Marriage can be compared to two oxen
pulling a wagon across the prairie.
If they stand around making cow eyes at each other,
they will go nowhere.
But if they hitch themselves to the yoke
they can do great things.
“We’ll help you find your soul-mate”—that’s the promise that a number of internet dating services are making. The commercials show smiling couples who hold hands and look into each other’s eyes as they proclaim how the dating service brought them just the right person.
But what exactly is this “soul-mate” so many people are searching for? Richard Bach says, “A soul-mate is someone who has locks that fit our keys, and keys to fit our locks…. No matter what else goes wrong around us, with that one person we’re safe in our own paradise.” Another person says, “When my grandmother was alive, she used to tell me that every time God creates a soul in heaven, he creates another to be its special mate. And that once we’re born we begin to search for our soul-mate, the one person who’s the perfect fit.” (Emphasis mine)
I don’t know about you, but I am uncomfortable with such overblown ideas because they raise unrealistic expectations. On the one hand, they suggest that there is only one person in the whole wide world who can fulfill me and that my task is to keep searching until I find that person. Once we find that perfect fit then we will reach paradise on earth. On the other hand, if I’m not living in “paradise”, it must mean that I’ve not really found my soul-mate and that I need to look for someone else.
Let me tell you a secret: I love my wife, but I also know that given a different set of circumstances I could have a married someone else and still been happy. Certainly Sherry and I have a number of “keys that fit each other’s locks” (but not all of our locks, because in many ways we remain a mystery to each other), nevertheless, there were other possibilities that could also have led to happiness and goodness. What has made our life good and our love strong is not that we were destined for each other but that we were committed to each other.
Tom Robbins, the American novelist, puts it this way: “We waste time looking for the perfect lover, instead of creating the perfect love.” Perfect love is not something we find, rather it is something we create through commitment, shared values and a life lived together. It takes work and constant re-adjustment. We don’t stumble into perfect love, we grow into it.
In my opinion, the biblical concept of “help-mate” (Genesis 3: 19-25) is a better way of thinking about relationships. Soul-mates are like the Yin-Yang symbol—two opposites who attract each other and whirl around in a self-contained circle to the exclusion of everything else. In my experience, people who build their relationship solely on their love for each other, soon fly apart. Over time such love will become ingrown and tiresome. For love to survive it needs a bigger purpose than love itself.
By contrast, help-mates are like two oxen pulling a wagon across the prairies. If they spend the whole day making “cow eyes” at each other they will go nowhere. But if they are yoked together and working together they will cover great distances and do great things. They work together to achieve a goal greater than themselves. They have a bigger purpose than just themselves.
Sherry is my helpmate. I live with her, but I don’t live for her. She is not the beginning and the ending of my world, but together we help each other to realize God’s purpose for our lives. Together we live for God and for our children and grandchildren. Together we live for our church and our community. Together we seek to live out the two Great Commandments–to love God with all our heart and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Because we are help-mates we are better able to live the way God wants us to live. As result over the years our love for each other has grown deeper and stronger.