I recently had coffee with a woman whose wedding I officiated last year. Her mother-in-law, and other members of her mother-in-law’s church, are targeting the couple, primarily the new wife. Her mother-in-law sent religious books earlier. The latest was a letter outlining Armageddon and a pamphlet about the end times.
This wasn’t a new issue for this couple. In fact, it was how we started our initial conversation when they asked me to officiate their wedding. Their decision to marry and then have the ceremony outside the groom’s family church was a statement to the family about the decision the couple was making. I needed to know that the groom was aware of the possible outcome of his decision and the consequences he might experience as a result. In other words, what were his beliefs and was he prepared for the fact his mother would never approve. He was very prepare. Their wedding was lovely.
What impresses me is how this couple is handling this very stressful situation as they’re beginning their life together. While they love this mother and respect the religious choice she has made for herself, they are drawing clear boundaries with her. They are protecting their relationship by not allowing her manipulate or divide them or coerce them into a belief system that is not their own. They aren’t ignoring the situation, but thoughtfully and prayerfully considering how best to handle it and then addressing it with this mother. It’s not a decision reached lightly, but they are prepared to be shunned.
There are all sorts of stressors and distractions today for couples and families. Some have ulterior motives, like this mother. Others are not so destructive, but may be toxic in other ways … too much alcohol or the dynamic in the others is uncomfortable when you’re around them. This couple is learning how important it is for them to protect their relationship from destructive forces around them.
Maybe that’s why the writer of Genesis wrote, and Jesus later repeated:
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
I call this the leave and cleave principle. In order for a couple to really begin their own life together, they must leave what they had previously and actively create a new life, of their own, together. Maybe most families aren’t as intentionally destructive as this one, but many families are much too intrusive. I know it’s hard to step back and let your son or daughter and his/her new spouse launch their own life, but it is now their own life and it is in their best interest. A family that truly loves lets go so the new couple can leave and cleave.