With the conclusion of a series I shared on love, there is one more thing I wanted to say. (That’s the beauty of a blog — what doesn’t fit in a sermon, fits here.) And the thing I want to say is this: As a culture, we over-emphasize marriage.
What? Are you serious, Jeff? How can you say that? The opposite is the case, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t that what you wrote about last week? Isn’t marriage actually de-valued in society today, not over-emphasized? With divorce so common and so many choosing to live together outside of marriage, how can you say, Jeff, that we emphasize marriage too much?
Well, here’s what I mean: we have not overemphasized the importance of commitment and faithfulness in marriage; instead, we have bought into a worldly perspective on what marriage is intended to be.
Here’s what so many folks today expect marriage to be:
- finding a soulmate;
- finding someone to complete me;
- finding happiness and contentment with a best friend who meets all my needs;
- finding me.
And yet, what marriage can provide all that?
Esther Perel, writing from a secular perspective, points out: It is a distinctive American trait for married people to look for their best friend, their soulmate, their everything in their spouse. We pour all these expectations into this one person, believing: “I’ll never feel alone again, I’ll never feel disconnected, I’ll never feel unnoticed.” We come to marriage with these desires: give me belonging, give me identity, give me continuity; give me transcendence, and mystery, and awe, all in one – give me comfort, give me edge; give me novelty, give me familiarity; give me predictability, give me surprise.
She writes that all of this comes at a time when we’re living longer, which means that “we’ve never invested more in love, and we never divorced more in the name of love.”
I think the Church has a very important message in this setting. In a world that either treats marriage as something to be tossed aside, or as something that should be the key to lifetime happiness and adventure, the truth is: Marriage isn’t the savior. No relationship will solve you; no relationship will help you find you. If you aren’t something before marriage, or without marriage, then you certainly won’t find that something within marriage.
Yes, marriage matters. God has given it to us, but not so we can find ourselves, or find true joy. That only comes from God Himself. God is the one who provides the meaning in our lives; we then live out that meaning in our marriage, our singleness, our relationships.
The writer Preston Sprinkle points out that until the mid-19th century, the word ‘love’ was used more for neighbors, relatives, and church members, than for spouses. When couples first started going on honeymoons in the 19th century, they often took family and friends along for company. Imagine going on your honeymoon with your mother-in-law! Anyone interested in signing up for that?
Me either. Even so, it’s a helpful reminder that my marriage is not the source of my identity. My identity comes from Christ, who then teaches me to walk in his steps, to walk in love, in my marriage and in my family and in my relationships — when they fulfill me, and when they don’t. When they excite me, when they bore me, and when they just are. Because at the end of the day, it’s not what I get out of marriage (or singleness) that determines who I am; it’s what I give. In a world that approaches relationships as a way to find meaning, it’s time for Christians to demonstrate where true meaning comes from — and live it out in the challenging reality of our everyday human relationships.