One of the best things you can do for your marriage is to love God with your whole heart. One of the best things you can do for your kids is to love your spouse and put them first. One of the best things you can do for your mental health and for the health of every relationship in your life is to respect the relational hierarchy God has established.
The Bible gives us many dramatic examples of people who leave everything to follow God’s leading, but we’re also told heroic stories of people who left everything for a spouse. The story of Rebekah in Genesis chapter 24 is one of these dramatic examples of leaving and cleaving. Within the origin story of her marriage to Isaac, we find a compelling portrait of commitment.
The story of Rebekah begins with the story of Abraham and Sarah. They were an old couple who were faithful to God and were ultimately rewarded with the miraculous birth of their son, Isaac, who wasn’t born until the couple was old enough to be Great Grandparents. Isaac was their whole world, and when it came time for him to marry, Abraham looked around the foreign land where they lived and decided that God wanted his son to have a wife from Abraham’s original family community.
Abraham sent his most trusted servant back to the family homeland to find Isaac a wife. You really need to read this story for yourself in the Bible, because we can’t do it justice by paraphrasing it here. In a nutshell, the servant was drawn to Rebekah after praying that God would lead him to the right woman. The servant told Rebekah and her family who he was and why he was there.
I want you to put yourself in Rebekah’s shoes for a second. Imagine a stranger showing up at your house and saying, “Hey, you don’t know me, but some distant relatives you’ve never met sent me because they’re looking for a wife for their son. The women are crazy back where we live, and my boss wanted a nice girl like you to be his son’s wife. So, I’m pretty sure God is saying you’re the lucky lady who gets to ride home on this camel with me and meet your groom. All you have to do is leave your family behind and you probably won’t see them again for many years. You also have to commit your life to a man you’ve never met or even seen. Since social media doesn’t exist, you can’t even look him up to check him out. All you can do is just trust God is in all of this. So, are you in?”
Most of us would have called the police and said, “I think a human trafficker is here trying to lure young women with a really bizarre story about prearranged marriage and God’s will. I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts about this kind of stuff, and I’m pretty sure this guy is a criminal or at the very least a crazy person. Send help now.”
Rebekah did something few of us would have expected, she sensed God’s leading in all of it and she decided to go. It was her decision. She wasn’t sold into slavery. She wasn’t kidnapped. She wasn’t coerced in any way. With joy in her heart, she trusted God and left all she’d known behind to leave and cleave with a man she’d never met. She put God first and God blessed her for it.
Maybe we wouldn’t give the “Rebekah Plan” dating advice to our kids, but there’s still valuable insights within her story about what it takes to make a marriage work. Rebekah and Isaac didn’t have a perfect marriage, but they were committed to God and to each other and God blessed them in countless ways. Through their descendants came the entire nation of Israel, and eventually, a king born in a manger who would be the Savior of the world.
Rebekah left her family behind, but she didn’t disown or dishonor them. She raised her sons to have a respect for her heritage and for her family. When her boys were grown, her son Jacob left home and went to work for Rebekah’s brother back in Rebekah’s hometown. Jacob started his own family there.
We’re skipping over a lot in these stories; and there’s a lot of dysfunctional behavior from everyone involved, but there’s still good principles we can learn from this family. First off, every family has imperfect people. Next, being willing to leave and cleave is important, but it’s also a beautiful gift when you can preserve, cultivate, and share a multi-generational family legacy with both sides of the family.
In our own marriage, we now have a beautiful, multigenerational bond, but there have certainly been some bumps in the road along the way. We started as newlyweds just minutes away from where we’d both grown up. Both sets of parents were just a quick drive away. There were advantages of having family close by, but there were also some complications. As the first sibling in either family to get married, we were trailblazing a new path that both families had to adjust to. We had to figure out what it meant to be independent; and at first, we weren’t very good at it. Our families also struggled to see us as a unified family unit of our own as opposed to the same kids they’d always known who were just wearing wedding rings.
We had to figure out what it meant to be independent; and at first, we weren’t very good at it. Our families also struggled to see us as a unified family unit of our own as opposed to the same kids they’d always known who were just wearing wedding rings.
While we had some wonderful moments and memories in those early years of marriage, our intimacy and connection went to a new level around five years into our marriage when we moved away from home. We felt led to take a ministry position out of state, and with a toddler in tow and pregnant with number two, we loaded up a Uhaul and set out on a great adventure. Putting down roots in a new place caused us to leave and cleave on a new level, and as a result, we experienced more unity than we’d previously thought possible. In many ways, we didn’t become a family of our own until we made that move. We’ve known many other couples who share a similar testimony about their marriage growing stronger as a direct result of moving.
We’re certainly not saying everyone has to move away from home to have a good marriage, but for many of the couples we’ve counseled along the way, it would be an option worth considering. Had we never left home, our marriage probably wouldn’t be as strong as it is now. Ironically, we even believe our relationships with our families are stronger and healthier as a result of our marriage growing stronger through the move.
The physical distance forced us to lean on each other in a deeper sense partnership. The leaving made the cleaving more meaningful. The physical distance also helped establish some necessary boundaries with extended family that we hadn’t been able to fully establish while living in the same town. Even if it’s just for a season, most couples could benefit in their marriage and in their family relationships with some time living away.
Leaving and cleaving, however, is about your mindset much more than your physical location. It’s possible to move away from home and yet still be unnaturally tethered to a parent. It’s also possible to live right next door to parents (or in the same house for that matter) and still have healthy boundaries and independence as a couple. The goal here isn’t in physical distance; it’s in spiritual maturity.
God wants you and your spouse to lean on Him for your approval. He wants you to trust in Him for your direction. He wants you to follow His direction by putting your marriage above every other human relationship. He wants you to experience the beautiful intimacy that He intended for marriage without unnatural interference from family or anyone else within the sacred bonds of your marriage covenant. He also wants you to do your part to honor your parents and in-laws and as far as it depends on you to cultivate a healthy, multi-generational family.
God wants you and your spouse to lean on Him for your approval. He wants you to trust in Him for your direction. He wants you to follow His direction by putting your marriage above every other human relationship.
If you’re not sure where to start with all of this, start by simply committing to following God’s plan for marriage. This includes leaving the authority of your parents and cleaving to your spouse as a new family. Once you put yourself under God’s authority, you’re in the safest place on earth. That simple act of faith invites His peace to fill your heart and your home. It might still be a long and messy journey to establish healthy boundaries and healthy relationships with your family and in-laws, but if you’ll choose to do it God’s way, then you can have the peace of knowing you’re on the right track and that the Lord with you every step of the way.