We are all for churches and Christians extending mercy to the divorced, but we are also all for advocating the permanency and richness of marriage and I sometimes think an emphasis on this is too often assumed and not taught often enough. I offer today a personal argument against divorce.
What are the primary reasons given in your world for the permanency of marriage? Is it, as I have heard a few times myself, “because the Bible says so”? Does your community of faith get beyond that to the depth of Biblical teachings and the riches of the Christian tradition on the significance of marriage? What are you hearing?
Here’s my take on an old argument, a biblical one.
Kris and I grew up together. Her father, Ron Norman, and my father, Alex McKnight, were high school teachers. In fact, stereotypes: driver’s education teachers, coaches, with sons who played sports for the local high school — Freeport High School. Home of the Freeport Pretzels. Our mothers knew one another: Lois McKnight and Betty Norman. They are still friends. Kris’ father passed away but the three seniors are friends in the same town. They see one another in the winter at the local community college’s basketball games which revolve around Kris’ brother’s team, the Highland Cougars.
When Kris and I, probably entirely unknown to one another, were in 4th grade, Kris’ dad called my home (on Burchard Street) early one Sunday afternoon in the winter and asked if I might like to come to the high school to jump on the trampoline. (These were in the days when high school coaches had such perks and weren’t worried about litigation and when my parents were quite happy to see their hyperactive son out of the house.) My father, if my memory serves me right — and I have no reason to think it does — drove me to the school, dropped me off, and I went into the gym and for the first time jumped on a trampoline. Innocent, fun, leading to nothing. Or did it?
In 6th grade, for no reason other than the kind of spark that ignites in a 12 year old boy’s heart, soul and mind, I decided Kris could be my girlfriend, and for some reason — once again the little magic that prompts the heart of a 12 year old girl — she thought the same of me. We were, then and there, boyfriend and girlfriend. We swam together and played a little tennis together and once played a round of golf — she in the group behind my group. I don’t remember if we held hands; I’m certain we didn’t kiss one another. Something happened somewhere about July and we (I don’t remember which one of us, but that might be a blessing of erased memory) split up.
Kris went to Blackhawk grade school and I to Lincoln. In 7th grade, though, we grew up into Freeport Junior High and somewhere along the year we became boyfriend-girlfriend again. We talked to one another rather clumsily at lunch, talked to one another in groups after school, and exchanged adolescent-sounding notes; I remember Kris going to my basketball games, and I imagine we even held hands. I don’t remember. That, too, ended — and I don’t remember a blessed thing about it. That same thing happened in 9th grade, which wasn’t for us being “freshmen” because it was a Junior High. Again, I don’t remember anything about it.
As a sophomore, one day when we were on the football field practicing for our next game, Kris and her friend walked by. As we were stretching for practice I said to my best friend, Mark Holey, that I wanted to ask Kris to Homecoming, which I did. That was 1969, probably September. Kris and I have been together ever since.
Which now provides for me an argument against divorce and for the value of marriage being a seamless story: memory. We went to high school together, taking the same teacher for German (Herr Kurr), the same teachers for Driver’s Education (my dad and Mr. Luedeking and her dad), and the same teachers for a variety of subjects — English and Geometry and Advanced Algebra and Chemistry and I could go on. We ate in the same lunchroom with the same friends.
Kris went to my sophomore homecoming football game: I was the QB and and a defensive back, and we won on an extra point and I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to make an interception on the 2 yard line. And she came to my basketball games and track meets, and I took her to her job at Kentucky Fried Chicken. One time going to pick her up in an ice storm, I slammed by monstrous beater into a brand, spankin’ new Olds 98. We went to one another’s Christmases — so I met her thoroughly wonderful grandparents — Gramma Willie and Grandpa as well as Grandma Mabel. I remember when her older brother, Ron, went into the military after a solid career in basketball at Iowa. And her older sister, Pat, went off to Iowa State and then Tom became a player at Iowa and Pete at Eastern Illinois. And my older sister, Alexa, went off to Southern Illinois, which wasn’t too her liking. And then my younger sister, Beth, went off to Lynchburg, and that wasn’t to her liking either. We sometimes mention these things in passing. They are stored in our memory-banks.
And Kris and I both went to Cornerstone University — and we shared everything together. Our classes and study time and friends; she went to my basketball games; most importantly, she enjoyed hanging out at Eerdmans and Baker Books and Kregel’s used bookstores as I sought out cheap steals.
We got married as sophomores at Christmas at the mature ages of 20 (Scot) and 19 (Kris), lived in a mobile home, and Kris worked for a lawyer and I did some very poor youth pastoring and we somehow made it all the way through. It was lots of fun — one summer our churches sent us to Austria for summer missionary experience.
Then we went to seminary at Trinity, and we had two children — Laura and Lukas. Kris then resumed finishing her college degree, interrupted when we spent two years in England (one in Nottingham, one in Cambridge), and then Trinity offered me an adjunct position to teach. Kris finished her degree, started another and then before too long both of us had doctoral degrees, two kids, a nice little home — and we are still here. Same home, same two kids, both now grown and flourishing, and we sit on our back porch and talk about them and our life together. Sometimes our neighbors hear us laugh, and it’s usually about something funny long ago. Sometimes when we are walking, which we do for 30 minutes or more every day, we recall some odd incident in our 33 years of marriage. Nothing to hide, no need to. It’s the only life we have and we think a good one. Good or not, it’s all we’ve got and we’ve got all of it.
Why stay married? Memory. The kind of memory that turns scattered events into a meaningful, seamless story. Our story.
Divorce makes you tear out pages of your life, sometimes chapters, long chapters, or many chapters. It messes up the story, the story that makes two people one. Kris and I have lived together, struggled together, and loved together for 33 years — plus the four or five of dating prior to our marriage — a memory in tact, with no chapters torn out, and with most chapters now written together … that’s a good argument for not divorcing.
Kris reminded me last night that when we were juniors, just when the bell rang to end the school-day, we sneaked into the gym and were jumping on the trampoline when Kris fell awkwardly and broke her ankle. The AD, her father, wasn’t too happy and wondered what in the world we doing in the gym without permission. I don’t recall that he thought an answer was needed.
I am now who I am because of Kris; she is now who she is because of me. Together.
Two lives interwoven into one life. Divorce rips apart what has been woven together.
Perhaps this is at the heart of the old argument: “and the two shall become one.” Is the “one” the story they have woven together? Is it the common story that declares the oneness? Is it more than that?