I stumbled across a video of woman who was talking about the death of the institution of marriage as presently constituted. She was stating (quite emphatically) that being limited to one person till death do us part is no longer a relevant or helpful view of marriage. It needs to be replaced by the more realistic perspective of so long as your love lasts. She claimed to be a proponent of monogamy because she believed in being married to only one person at a time. How noble! The idea of doing one’s entire life with the same person, she contended, is both outdated and unrealistic. People change. Life is more complicated today. We need to update our view of the marital relationship. Her proposal is not a new thought. It has been bantered about for a while. But in this instance, I was surprised by two things:
- This woman was about 55-ish. She was dressed very conservatively and had that home-spun air about her. She spoke about her proposed marital transition as though it were a most predictable and necessary kind of relational evolution. Quite unapologetically she stated, “This is how marriage is already playing out around the world, we might as well just embrace the reality of it and speak/act accordingly!” I was taken aback by her brazenness. I wondered how many other societal ills she would recommend we solve that way, “O well, that’s just how it is – may as well learn to accept it…” UGH!
- Nowhere in her reflections did she note the predictable negative consequences of her position on various significant facets of family life. She didn’t acknowledge the life-long scars kids have to bear, the tremendous financial burden this creates for families, communities, and social service providers. She didn’t account for the personal pain experienced by those whose hearts are broken – often resulting in debilitating emotional dysfunctions, addiction issues and even suicide. Her one nod to the associated hardship was that a ‘sincere apology’ would help ease the pain of the break-up. Hmmm, OK…
I found myself quite disturbed by the interview, maybe because it was against the backdrop of Carol and my recent anniversary celebration. Or, perhaps, it’s because I have spent so much of my pastoral life watching the devastating effects of broken homes. Point being I found it irresponsible for this person to be so cavalier about the negative consequences of her revolving-door approach to marriage. More importantly, she missed the rich benefits of a life-long marital relationship. And that is what I would like to highlight in this reflection on my 39-year marriage to Carol.
- Gary Thomas made the point in his book, The Sacred Marriage that God’s design for marriage was not so much to make us happy, but to make us holy. Marriage is the ultimate fulfillment of Proverbs 27:17, As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Unfortunately, that Biblical dynamic is often pictured in a harsh light – when iron rubs up against iron, it creates sparks. True! But, in a good marriage, that shaping/sharpening can be cultivated and experienced in a gentler way. It comes from a place of compassion and care, and Carol and I have worked really hard to do that well. And I can say with confidence, I am a better (holier) man, because Carol has been the kind of wife who has taken that assignment seriously. I think she would the same about me and my investment in her.
- Marriage is hard work. It involves lots of forgiveness, forbearance, and intestinal fortitude. But it’s not just hard work, there are also really great highlights. When you get to share life with someone for a long period of time, you know each other well. That means you know something about how to comfort each other and celebrate with each other. The hardships are a little less difficult and the joys are a little more meaningful. It’s difficult to fully quantify the multitude of benefits couples experience by doing a long stretch of life together with the same person. I am deeply grateful I have been blessed to share mine with a woman like Carol. The heartaches have been minimized and the happiness amplified!
- Jesus said, In this world we will face trials of many kinds. (John 16:33). This is why we need him. He has overcome the world. But it’s also why we need each other. A strong enduring marriage creates stability. It provides a safe place. As the culture and the world situation becomes increasingly unsettled and complicated, people need a place to call home – a place that feels secure – where strength can be renewed, laughter is abundant, and love experienced. That is what home is meant to be, and I am sincerely grateful for all the ways Carol helped create that for me and our children.
- Speaking of children, children are significantly influenced by the state of their parent’s marriage. After 40 years in pastoral ministry, I have seen it time and again. When the parent’s marriage is unstable, the kids can’t help but be preoccupied with what is going on in the home. They inevitably give time and energy worrying about their parents. That mental energy must come from somewhere. I think it comes from the time they might otherwise spend on self-discovery and self-actualization. I’ve always believed that the main reason our kids are confident and appropriately self-directed is because they have made wise choices, which reinforced a positive self-image. But perhaps it’s also partly due to the fact that they also had ample time/space to dream about their own lives unfettered by worries about mom and dad.
- Real intimacy takes time. Our culture has rejected the idea of intimacy and settled for immediate gratification. But is that really a problem? Should we care about it? If people want to live that way – it’s their choice? True, but when I think of the 100’s of people I counseled battling deep-seated loneliness, I continue going back to the very beginning of the Bible, “God has given us a solution!” Marriage! And yes, in a broken world marriage is an imperfect solution, and sadly there are times it doesn’t work out. That said, the experience of intimacy is worth the struggle associated with trying to achieve it – to see and be seen, to know and be known, to love and be loved! I am trying to imagine how empty life would be without that experience… and because Carol and I have walked (and sometimes limped) through every season of life we have relished the intimacy we have come to know together.