I’d like to spend a few words building the case for marriage, because this institution, like all institutions (it seems) is increasingly regarded with both suspicion and cynicism by younger generations. For this reason an increasing number (of both Christ followers and the general populace) are forsaking marriage, choosing instead to simply live together.
I understand the cynicism, but disagree with conclusion. The cynicism makes sense because people are looking for something more substantive than some sort of ‘legally binding’ arrangement. If that’s all a couple has, and they stay together for propriety, or reputation, perhaps even ‘for the children’, then they enflame the notion that marriage is meaningless. After all, when a couple stands before God and their friends to make a vow, they don’t promise to live together; they promise to love each other through all the seasons life – and let me tell you, the latter is much harder than the former.
My wife and I have been married thirty years, and I don’t think I’m speaking presumptuously in declaring that we love each other deeply. We’ve built a storehouse of adventures, laughter, child-raising, and braving challenges together. Each of these marvelous moments seems to add a brick to the solidarity of our marriage, and each brick makes the notion of walking away from our commitment to love, all the more difficult.
God knows, though, there are moments when we’ve both wanted to walk away. Between us, we know all the tricks – stony silence, careless disregard, hurtful words, manipulation, a fear of truth or confrontation that leads to perhaps the worst thing of all: the pleasantness of relational death. We’ve never strayed very long into any of these arenas, falling in unwittingly, and then crawling out – but we’ve been there, and when one or the other of us is there, the grass suddenly looks greener elsewhere. After all, we’re both competent and capable individuals, right?
I’ve a feeling we’re not alone in this. But, in spite of the fact that our eyes have looked longingly at freedom once in a blue moon (ok, maybe twice), staying in the arena of working on the promises we made has always been the obvious choice. And because of this, the bricks have continued to accumulate, until we’ve now, not a wall with a marriage contract tacked on to it; but a home of love and gratitude.
There are many reasons we chose to stick with the vows, but one of them is pretty simple: We made a vow – and we made it before God, our friends, and our family. It carried a weight for us (as I both believe and teach that it should for anyone who makes it), and this weight has always been lurking in the background. But recall, as we have, that our vow wasn’t a commitment to stay together – it was a commitment to love each other. Choosing to simply stay together, without comitting to the hard work of learning to love does two things: 1) It displays our obsession with appearances and our desire to please people, both of which lead to the charges of hypocrisy in the Christian community. 2) It helps create the disillusionment that leads young adults to avoid marriage completely, opting instead for ‘authenticity’. That marriage and authenticity are thus juxtaposed reveals how wrong headed we’ve become.
The value is found in declaring a commitment to love one another. Sometimes love might call for consequences, such as temporary separation or intervention. But always, love is working for the good of the other, and the union, rather than retreating into a cage of selfishness in order to preserve one’s own fragile and wounded ego. But beneath it all, there’s a commitment to love that was public, personal, and had the effect of creating a sense of accountability
Ironically it’s that sense of accountability that is largely missing in the generation that’s must hungry for authentic intimacy. Intimacy without accountability is a mirage, and boatloads of heartache and woundedness are waiting for those who try to create it. Better to keep the accountability ingredient in the mix; and how is that done?
I welcome your thoughts.