Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Marriage as Parable of Permanence 1

posted by Scot McKnight

WeddingRing.jpgI begin a series today on John Piper’s new book about marriage (This Momentary Marriage: A Parable of Permanence
) but I do so by posting a recent essay of mine from Out of Ur: it was called there “The Story of Us.”

The Story of Us

At the end of his lecture and after answering a smattering of
questions, the pristine and aged New Testament scholar, Bruce Metzger,
asked Doug Moo, at that time a colleague of mine, if he could say
something on his heart to the seminary students gathered that day. With
the moral vigor and verbal clarity Metzger was known for, he looked at
his audience and simply said, “Stay married.” The brevity of his words
was matched by moral significance.

Questions: What is your church doing to help couples develop long-lasting, loving relationships and staying married?
Those of you who are divorced, where did it go wrong for you? Was there something that could have been taught or practiced that would have altered your path?



I can’t remember the last time I heard a sermon called “Stay Married” or even a sermon that dealt with reasons to stay married. I suppose we can guess why this is so. At the top of my reasons would be a fear to offend the many – some say as many as 50% of evangelical, Christians are divorced – who are sitting there, giving money, and serving in the church who are already divorced. Next on my list would be the knowledge that we preachers have of those listening to the sermons who are struggling with a spouse who is borderline abusive or a creep in some ways. We know well that such marriages will likely dissolve. Probably next would be that we have family and friends, some of whom are leaders and pastors themselves, who are divorced. I’m thinking we might come up with a half dozen or more other ideas that pop up and make us cautious about preaching about staying married. I hope not to offend this audience in what follows but, for the sake of the holiness of the church and the potent witness of a good marriage, I want to offer a pragmatic reason for staying married.  But first a biblical reason.
   
The ageless commandment of Moses and then repeated by Jesus is where we begin: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Jesus fleshes out the implication: “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Matthew 19:6). Written into the fabric of creation and into law is an ontological union of a man with a woman and of the permanence of that union. “Writ in Scripture” is enough to believe it and to preach on it, but it seems to me that more believe it than preach about it.  I’d urge more pastors not only to preach on the permanence of marriage and need to stay married, but to think through the comprehensive significance and pragmatic value of staying married.
   
I’ve heard a number of other reasons to say married, the funniest and quirkiest being from a friend who heard it from his Bible college professor. The professor, obviously a bit pragmatic, told him the reason to stay faithful was because, if you’ve been driving a VW all your life you may never know it is a small car until you’ve experienced a Cadillac. But once, he warned his students, you drive in a Cadillac you may become dissatisfied with your VW.
   
One pragmatic argument on which I have reflected is the pragmatic value of memory. Even though I believe in the wisdom of Jesus and the potency of recognizing the permanence of the marital union, I do think other arguments can startle us into thinking more reflectively about marriage. Kris and I have been married for thirty-five years. We grew up in the same community; our fathers coached together; we were boyfriend and girlfriend in grade school and junior high. We got serious as sophomores in high school and got married as sophomores in college. (Not what we recommended for our two kids.) Here’s my point: nearly everything about each of our lives is known to the other. Furthermore, in our daily conversations we draw on our collective memory of our thirty-five years of life together and it is now rare that one of us says something about the past that the other one doesn’t already know.  Our stories are reminders, not revelations, of our past together. They glue our stories into one story. Admittedly, that we grew up together gives our collective memory a dimension that most don’t know, but my point is not so much about marrying someone from your hometown as staying married.
   
From anthropologists to theologians to those who write technically about story-telling, thinkers today reminds us over and over that who we are emerges from the story we tell ourselves. Our identity swells from our story. Divorce inevitably rips chapters and pages and paragraphs from the identity-shaping story that guides our everyday. Those who are divorced, in the presence of a variety of audiences, are driven to modify or silence chapters of their story. In effect, they can only be partially visible in many, if not most, contexts. They can tell only parts of their story.
   
A good reason to say married, I am contending, is to keep your story in tact and to let that in-tact-story develop over time by adding new chapters that deepen earlier ones. Good stories have drama, and perhaps the rough patches in a marriage will someday be redeemed by the memory that those patches, too, were part of the story we wove into one story, the story called Us.



