Bible,  Christianity,  Marriage

The Art of Subtraction

“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.”

Mark 10:6-8 ESV

We nod our heads in agreement when we hear the phrase “two shall become one” in reference to marriage. We like the way that sounds. We think we even agree with it, and we think we know what that means. I marry him, he marries me, and we take two lives and bring them together and try to make them work compatibly until death do us part. But many of us, if we are honest with ourselves, think of marriage more as addition. 1 + 1 = 2. Me plus one. Two people sharing the load, experiencing life together. Two sets of ideas. Two heads are better than one.

But the Bible is clear: Over and over again, we see that God’s idea of marriage is the union of two into one new, indivisible, and holy union. It’s not addition; it’s subtraction.

Subtraction. Less is more. Less of me. More of you, O Lord.

But how can two become one? Two die and become something new and unified together that they could never become apart from one another and without God. I am who I am today because of God and my spouse. I would not be the person that I am today without them. We, in our abundance and consumer saturated culture, think more is better. Buffets deceive us: you think you can have it all, but there is only so much room on your plate and in your stomach.

The belief that I get to keep all the bits and pieces of myself, of which I am so enamored, and add a whole other person to the equation entices me. When in reality, those pieces may be suffocating and drowning my spouse and may need to be pruned and fall away.

Arriving at unity sounds fun, but the art and the act of unification is a painful process. It is not unicorns and rainbows. Marriage is the perfect example of this: one flesh from two separate, willful souls, lives, and bodies. Something has to die – no, many things have to die – for this new life to survive, for the combining of parts into a new harmonious whole.

We think unity, for example, means we must be agreeable with everything, not causing trouble or arguments. But in reality, coming to an armistice and drafting up a peace treaty usually involves both parties making sacrifices in order to form a more perfect union. A more perfect union implies that progress is never quite complete.

Subtraction. Less is more. Less of me. More of you, O Lord.

Any longing that we have that does not line up with God’s will for us should alert us to take a posture of repentance, submission, and prayer. These rituals in our all-things-permissible culture seem archaic and stifling, but they are necessary and freeing for the victorious life of a Christian. Every longing that we have must be brought before Him continuously and dealt with accordingly. An infected root must be cured. A weakness in the structure must be bolstered for it to withstand the test of time. A crack in the foundation must be filled before it widens. And every wanton and wayward longing that I have must be brought to the altar and filled by God alone.

God can fill every hole. He is expertly capable of filling every desperate need that neither our spouses nor anything else in this world can satisfy. The more I insist on myself, my rights, and my needs, I am pushing out Jesus and demanding that my will and my needs reign supreme. The longings that I am looking for my husband as a mere human being to fill are unfair for him to shoulder. We are misguided if we look to our spouses to fill that insatiable hunger and thirst that only Living Water can satisfy. Every well that we drink from in this world will leave us thirsty again.

What if who I hoped to be was always me?

And the love I fought to feel was always free?

What if all the things I’ve done

Were just attempts at earning love?

‘Cause the hole inside my heart is stupid deep, stupid deep

–Stupid Deep, Jon Bellion

Subtraction. God, subtract every replacement, every variable that I try to add to the equation. Subtract and remove every x and y that I seek to plug into the holes until there is only you. Fill every longing instead with yourself. Take away any desire that doesn’t line up with your will, because I trust your plan for me, and I know that whatever you have for me is best.

This doesn’t mean that our needs aren’t significant to God and that we must ignore them. He created us with needs. Yet, sin and selfishness mar those needs, and we must continually bring them before God to be refined. Ask Him to align our longings with His and remove, subtract all of those that do not fall in line with His will. Sound exhausting? Welcome to the world of sanctification and two becoming one. Are you willing to put in the work, to go the distance to reach that promised land destination in your marriage? I promise you it is worth the work, and more importantly, God promises.

Subtraction. Less is more. Less of me. More of you, O Lord.

The more we cooperate with one another and with God in this process, the more like Christ we both become. Our most authentic selves reflecting the Truest Self that has ever lived. The one that we become is less of me and you and more of Him.

Wife to Ren for 23 years. Mom to 4 amazing teens. Writer. Creative. Entrepreneur. God chaser. Disciple maker. I love Jesus, and I love His Church. I inspire, challenge, and encourage women to pursue Jesus wholeheartedly, to lay hold of the abundant life in Christ waiting for them, and to become all God created them to be.


  • Stare

    The Lord has been walking Scott and I through this and as we walk in unity we see it more and more with those around us too.. it starts at home/individually and then corporately as the family of God. I love the phrase “subtraction, less is more”, I remember when we were building the tiny house the Lord spoke to me that this was actually an expansion not a decrease.. we see that in full effect now.

    • Ren Buckland

      In the past I have refrained from commenting on Angela’s post because it seems presumptuous to publicly post what I can just tell her in person. I’ll make the exception with this post and steal her platform to say that I see her live this out on a daily basis. We both have worked hard in our marriage. These days when divorce is the answer for many couples’ difficulties, we have chosen to stick together and seek the Lord and figure out how to make it work. And when I write “we” I really mean “she”. I can’t count the number of times that after a “discussion” the Lord has convicted me of my _____________ (selfishness, stupidity, greediness, lack of faith, idolatry, fill in the blank) and she is first to the apology punch. She seeks the Lord and is open to his pruning. Then it’s like ashes on my head.

      Her words are a gift. She can put meaning to concepts when I can’t even decide what to say and even when I do I usually end up with my foot squarely in my mouth. She is worthy of more praise and support than she gets from me. She inspires me to be a better person. I would not be 1/2 the man I am without having her by my side for 22 years.

      Listen to this lady. She knows what she is saying and she lives it in everyday life.
      I am living proof.

      “The Art of Subtraction”? Sounds like a book title!

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