Wednesday, May 24, 2006

marriage...what is it good for?

Most people I’ve met want to get married. Maybe not right away, but eventually. But why get married? What purpose does marriage serve? That’s a question most people haven’t thought much about.

For those who have considered the question, the most common responses seem to be things like “for companionship” or “to have children and start a family.” But people make lifelong friends and lots of babies all the time without marriage, so it seems like there must be more to it than that.

From a spiritual perspective, I’ve heard that marriage is like a picture of the divine union God wants to have with us. In that sense we actually get a glimpse into what it’s like to be in relationship with God through our relationship with our spouse. I think that’s true, but it doesn’t really help me much when things aren’t going so well and my marriage feels like anything but divine.

I’ve landed on another purpose for marriage that is a little easier for me to grasp, a purpose that lines up more naturally with what I’ve actually experienced, and challenges me to make the most of my marriage. For me, marriage is the ideal context, the perfect crucible, to shape my character and to make me more like Jesus. The purpose of marriage is to make me a better person. Not just a happier person, but also a holier person.

It’s in the crucible of marriage that my pettiness, my impatience, my self-centeredness, and all my other ugly weaknesses are completely exposed. Katherine Anne Porter wrote, “[Marriage] is the merciless revealer, the great white searchlight turned on the darkest places of human nature.”

There’s no cover-up scheme imaginable that will hold up under the raw reality of marriage. In every other relationship, I am way more capable of measuring out my downsides in palatable doses. And if I can’t hide, well, I’ve always got the option of simply easing out of the relationship to lower the heat.

But not in marriage. In marriage, we either linger under the bright lights of our inadequacies, (and blame our spouse), or we change. I think we’re supposed to change. We’re supposed to become more like Christ. And when that’s happening, when we’re becoming more like Jesus, then maybe our spouses do get a little taste of heaven.

This past year Laurie and I and the couples pictured on this post--Sean and Deb Fraser, Bryan and Daleen Ward, and Arthur and Melissa Stewart--spent several months reading through John Gottman’s outstanding book, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. It was a powerful experience for all of us. I recommend it highly if you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and work at making your marriage the kind of marriage you always dreamed it would be.

Last weekend, Laurie and I took a short flight up to Zambia to spend our 25th wedding anniversary at a place the local people call mosi-au-tunya, "the smoke that thunders." The English speaking world still calls it Victoria Falls, the name given to it by the explorer David Livingstone, and it truly is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We expected it to be beautiful, and it was. But it is more than beautiful; it is awe-inspiring...almost scary. From miles away in any direction you can see the smoke (mist) rising up above the African bush and hear the daunting thunder. And then, when you approach the falls from the ridge that juts out directly in front of the river, you literally step out of a blazing African sun into a torrential rainfall that makes you want to reach out and grab something to steady yourself. The smoke that thunders. I now know why Livingstone found it the most spectacular site he ever stumbled upon in Africa.