Every Thursday I’ll post an article having to do with either relational or emotional matters. Hope it helps.
You Shoulda Put a Ring on It
In 1987 I was a full time student and part time waiter, working alongside women and men of different beliefs and lifestyles. I was a bit of an oddity. My fiancé and I were engaged to be married that summer, having abstained from sexual relations in anticipation of our wedding night. But we all got along, our differences going without comment until one night, while sitting together in the kitchen during a break, the talk turned to marriage.
“It’s just a piece of paper”, a waitress noted. Another one reminded us how many couples hate each other after a few years of marriage, concluding that it was stupid it is to embark on something that’s doomed from the beginning. Others concurred, the consensus being that living together made more sense than marriage, and that even if marriage was being considered, a “trial run” of co-habitation was essential to determine compatibility.
“Aren’t you engaged, Joe?” someone then asked, and all eyes turned to me, wondering how I was going to defend my jumping into an institution they’d just essentially trashed.
“Sure am”, I smiled, “and looking forward to being a husband.”
“We’re just a committed as you!” another waitress retorted, as though I’d just criticized her arrangement with her live in boyfriend. “A ceremony and a license don’t make a commitment.”
“No”, I conceded, “they don’t. But they put teeth into it. And I guess it’s the teeth we’re looking for.”
Similar conversations are going on around the world, because living together, either as a prelude to marriage or a substitution for it, enjoys broadening acceptance. Which leaves us with the broader question of why marriage makes such a difference. And here we can point confidently to our Creator’s full understanding of human need. God’s first critical statement about man came when He noted it was “not good for man to be alone.”
The need for loving partnership is primary, universal and inarguable. Whatever arrangement best meets that need should be promoted; arrangements less effective should be recognized as such – not necessarily evil or destructive, but less able to answer the heart’s cry.
But in this imperfect world, when human need meets human limitations, the heartache begins. So our need for unending love is frustrated by the reality that at some point, the most ardent of couples tire of each other. We’re inevitably disillusioned with our partner, discovering things about her/him we didn’t anticipate, or becoming weary with character flaws that were, during our courtship, minor irritants, but have now morphed into major transgressions. Fights ensue, wounds are inflicted, and most couples will, if they’re brutally honest, admit to reaching points at which they regret ever forming their relationship.
Without a strong covenant, publicly enacted and pledged to with legal and moral strings firmly attached, it’s easier to bail when things get tough. And that’s exactly why formalized marriage is essential. We need permanent commitment from our partner to be truly emotionally safe, and we need the discipline of staying within that commitment, even when we’d rather exit it, for our own maturity and strength. Without it, we rely on love to keep the relationship intact. With it, marriage keeps the love intact, with terms and boundaries not subject to changing emotions.
In fact, oddly enough in these “who cares if you’re married?” times, isn’t it ironic to consider that the lyrics to one of pop music’s most recent hits:
“If you like it then you shoulda put a ring on it.”
That’s because, even apart from Christianity, people innately know that in marriage, when it’s done right, everyone wins.
Everyone works, too, because marriage is as hard as it is wonderful. Jesus noted this when He taught His followers that, despite the lax justifications for divorce they were accustomed to, it was unlawful to put away a wife except for adultery. His disciples said, “If such is the case it is better not to marry!” (Matthew 19: 10) Indeed, at times the easy exit of a live in relationship looks appealing in contrast to the consistency and sacrifice marriage demands. A power greater than ourselves is needed.
And there’s the crux of the matter. Marriage invites us to an institution meeting our deepest needs, while requiring of us strength of character we do not always have, thus driving us to the source of the power we lack. When witnessing about the value of marriage to co-habiting friends, we’re also commending the power of God to keep marriage intact.
“So you’re wide eyed in love now, Joe”, one of my waiter friends observed during that kitchen conversation two decades ago. “But can you handle it when it gets rough?”
“On my own, no”, I admitted. “But someone once said ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Let me explain —”