Proposing to Erin took all day.
When Erin and I were dating, we loved hiking through the Dreamy Draw Recreation Area — a hilly, scrubby, surprisingly beautiful wilderness near Phoenix, Arizona. And when I decided to propose to her, I wanted to do it on top of our favorite mountain there.
I spent most of the day preparing. I carried up a table and a couple of chairs. I toted a portable stereo, some candles and a couple dozen roses. I even brought up food from our favorite restaurant. And to top it all off, I hid a camera nearby so I could record the entire thing.
Then, near sunset, I picked up an unsuspecting Erin for an evening hike. When she first saw the spread, she smiled.
“Look what someone did!” she said. “Some girl is in for a special surprise.”
Some girl? I thought. What? Don’t you realize that this is all for you? So, by way of a gentle hint, I began walking toward the table.
I’d barely taken a step when I felt Erin’s hand around my arm. “Don’t you dare spoil the surprise!” she whispered. “The people are probably nearby!”
So much for hinting. I knew she wouldn’t accidentally stumble on the answer, so I fessed up.
“This is for you,” I said. “I carried all of this up here.”
Erin gaped. “You did this?” The fact that I was actually capable of being romantic was slowly sinking in.
It was a rough beginning, but the rest of the night turned out perfectly. As the sun set, I knelt on one knee and asked the love of my life for her hand in marriage.
In case you’re wondering, she said yes.
Many marriages start in a burst of romance. When we find the love of our life, we don’t want her or him to get away. We woo. We chase. We cleave.
This word “cleave” is found in the King James Version of Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”
The Greek word for cleave (proskollaó) means to join or unite — to glue one thing to another. This is the typical picture that we think about in terms of oneness: a close marital bond that can’t be broken. And yet, when we look closely at the Hebrew word for cleave — dabaq — we find a different meaning. Dabaq can mean closely pursued. In Judges 20:45, dabaq is used in a way that makes it feel like a scene from a movie thriller: “And they were pursued hard to Gidom.” But within marriage, the idea of a hard pursuit takes on a much more beautiful meaning: to chase after your spouse persistently.
But it’s difficult to pursue our spouse throughout decades of marriage. We often stop our pursuit when we get married. We see marriage as the grand finale to our courtship, the finish line. When Erin and I were married, many of the fun, romantic and crazy things we did while dating all but disappeared. They felt kind of unnecessary and impractical. It was as if I said to myself, I won her. Why continue the chase?
Now I realize that the chase should never end. In this, we follow in God’s own footsteps when we keep up the chase. He pursued us — He lavished us with an everlasting love when we didn’t deserve His grace, including Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” Paul wrote in Romans 5:8 (NIV). But God’s pursuit didn’t stop when we accepted His free gift of eternal life. He continues to pursue us daily, relentlessly.
Eugene Peterson paraphrases Psalm 23:6 in The Message: “Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life.” Here we see that God is modeling a powerful truth for marriage. We should never stop “chasing” our spouse, even after we’ve won his or her love. As a husband or wife, we’re the only person who can, or should, make our spouse feel loved, respected, cherished, nourished, pursued and valued.
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author or co-author of several books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.