If only King Solomon had had the courage and good sense to marry the Queen of Sheba. If only he’d convinced the fascinating queen from the south to remain in Jerusalem as his wife.
If only the Queen of Sheba had let herself be convinced that King Solomon could change and be faithful to one woman. If only the queen could trust Solomon to not try to change her into becoming a conventional wife when she had come to him as a queen.
What a marriage between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba might have been! A marriage in the Bible of a man and a woman who were equals. He was one of the wealthiest, wisest, most well known kings in the land. She was one of the wealthiest, well-traveled, intelligent queens from the south. What a model King Solomon and Queen of Sheba might have left us.
Alas, it was not to be.
With the marriages of two well known ministry couples unraveling in recent days, everyone in blogosphere and the media seems to think that it must be impossible for a husband and wife in ministry to live together without competition. But this is not, in my opinion, about marriage between two ministers. This is about marriage between equals. Two lawyers. Two doctors. Two thinking people, period. Two people who want both to combine marriage and family with meaningful careers and vocations. Everyone seems to think it’s impossible for strong, intelligent women to marry and be happy? Why must one partner (always the woman) take a back seat in the marriage for the marriage to work?
Here we are centuries later, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, still scrambling to make marriages between equals work. Worst yet, here we are centuries later, and our men (most of them, anyway) are still insecure about marrying women whose wealth, fame, educational background outstrip their own. Ah, if only…
Is it me, or has anyone else noticed that no one questions whether men can have it all? No one looks horrified at the man who expects to have a family life and a successful and satisfying career. But a woman who expects to combine family life with a successful and satisfying career is, supposedly, unrealistic. Women are expected to give up their careers for family in ways men are not. Any woman who has ever loved a man knows that she and her children are second to his work, no matter what he says to the contrary. But few men have been willing to extend this reciprocity to the women they have loved.
Until the last half of the 20th century women serious about their vocation or serious about their ambitions typically did not marry and have children. For many centuries, in fact, the cloistered, contemplative life of the nunnery was the only option women had to honorably avoid marriage and follow their spiritual and intellectual yearnings.
Take women in the Bible, for example. Putting off marriage and motherhood freed women like Mary Magdalene, Susanna, Mary of Bethany, and others from the tyranny of being subject to husbands who resented their work and children who needed them to be available. Imagine how intoxicating it must have been to meet a rabbi like Jesus who did not regard you solely as a sexual object, a man committed to building a community of equals where everyone is on equal footing before God. It’s enough to make you leave everything familiar and devote yourself to working with this man in spreading the gospel.
In contrast, of course, there is the Proverbs 31 wife. God bless her soul. But is she our only role model of what it means to be a woman? Who wouldn’t want to be married to a woman who exhausts herself staying up all day and night to make your work and home life comfortable and smooth going? (I need a wife like that myself.)
Contrary to what folks think, there are, and always have been, married women who have managed to be able to devote themselves to pursuing their intellectual and artistic vocations. Their secret? They married unconventional men. Men who understand themselves to be parenting, not “babysitting,” when they take their kids out to the mall. Men who are not “helping out” but pulling their load when they pick up behind themselves and other family members. Men who laugh it off when they are refered to by their wives’ last name (e.g., “Mr. Bynum”).
These are men I like to think of as “men after Jesus’s own heart.” A marriage between equals, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, where both partners have talent and neither is made to stifle himself/herself in the name of gender roles, is a revolutionary marriage. And the one thing I’ve learned from experience about revolutionary marriages is that they have to be continually reinvented, renegotiated, and reaffirmed.
The second lesson this week is simple then: choosing an unconventional life for yourself, creating a life that runs counter to the norm, especially if you’re a woman, takes enormous courage. You gotta be willing to listen to your own soul, and prepared to invent the life you want for yourself (with or without a husband in tow). If you’re a man loving an unconventional woman is to be loved like you’ve never been loved before. Surrendering your ego and giving yourself over to the work of building a marriage, home, and vocation with a woman like the Queen of Sheba is like peeping into heaven.
Ah, if only King Solomon had had the courage and good sense to marry the Queen of Sheba.