In her recent best-seller, Hi, Anxiety: Life with a Bad Case of Nerves, Kat Kinsman, a self-described “professional anxiousologist,” shares how the happiness in her marriage helps reduce her anxiety and promote peace. Three thousand years ago, the Scriptures presented the same enduring truth: wise couples encourage an atmosphere and attitude of rest.
I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment. Song of Songs 8:10
“Contentment,” in Song of Songs 8:10 originates from the familiar Hebrew term, shalom. The writer’s point seems to be that Lady Wisdom’s mature, sensitive character (“I am a wall”) and her celebrated intimacies (“my breasts are like towers”) diminished the anxieties they experienced and brought peace into their marriage. Just as the “walls” and “towers” of the ancient cities welcomed weary and anxious travelers in the Old Testament, aspects of our character and the intoxicating intimacies in our marriages welcome our spouses into a relationship characterized by rest. We could summarize it this way: character and closeness promote peace. Wise couples encourage an atmosphere and attitude of rest.
A thousand years after the Song of Songs, Jesus told an audience,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29
His words demonstrate how much stress and anxiety still plagued His creation. Those religious institutions that should have proffered peace, had yoked their followers to lists of angst-inducing rules. Combine those feelings of not measuring up with the pressures derived from the worldly ambitions His people waded through each day and all of us can appreciate the gentleness in Jesus’ words. Jesus’ character and the intoxicating closeness His coming to earth created, welcomed humanity into a relationship of rest.
. . . for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. Matthew 11:29
In the two thousand years since Jesus said this, the need for rest has not changed. Combine this historical insight with Alex Williams’ conclusion that we may be entering “a new Age of Anxiety,” and one thing becomes obvious: our marriages need shalom more than ever.
So how do we promote the benefits of the “walls” and the “towers” that Solomon described? Rich and I suggest exploring at least two questions:
Do my words produce rest?
Jesus said that when we “learn” from Him, we enter a state of rest. Throughout the New Testament His judicious words brought this kind of rest. In Loving Your Neighbor: Surprise! It’s Not What You Think, David Sanford skillfully navigates even the “harsh” words Jesus sometimes used and shows the “loving” intent buried in these expressions. The point is that even Jesus’ most difficult words promoted peace. The question is, do mine? This involves turning off the distractions and reflecting on our relationship. After the moments of reflection, sometimes I (Marty) have to apologize to my wife because I can tell that the words or tone I chose increased her anxiety or stress. Other times I don’t notice and she has to tell me. Either way, without this honest reflection and conversation, I cannot encourage the kind of rest Jesus modeled. I cannot provide the kind of atmosphere Linda deserves.
Do my expectations promote rest?
Leo and Angie had been married for almost ten years and found themselves agitated and anxious. Leo’s mom had kept a spotless house and he was irritated that his was a mess. I (Rich) asked Leo, “Did your mom work outside the home?” He fidgeted with his watch.
“She was a homemaker.”
I explained to Leo that his expectation, not Angie’s character, was creating the angst he was experiencing. I suggested they clean the house together once a week. Once Leo realized that this expectation was robbing them of shalom, he began to look at other expectations. This simple practice helped save their marriage. Why? Because shared expectations encourage rest.
When your soul is resting, your emotions are okay, your mind is okay, and your will is at peace with God, not resisting what He’s doing. Joyce Meyer
The more our environments promote anxiety and stress, the more time we will need to spend promoting rest. Asking questions like these can help.
What Solomon wrote three thousand years ago holds true today: character and closeness can help us become, in each other’s eyes, “like one bringing shalom.”
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