musings of a saint and sinner

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

why is this world so anti-marriage these days?

So, I've been noticing something that is becoming more and more prevalent as a cultural norm. I know people have been living together for decades and that the Religious Right is always pointing to how the institution of marriage is in decline. But it seems like until recently there was at least some modicum of respect and desirability attached to marriage in popular culture. Lately, however, it seems like all I am hearing (particularly from women on TV) is how marriage ties a person down and how much they like to be alone and single. There is even an embracing of the "goodness" of divorce. While I fully realize that divorce is sometimes necessary due to abuse, neglect or infidelity, it has always seemed to me that divorce is a regrettable, sad event. It is sometimes the lesser of two evils, but I have always felt (particularly living through two divorces in my family) that is brings much sorrow and deep wounds. Where has this blithe, optimistic embrace of divorce in the name of personal autonomy come from? It frightens me even more if children are involved because such an attitude may blind the parents to the ramifications of their decisions.

At the same time, I can't help noticing the similarity between the blithely bitter ruminations of feminists who feel no need for men, and the super spiritualism of Christian young men that I know who seem more concerned with feeling gushy over God than getting married. The value of singleness--even in the Christian community--seems to be elevated over above the great soul refining value of marriage. I Corinthians 7 is often cited in the interest of preserving this so-called spirituality. But it should be remembered that I Corinthians 7's instructions to "stay in the state in which you were when you were called" (married or single) was spoken to people in some sort of crisis, perhaps of persecution. It is specific advice for a specific situation. In general, Biblically, marriage is the norm.

Sadly, in a fallen world there are some who desire marriage and never manage to find a partner. Or who struggle to find one. They should not be put down for this, for they are desiring God's good gift. Certainly they should be ministered to by the Church in their loneliness. Those who desire to marry but cannot find a partner are not the problem. The problem is those who are so desperate to hold on to their singleness at all cost (after all, if they were willing to marry, the problem of those who desire to find a partner might largely be solved). I know that there are some who are called to singleness, but before a person declares that this is their call, they ought to very carefully evaluate their motives for refusing marriage. Is singleness just one more way to not grow up, to stay without commitment, to stay set in one's ways? Or is it a chance to have more time for service? Single people are called to serve their neighbor too--so either way, you don't get out of that. I know some phenomenal single people who want to be married but are using the time in the interval to grow and to focus on serving others faithfully right where they are. This is a beautiful model for singleness--desired or not--and will prepare a person for marriage, if God should provide that good gift.

Marriage is a crucial gift of God to us as human beings because we are all too easily drawn in on ourselves. We are self-centered creatures. And if we are allowed to live alone, without commitment to relationships and without letting someone know us deeply, nakedly, within the context of absolute fidelity and commitment--we will draw ever deeper into ourselves.

God knows we need a lure to pull us out. Hence, falling in love. Falling in love gives us the courage to make a huge, radical commitment to another human being for the rest of our lives. When we marry, the rosy glow over the other person slowly fades--or maybe disperses in a burst--but finally we realize we have married another sinner (as Elisabeth Elliot says, "there is no one else to marry!"). We both must forgive each other. And we both need each other. And so we do as Ephesians 5 tells us and "submit to one another out of reverence for Christ." Nothing could be more counter-cultural than submitting to each other by putting another's needs at least equal to--if not below--our own. The feminists of the world tell us we are being a doormat and giving up our autonomy (yea to the latter, nay to the former). The super-spiritual tell us that we should just be playing our guitars on a grassy knoll and not messing with messy humans. Christ tells us, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself."

The amazing thing is that in the yielding (which of course does not happen all at once but is a gradual refining process), we find what mere autonomy could never give us. The depth of a love that has been tested by mutual mistakes and mutual forgiveness is to casual relationships as cheap wine is to well-aged wine. God never asks us to sacrifice unless He has something else far better to give in return for the sacrifice.

And so I think parenthood will be. My husband made the wise comment tonight that parenthood is God's way to get the married couple away from "smug married" syndrome into a further reach of caring for their neighbor. I admit to being slower onto the parenting bandwagon than the marriage one. And it is precisely because I love my autonomy. But Christ calls me outside of myself to my neighbor. Who actually happens to be inside me at the moment (but not for long!). Although I sometimes worry about all that I am giving up to be a parent, I am grateful too. I know that the rewards are great when we love our neighbor. And so I eagerly anticipate my neighbor's arrival on September 15.

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