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Toward Wholeness Blog

Marriage: Away it goes

30 years and counting

It’s an amazing time in history. On the one hand, we’re seeing movement on the part of same-sex couples to have the right to marry, while on the other hand, we see the heterosexual world increasingly treating “marriage” with callous disregard. It’s this latter point that stood out to me while watching “Away We Go” recently. In case you’ve not seen it, I’ll shamelessly cut and post the synopsis from here:

Mid-thirtysomethings Burt Farlander and Verona De Tessant are a loving couple. Burt has always wanted to marry Verona, but Verona resists, not seeing the point of the institution. Regardless, they are having a baby together, despite questioning their potential parenting abilities. They are happy that they made the decision to move close to Burt’s parents, Jerry and Gloria Farlander, as they want to share the experience with the baby’s grandparents. Verona’s own parents died over ten years earlier, a situation about which she doesn’t like to discuss. In Verona’s sixth month, she and Burt learn that Jerry and Gloria are moving to Antwerpen, Belgium the month before the baby is due, just because it’s something they’ve always wanted to do. Burt and Verona don’t understand what they see as Jerry and Gloria’s selfishness in putting this move above spending time with their impending granddaughter. Being mobile people, Burt and Verona decide to move. As they want to share their new family experience with people that they love, they decide to take a trans-continental trip to meet with old friends and relatives. Most of them are married with children of their own, and Burt and Verona want to see where they would like to live and with whom they want to share the experience.

It’s a touching movie, at times both funny and heartbreaking.  One senses the challenges of being rootless in every sense; geographically, vocationally, and spiritually.  We call this rootlessness liberty in our culture, but outsiders don’t necessarily see it as a gift, and this film shows why.  But that’s another topic for another post.  A sub-plot in the movie is Burt’s continued desire to marry Verona, and her continued refusal.  She’s suspicious, perhaps even cynical, regarding the notion that the institution of marriage has any value.

She’s not alone.  Five years ago Harvard Magazine published this thoughtful article that both exposes our culture’s growing antipathy towards marriage, and explains some of the reasons for the shift.  It’s a good read,but long, and includes ‘birth control’, ‘women entering the work force’, and ‘the failures of their parents’ as all contributing factors.  Who needs the paper anyway?  Will the paper enhance love?

While I understand the rationale here, I find all of this disturbing because I’m a huge fan of marriage.  I’m a fan personally, because I’ve had the privilege of being married now for the past 30 years and can say that, at least in our case, the harvest comes, more and more, as the years pile up.  What I mean by that is that the earlier years had challenges that required of both of us skills that we didn’t yet possess.  By God’s grace and wisdom (and I mean that literally) we were able to learn the skills without destroying each other or permanently withdrawing into our respective corners.  Now, there are still challenges, but we’ve greater skills, and hence greater truth telling, and grace giving, capacity.  In other words:  Life is Good.

I can’t know how it would have played out were it not for the covenant piece, but I do know that there were times when I said to myself:  “I made a vow” and that was, at the very least, a piece of what kept me, not only married, but engaged in the process of learning to love.  I think many people diminish the vow, thinking that it only means sharing a bed, or if not that, at least a house and kids.  We promise much more, actually.  We promise to love and to cherish, come hell or highwater, come cancer or dimentia.  It’s a promise that, if we really take it seriously, I believe turns us towards Christ, asking Him to give us what we don’t have, in order to be the kind of people we promised to be.

We won’t do this perfectly.

Many days we won’t do it well.  Some days we won’t do it at all.  But still, we’ve taken a vow, and the vow becomes a reference point.   That reference point has been a gift for me more than once!  I’m not just glad I live with Donna.  I’m glad I’m married to her.  I think this might have been at least part of what God had in mind when he spoke of leaving home and clinging to one’s partner, in the sense that you’ve closed the back door.  Yes, there’s grace for failed marriages, but should the failures become rationale for throwing away the possibility of covenant?  I don’t think so.

So please help me understand why marriage has fallen on hard times.  Do you think we should be working hard to renew it?  Why or Why not?  If so, how?

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