who said `It was kind of you to write, but were you aware that they had been divorced`, and then went on to say `But she`s living happily with a new partner`".

In recent times Great Britain marriage and family life have been going through hard times, and the breakdown has been growing rapidly. Why should this be so? Let`s examine this:

Marriage would be easy if it were two perfect people who were getting married, but people are not perfect, and there`s nothing like day by day living alongside another person to expose your imperfections! On this side of the pond (and I suspect it`s the same in the U.S.A) society seems to be saying, "Get married - see how you get on, and, if you meet difficulties, you can always give up and find someone more compatible"

However, no two people are perfectly compatible. Tom, who has married Jane, may have a fine attractive side which all admire, but it`s highly likely that he`s got a dark side too. For a while all goes well, but eventually the glamour of the new relationship begins to fade, and they enter another stage, a stage where new things emerge that they never suspected about each other. Sometimes the new things are good and exciting for both of them, but at other times the new things can be hurtful. The dark side of Tom and Jane have now come to the surface - and then what?

Do you live with Tom while his dark side doesn`t show, but, when it does, and it rubs up against you and causes sparks, you split up and find someone else, someone who is more suited to you" - doesn`t that avoid REALITY?.

Marriage isn`t necessarily easy. It can be great and wonderful when things are going well, but if I daren`t ever reveal my dark side to you, because, if I do, you`ll run away, then our marriage has become a `play-act`. If I daren`t reveal my bad temper, but always have to live behind a smiling mask for fear of losing you, then you are not seeing the real "me". Then, if that mask does slip a little and you do start to run away from me (as secretly I always feared you would), then I have to run back into my good little act again, and have no hope of ever being accepted as I am, no hope of being told "I know there are terrible and cranky things geeing on inside you, things that hurt me terribly, but I`ll go on loving you, and never run away from you!".

It`s not until the marriage has passed out of the "easy stage" into the difficulties of personality which lie beyond, that growth can happen.. It`s not until two people begin to rub up against each other and the sparks begin to fly, and they forgive each other in the middle of the flying sparks, that they begin to enter into that deeper reality of love which is prepared to go on loving no matter what. Forgiveness is a vital and important part of marriage, and is in very short supply today!

That is why Christians promise to love each other "for better, for worse". They can only do so because they know that that is how God loves them. He sees the truth about them, and still goes on loving and forgiving.

But let`s be honest - no two people can reach this depth of relationship overnight, nor can they reach it on their own. They can only do so when God is right at the heart of their marriage. The "dark me" cannot forgive, if it hasn`t realised how much it is forgiven and accepted by God. Only then can I begin to exercise the great power of forgiveness which is His gift to me.

Many marriages come to a state where they have to "keep on keeping on", partly out of obedience to Christ, and partly out of a deep intuitive knowledge that, painful and paradoxical as it seems, personal suffering is a real and important part of the human way that Jesus came to show us.

It would have been easy for Jesus to pull out when things got hard, when He hit head on against the terrible truth of the anger, murder, lust, pain, bitterness and downright dishonesty that is in all of us. Throughout His life, but particularly in the Garden of Gethsemane, He faced and struggled with my dark side, the side which, if it comes to the surface, will crucify all those who meet me, and therefore I am not going to let anyone get close enough to find me out.

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