Monday, March 14, 2005

"Marriage is not really about happiness"

From the quotation-marks, you might guess that this is not my statement; and you'll be right.

They are the words of Bob Just in his thoughtful, and thought-provoking essay, Son of divorce. Bob Just writes as a child of divorce, raised with a very avant-garde and liberal background. He spends roughly the first third of the essay laying out his upbringing, and the next third discussing the negative repercussions of our easy-divorce culture.

It is the last third that I think is likeliest to swipe off one's mental cobwebs. He argues passionately that our society wrongly views marriage as being all about "my happiness," and about being loved. Consequently, if one's marriage isn't making him happy, if he doesn't feel he's being loved adequately, then he is in a Bad Marriage. The insufficiently happy spouse virtually has a moral imperative to leave that marriage, and look for one in which he will feel sufficiently loved and happy. It may take two or three tries... or five or six... but it is imperative. It is what marriage is all about.

I'll not try to summarize everything Just says; I do commend it to you. I'll just say that I basically think he's echoing a Biblical perspective. My way of putting it might go something like this:

Like all of life, marriage is fundamentally about God. It is a covenant undertaken before, and in the name of, God (Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 2:17; Malachi 2:14-16). Like all of life, and like every part of life, marriage is what God says it is, and takes its meaning from Him. For a man, marriage is about loving, cleaving, embodying faithfulness, leading, self-sacrifice, knowing, honoring, and serving (Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 5; Ephesians 5:23-33; 1 Peter 3:7). For a woman, marriage is about helping, cleaving, loving, respecting, submitting, obeying, serving and adorning (Genesis 2:24; Proverbs 14:1; 31:10-31; Ephesians 5:22, 33; Titus 2:4; 1 Peter 3:1-6).

There's more.

For both, at any time, marriage may well be about suffering... and not necessarily for doing anything wrong. Marriage does not cancel out Matthew 5:4, 10-12, 1 Peter 2:20, and a host of similar verses. Nor does it cancel out Matthew 16:24-26, or Luke 9:23, or the principle of 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. Your marriage may be the happiest facet of your life; it may be the most painful. Odds are it will be both, at times.

If your mindset is that marriage is all about making and keeping you feeling happy, without cost, you are likely to be shocked, horrified, and appalled to learn that it simply is not so. You will be unprepared. You will be undone. You will bolt for the door our culture so obligingly holds open for you.

If on the other hand you view your marriage as you and I should view everything else in this fallen world, as something undertaken before God, and as long as we expect that it will have its share of crosses -- and as long as we accept that we need those crosses -- we can and will find happiness in our marriages.

Because it is the conviction of the Christian that God's way really is, in the final analysis, the happy way. Jesus says those who suffer for the sake of righteousness are "blessed" -- happy! Peter paradoxically says we should leap for joy even as sufferings sadden us (1 Peter 1:6, 7; 4:14). Paul learned to find joy and gladness in weakness, insults, distresses, persecutions, difficulties, for Christ's sake (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

So in a roundabout way, marriage is about happiness, as is all of life. But it is happiness found in the Lord, and in His word, will and ways. It is happiness that can embrace both the crosses and the crowns of marriage. It is a sturdy happiness, because it is a happiness learned from Him who "for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2).

Sometimes the happiness is easy to see -- lying in each other's arms, speaking that short-hand code forged through years of working at being soulmates, having intimate heart-to-hearts in a warmth of acceptance, hearing the most valued praise and acceptance earth has to offer. Other times, it is not so easy. In fact, it can be downright invisible.

But isn't that the Christian life? Aren't we all called to "look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen," because "the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal" (2 Corinthians 4:18)?

Marriage isn't for the faint.

But then, neither is life.


Patricia said...

I'm 24, and so all around me my friends are getting married for one reason or another. It seems to me that a lot of the reasons they put forth have to do with happiness - financial stability will make me happy, not having to search anymore will make me happy, being with so and so makes me happy, etc...
What they don't think of is long term, and give a year or two, and so many come back to me complaining how they wish they had never gotten married.
Worse yet are those who have started an affair - with their reasoning being that the new fling makes them "happy."

But I think that marriage isn't about happiness, it's about learning the true nature of love.
Love is meant to overcome ALL. And if people don't give love a chance to do so (quickly divorcing) then they'll forever be unhappy, jumping from one partner to the next until as they stumble from one problem to the next. That's why when I get married, I hope to find someone with integrity, as opposed to simple bliss.

Troy said...

DJP, I agree that marriage has both positives and challenges.I have been faithfully married for 18 years and I have had my share of "growing" experiences. I am crazy about my three kids but I am struggling with the long suffering route implied in the blog. Your appoach to handling marital difficulty is noble but not a big incentive to marry. Why shouldn't two Christians expect that they will have a happy marriage more than 50% of the time? Crawling through glass for 26 miles will certainly be an accomplishment, but I wonder why my God would want me to do that? To develop my character?

DJP said...

Troy, the brightest men (and women) can't guess at the purposes of God (cf. Deut. 29:29). Not being one of them, I've no chance to read His mind and tell you what is hidden in there.

I'd tell a single person up-front that there are worse things than dying as a virgin. I think that's responsible counsel; cf. Proverbs' many warnings about being married to a contentious woman. I'd tell him to think long and hard about the finality of marriage. I'd tell him that he'd better have some awfully concrete reasons to be sure of his own character and convictions, and his intended's, before he marries—because after you both say "I do," even if he or she "doesn't," you still must.

(All these apply equally to either sex.)

Why does God knowingly allow Christians to step into a difficult marriage? No specific clue. The general clue comes from verses like Romans 8:29. If we're to be conformed to the image of Christ, that is an image that was formed through suffering (cf. especially Hebrews 5:8). Though the reasons for which we suffer, and the ways in which we suffer, may astonish us — yet the fact that we suffer should not.

Kristine said...

I've read this before, but only felt truly compelled to comment just now.

And after saying all that, all I really want to say is that I agree.

My marriage has been my trial. It's been the most profound source of heartache, trauma and suffering for almost ten years.

AND YET, I can praise God for using this difficult, heart-wrenching setting as the most commonly used means of His Spirit to change me.

Had God left me to simply grasp at the world's understanding and purposes of marriage, I never would have made it.

But He was so merciful to keep me swimming in those deep, profound truths of scripture that said marriage was so much bigger than me, and the countless illustrations that pointed to the fact that God seems inclined, to a great degree, to use the hard things in life to lovingly fulfil His promises to change us. I've learned that that's the "good" of Romans 8:28.

That got to be too long, but thank you for keeping this link on your side-bar. I hope its helpful to many.

Zaphon said...

This post is a real encouragement. I have a lot of trials in my marriage, so this is a timely piece.

I hope you don't mind if I linked it at my blog.

God Bless

JG said...

So I just found this because someone else link to it last night. And I love it and am sharing it, as per usual. Just thought I'd share that.

This is especially nourishing reading at the moment, considering we're doing marriage long-distance this year. Good word.

Leon Zoe Show 11 said...

The Joy of the Lord is your Strength.... Not your marriage. And believe me you will need strength to sustain a marriage. In fact you really realize what the meaning of Real love once you've experienced God's Love.. Smile.