In college, there was a point where I decided to become a vegetarian for several months. No particular reason; I’ve never had ethical issues with eating meat (at least not free range meat, but that’s another post), nor was I particularly interested in the health arguments for cutting it out of your diet. In fact, I was rather fond of meat. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try.
It wasn’t a bad experience. I ate a lot of lentils, falafel and the like. However, the thing I learned the most from this time was that I wasn’t just fond of meat – I really loved it. Even though it’s been years since I gave up the experience, I still savor a steak or chicken breast in a way I never had before. The goodness of meat had gone unnoticed until that time, but now I can’t help being thankful for a pot roast or pork chop. That might sound hyperbolic, and I suppose it is, but it’s also true.
Lately, I’ve been visiting with several single friends about marriage, and I think they’ve been fed a bit of a distorted view of it. Near as I can tell, a lot of people in the Christian circles I move among have reacted to an idolization of marriage they experienced by dramatically downplaying its goodness. In order to keep single people from thinking a spouse will solve all their problems, they continually talk about how hard it is, how much it exposes their sin, and the struggle and frustration that accompanies trying to love someone well. Now, I still believe we need to take the rose-colored glasses some people look through at their future husband and wife, throw them on the floor, and stomp them to pieces. However, we musn’t replace them with the opposite. I fear that sometimes we end up telling people to instead replace those glasses with sunglasses, blocking out the joys and beauties that marriage also provides.
As a result, without meaning to, I think we’ve communicated an opposite error: rather than idolizing marriage, a lot of my friends seem to fear it. It has a sort of Puritan gravitas. When you say “I do,” it ends up sounding like you’re committing to a life of gritting your teeth and beating your head against the wall of wedlock. So, while I’d be the first to recognize my failings and struggles as a husband, I wanted to spend a little time celebrating just how good marriage is.
As I reflect on the three years I’ve enjoyed with my wife, there are several blessings that stand out to me. The first, and perhaps the simplest, is that I have a center to my life. One of the historical oddities of our time is just how detached single people are. They leave their parents and forge out into the world, enjoying all the freedoms that this entails. However, like any sort of freedom, this one has a cost: you end up with a life that lacks a center. When you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, with no one to answer to or think about other than yourself, your life lacks focus. You are always on, always having to improvise. What marriage gives you instead is a script – not a rigid, line-by-line affair, but nonetheless something that makes sense of the story you’re living out. I understand what it means to follow God’s call on my life because this call has at least one focal point: the ring on my finger, the woman I go home to every day. While there are all sorts of other things my life includes, knowing that one of my chief responsibilities is to love Elizabeth helps keep the others in proportion. I might not know about my future ministry or present job or which friends to invest time into, but when there are dishes in the sink or tears in her eyes, I know what I have to do.
Second, marriage provides a covenantal framework in which to experience forgiveness and acceptance. At the end of the day, I have a lot of rough edges. I’m far from the ideal guy, regardless of how you define that ideal. It’s easy for me to keep people at a distance for fear of hurting them and driving them away. However, that’s not an option for me as I live with my wife. Life together forces us into a proximity where I unavoidably sin against and hurt her. I can’t cover it up. What I’ve experienced, though, isn’t rejection and shame. It is first of all forgiveness, a willingness to put my sins aside and not hold them against me. What’s more, I experience acceptance. No matter how big of an idiot I’ve been, Elizabeth still loves me. There has been nothing in my life that has come close to expressing God’s love to me the way my wife does.
Third, and I feel like this one gets overlooked a lot in our circles because we want to over-spiritualize marriage, it can be really fun. We get to go to restaurants together, play games with each other, laugh at each other’s jokes. While the shallowness of such statements makes me cringe, there is a joy to discovering that you get to spend your whole life with your best friend (although we shouldn’t put the cart before the horse – I didn’t marry my wife because she was my best friend; rather, the context of commitment and shared experience of marriage has resulted in this companionship). Indeed, despite the difficulties, I find that there is nothing that can make me smile as reliably as my wife.
In the end, I think that, soon after your wedding day, the joy of marriage becomes like meat in your diet. It’s a wonderful thing to have, but you don’t really notice because it’s, well, just there. This can quickly lead to taking this joy for granted, and instead focusing on the gristle and bone, failing to see the glorious steak it’s attached to. However, while we shouldn’t live in the dreamland of boneless meat, neither should we make marriage sound like gnawing on a piece of gristle. It’s a glorious, beautiful thing – and like all glorious and beautiful things, it will also make us weep and wound our hearts. Let’s not make marriage easier than it is, but let’s endeavor to keep in mind that it is worth it.