Our culture seems to be having a really hard time with marriage and the family, and there seems to be confusion from the highest levels of society all the way down to my own struggle to live family life faithfully.
If all of the confusion has made you a little worried, as it has me, here are three things to keep in mind that have helped me.
Marriage is a mystery. We’re not talking about Scooby Doo or Sherlock Holmes here. A mystery in this sense isn’t something that can be “solved.” Rather, a mystery is something that escapes comprehension – it can’t be known completely. That’s not to say that it can’t be known at all, but the better it is known and the more fully it is lived, the more mysterious it becomes. There is always something more to know, something new to discover or work out. There is always something in marriage capable of surprising even the wisest and most thoughtful of us. So it’s OK
if you haven’t completely figured your spouse out yet. That’s part of the reason why it is a life-long affair.
Marriage is real. It is not something that anybody “invented” – not the church nor the state nor even couples. Marriage is rooted in our nature as human beings, and it is something that was already there when human history started. As long as male and female are capable of loving one another and procreating, marriage will continue to be what it has always been. We might at one time understand marriagebetter,and at another time become more confused, but the reality remains. And the thing about reality is that it is always more interesting and complex (and sometimes confusing) than what can be written about in books. We don’t invent marriage, we discover it. Keeping that in mind will change how we approach it.
Marriage is wild. Marriage is a living thing that can’t be tamed or controlled or used. Not that we don’t try, but marriage simply won’t allow it. The old Baltimore Catechism says that “the whole essence of the marriage contract consists in the surrender by the persons of their bodies to each other … now and for life.”
Surrendering is the opposite of controlling or taming. And when couples surrender their bodies to one another for life, it changes the direction of their lives in fundamental ways. In some sense, it means we have to be willing to “give up” on our plans in order to be wholly devoted to the good of the beloved. That doesn’t make me a slave (as many like to believe). Rather, marriage requires a true freedom that is capable of doing what is best for the beloved (and not simply whatever my spouse tells me to do). But the marriage itself is wild. It can’t be safely caged up or tamed and used according to our plans. Itisgoingtodowhatisinits nature to do and surrendering to it is the only way to live it well.
Our culture, on the other hand, is enamored with its knowledge, its inventiveness, its power to control things. Little wonder marriage gives it a hard time.