By John Goerke; First published on the Institute of Religion and Democracy’s blog site called Juicy Ecumenism, November 13, 2013 (edited). John Goerke majors in Philosophy at Minnesota State University Moorhead.
“How ought I to live as a married man or married woman?” “What is marriage for me, right now?” These are questions that have to be answered before a marriage culture can thrive. Having all the best arguments on your side is important, but they won’t substitute for the best people. Saints aren’t remembered for being right, they are remembered (and revered) for being good. Encountering a married couple that is committed to Christ and to each other does more to spread the truths about marriage than all the books in the world ever could.
In response to the question, “How ought I to live as a married man or married woman?”, I have nothing to offer. I am not married. However, on the blogs and on the street, I have encountered three people in the past month who do have something to offer. What follows amounts to an account of my eavesdropping.
Seth Adam Smith has been married for a year and a half. A little over a week ago, he declared on his blog: “I’ve recently come to the conclusion that marriage isn’t for me.” He should have seen this revelation coming. He admits that as his wedding approached, he began to ask questions. “Was I ready? Was I making the right choice? Was Kim the right person to marry? Would she make me happy?” Seth then goes on to make the classic mistake of asking his father for advice. It is uncanny how superficial and silly fathers can be during our high school years. Then, as if a miracle had occurred, they are filled with wisdom and insight almost overnight. It is dangerous to ask them questions, because they just might give the right answer. Seth recounts his father’s words:
“Seth, you’re being totally selfish. So I’m going to make this really simple: marriage isn’t for you. You don’t marry to make yourself happy, you marry to make someone else happy. More than that, your marriage isn’t for yourself, you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.”
To all who are reading this article– married, almost married, single, or even the sworn bachelor or bachelorette– I want you to know that marriage isn’t for you. No true relationship of love is for you. Love is about the person you love. And, paradoxically, the more you truly love that person, the more love you receive (usually, but not always in this wicked world). And not just from your significant other, but from their friends and their family and thousands of others you never would have met had your love remained self-centered. Truly, love and marriage isn’t for you. It’s for others.
This blog spread like wildfire across my Facebook feed. But like all writing, blogs tend to attract criticism, and it is in the nature of bloggers to disagree with each other. It wasn’t long before a response was being passed around. Jeremy, the author, affirms Seth’s point that marriage isn’t about being selfish, but he doesn’t much care for what Seth’s dad had to say. Jeremy writes:
“Like the author claims, marriage is definitely not about making yourself happy, but it’s not always about making your spouse happy either. True love is focused on God, and that sometimes means making people unhappy in order to draw them closer to God. Marriage is not about making your spouse smile or laugh every day. Marriage is not about being nice, it’s about loving your spouse as God loves them. Marriage is not only about making your spouse happy, it’s about making them holy.”
Now it should be obvious to anybody that Jeremy and Seth are getting at the same point. Jeremy makes the mistake of thinking of ‘happy’ as a superficial feeling. To make your spouse happy is to do what is best for them. What is best for them is to be holy. Thus, bringing your spouse closer to God will make them holy and happy. The two are intertwined.
What is marriage? Well, “It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married.” “It’s about loving your spouse as God loves them. Marriage is not only about making your spouse happy, it’s about making them holy.” I said at the beginning I had nothing to offer as far as the question of marriage is concerned. I still don’t. But the point made by Seth and Jeremy was nicely summed up by (someone I talked to) a few weeks ago, here in Moorhead. He told me:
“As a boy, I used to go help out on my grandfather’s farm. Now, like most men, I look back at my teenage self and wonder how I ever grew out of that stomach-churning individual. Anyway, one day I got it into my head to ask my grandfather a question. I had always wondered why my Dad was the only child of the family, despite the fact that most farm families were huge and, after all, you’ve got to do something during those long Minnesota winter nights. So I asked him this with a cheeky little grin and I’ll never forget what he said: ‘It’s true that most farm families are pretty big. Sure I would have liked more kids. But your Dad almost didn’t survive his birth. Neither did his mother. They were both half-dead for days. I asked the doctor to explain to me what was going on and he made it real simple: if your grandmother had another baby, she would die. So, after that, I never touched her again.’ My grandpa walked off and spit in grass, leaving me dumbfounded. What I later learned is that my father didn’t even know this. I was the first person my grandfather had told.”
Matthew 19:4b-6 — …(Jesus said), “At the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
Hebrews 13:4 — Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
I Corinthians 13:4-7 — Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
From the Marriage Service in the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer
O eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life: Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this man and this woman, whom we bless in thy Name; that they may faithfully live together, and may surely perform and keep the vow and covenant betwixt them made, and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.