Finding Your Other Half

In one theologian's famous metaphor, God created us in his image, then split us in two, so that we would yearn for reunion.

The bridal season is in full swing, and many of us have already clutched more little plastic champagne stems than we can count. As I look back over my own 29 years of marriage-most of them as a pastor's wife, with the unique perspective that gives on other people's marriages-there are two mistakes I think a new couple can make. The first is to take marriage too seriously. The second is to fail to take it seriously enough.

Now, I'm talking about marriage, not the wedding. An overblown wedding will not guarantee a happy marriage, especially if it overblows the budget. Some pastors have noticed that the success of a marriage is inversely proportional to the scale of the wedding. So don't make a fairy-tale wedding both beginning and end of the story; real fairy tales last more than one day, and go on happily ever after.

Here's where we first need to correct assumptions, though. What does a happy marriage look like? Modern life places more burdens on the institution than it can bear, and it trembles under the weight. In earlier societies, a husband and wife would have a broad circle to draw on: wise older relatives, adult brothers and sisters, church and community relationships that stretched from one end of life to the other. Recurrent events like barn-raising and childbearing would keep throwing same-gender friends together, strengthening their bonds. Married couples didn't have to get all their support within the four walls of the home, or the bedroom. But in a mobile age the isolated couple clings to each other more tightly; marriage gets unrealistically idealized, and the smallest flaw leads to panic. Someone could write a book called "The Good-Enough Marriage."

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Tolstoy famously wrote that "happy families are all alike," and maybe they're alike chiefly in not expecting to be happy all the time. They meet problems and disappointments and take them in stride. In a real marriage, the dishes get dirty, the wife gets plump, the husband gets bald, and everyone gets grumpy at least occasionally. In the course of a lifetime together, everyone will need forgiveness, and happy families learn that giving it is the best way to insure receiving it in return.

Which brings us to the other risk, that of undervaluing marriage. No one should anticipate that the daily experience of marriage will be uniformly dazzling. But there is more to marriage than we can see, something that is truly dazzling. Of all the varieties of human relationship, it is marriage alone about which St. Paul wrote, "This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church."


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Frederica Mathewes-Green
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