“The Talmud says, with maybe a touch of hyperbole, that since the work of Creation was finished, God has been engaged in matchmaking, and that the task of bringing together a couple is tougher than parting the Red Sea (Sotah 2a).” source
And I would say, what is tough about bringing together a couple is not the initial matchmaking, but is the challenge of uniting two hearts a whole life through.
When I was fifteen, my best friend and I set high score on the idea of soul mates. We adopted the Yiddish word beshert into our vocabulary, a word which literally means “pre-ordained” and “meant to be” (think along the lines of a Protestant’s providential), but a word that in practice gets swapped for the noun “soul mate.” So, we dreamed fancifully of our “someday-besherts”, removing the be, changing the e, and just calling the someday-princes our shirts instead.
One day, our shirts would come.
The idea of soul mates–the idea that there is one person out there who shares a very twin to our soul and can satisfy our every need and desire–is a leap from the original meaning of the word beshert. To have something be pre-ordained or meant to be is not the same as having some one single person mystically make us whole. I say that because as I leap into the subject of marriage, I want to clarify my belief that a marriage does not have to be a cataclysmic soul-ish, self-satiating connection in order to be the absolute most wonderful and God-designed friendship/relationship in the world.
Last weekend my husband and I sat up late with muddled fiancé who at a week shy of his wedding, was working through some very wet feet. “What if one day,” the young man asked, “I meet this gorgeous, hot woman who is everything I ever dreamed, and I’m all, ‘man! Where were you 10 years ago, before I got married?'”
His question had much more to do with sex than with soul-feelings, but the problem is the same. What if one day we meet someone who appears to be everything our spouse is not? What if one day we connect instinctively with another person (even by accident) in a way we think we never have with our spouse? What if one day our spouse is not who we imagined he would be, life is not how we imagined it would be, our heart is not as happy as we wished we would be? What then?
It may be, at these times, that we are making marriage about self. It may be that we are expecting from another human what another human can never fully provide: our own personal happiness.
Going back to the idea of besherts, a noun has been transposed for an adjective in our current definition. We have taken a description of how a relationship occurs, and turned it into a definition of who a person is. We’ve done something similar with the term soul mate: we anticipate someone perfectly suited to our soul (a static someone) rather than seek for another human being to engage their soul alongside ours for this journey of life (an active someone; i.e., a mate).
My argument is that possessing a mate for our soul, for our moments, for our years, is different (and, in my small experience, better) than having some crazy intense connection with another human being in one small aspect, moment, or period of life. Mating is a journey and commitment which includes connection, but connectedness alone is merely a static phenomenon. Our connectedness with our spouse, our partner, will ebb and flow (with the temptation in the flowing to idolize and glorify, the temptation in the ebbing to wander and doubt), but the active mating of our lives and hearts is something we can apply ourselves to daily, in sickness and in health, in richness and in poverty, for better or for worse, till death do us part.
The concept of soul mates is glorified in our minds because we’re always looking for ways to gratify ourselves; someday our “shirt” will come, or we will go back to that “shirt” we knew before, and we’ll be totally made whole. The only beshert, in truth, is Jesus. To seek for a beshert in another human is to seek for a lesser god, and that leads only toward pain.
I believe that a soul mate, like a husband, or a wife, is an active calling; it is something we do every bit as much as it is something we are. I believe we make a marriage rather than find a marriage, and making a marriage is one of the greatest vocations of life.
Sitting across from the soon-to-be groom, I told him this:
“The great privilege of marriage is that you get to intimately know one single person through all of the ages and all of the stages of life. You get to walk with and witness them grow, develop, change, thrive. You get an up-close view of their heart and soul every day that they live, and they get the same view of yours. You are allies, companions, lovers and friends throughout every single phase, and there is NO ONE ELSE on earth with whom you, or they, will share this journey. This is the great privilege of marriage, to have intimate knowledge of another soul. Such knowledge does not come by a momentary sense of connection, but comes through knowing one another and choosing one another day after day after day after day until the day that you die. When you commit to this woman, you are not committing to things always being grand, to everything always being high, to the connection always being dynamic, nor are you committing to every need and every whim of your own being met. You are committing to a person and therein the honor resides. It is an absolute honor to commit a person for life.”
My husband took my hand at that moment, and I leaned heavy, knee deep into the midnight hour with words hanging in the air. Ten married years tumble behind us, and somewhere along the way this truth was learned. We smile.
I know this: it is an honor to walk this life with this man. It is a privilege to journey with his soul. I am in his heart and he is in mine, and this is my pleasure, my glory, and my pride.
He’s my shirt.
“Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one that my heart loves. I held him and I would not let him go…”