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GH Smit

posted July 1, 2009 at 6:54 am


Dear Scot
What do you make of the idea that Jesus in Matthew 19 could be reacting against JEwish society’s disregard for the wife’s rights – as she had no say in whether her husband wanted her to leave or not.
Taking your advice to heart, though, how do you feel when a marriage is one-sidedly ended while the other party tried his/her best to keep the story in tact? Does this constitute adultery for such a person (if one reads the implication of Jesus admonishment)?
What do you say (secondly) to pastors who go through a divorce?



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Scot McKnight

posted July 1, 2009 at 7:31 am


GH, the evidence isn’t clear enough in Matthew 19 and the other evidence wide enough to support that narrow focus. Tal Ilan’s books convinced me that Jewish women had more rights than is sometimes assumed.
The most common response to a piece like this one, in which it is argued that marriage is permanent and that we should stay married, is “What about exceptions?” In fact, I find the quest for exceptions and the reality of divorces and the problem of bad, even abusive, relationships, makes many of us nervous even about talking about the permanence of marriage. I’d like to focus today on this theme:
The importance of staying married and how we can work with others at staying married.



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MatthewS

posted July 1, 2009 at 8:08 am


“keep your story in tact”, “the story called Us”
Good stuff, Scot. Something I have seen recently in a couple different situations is the scenario of a man some years into his second marriage and beginning to wonder if it will work and begins more conversation with his first wife. These conversations are easier now, partly because both she and he have different villains than each other to complain about. The power of these conversations is that there was a life built with this person. They know each other in a deep way and there is a quiet power in talking to someone who knows your quirks and your buttons and your unique personality. We so badly want to be known and understood. I have seen men in these situations begin again striking up a relationship with the first wife, the she-devil (he the innocent victim, of course) of years ago with whom “it was impossible, it could never work, we both know better than to ever try because we tried before and it would never work…” and yet, that power of being known…
For one, it reveals a man who habitually leaves one pasture for greener. But it also reveals the hunger and thirst for the story called Us.
Frankly, I don’t think you can completely avoid exceptions. There are difficult marriages that call for perseverance but there are abusive situations where the question of how badly lives will be damaged is answered by how soon the relationship is at least separated if not ended.
To the stated question – Simple suggestion for something churches can do to help: pastors and leadership need to consciously model good working relationships with their spouses that include speaking well of them behind their back.



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Jim Marks

posted July 1, 2009 at 8:48 am


We raise young people in churches that get divorced from one another all the time. Why should they listen when we tell them that their own relationships must remain free from divorce?



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Adam

posted July 1, 2009 at 9:58 am


Scot,
Thank you for this refreshing angle on this topic. Keeping our story in tact is indeed a tremendous reason to stick to our relationships in general and to our local body of Christ in particular. Without constancy in a set of relationships discipleship becomes tremendously difficult. Without constancy, meaning (our in tact story), becomes more difficult. And the sign to unbelievers that Jesus is the Messiah is our long-lasting love toward one another (John 17:23).



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Eleanor

posted July 1, 2009 at 10:08 am


Seems to me that there needs to be a multi-pronged approach. In our church, couples with longevity mentor younger marrieds. For families with young children, we offer small groups where parenting issues and their effects on marriages come up. Of course there is extensive pre-marital counseling.
But I believe we need to recognize that keeping couples together is one of those places where the church goes against the culture, and we need to educate and walk alongside our people with that message–from teens on through young single adults through our older folks. Why is the idea of “trading up” or getting a younger, trophy spouse such a bad idea? What is inherently wrong about the idea that your spouse needs to meet all your needs and make you a happy, fulfilled person? How does a couple pull together, rather than apart, when life gets messy (sickness, death, financial issues, etc.)? When our culture tells us it’s all about “me,” why is that wrong? How does the climate of consumerism work its way into marriage and our relationships with others?
In many ways, the marriage issue is just one part of turning our people away from being the kinds of people the culture trains them to be, and turning them towards who God wants them to be. It’s just that this particular aspect needs to be done in pairs, with both partners participating and on board.



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Tim

posted July 1, 2009 at 10:29 am


that teaching an egalitarian view of marriage rather than a patriarchal view would go far in my opinion in helping couple’s stay married. Speaking from experience, if one person wants to leave the marital relationship and simply gives up, there is nothing the other person can really do about it.



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Jim Martin

posted July 1, 2009 at 10:30 am


Scot– This is an excellent post! I am glad you are doing this series. There are some excellent reasons to stay married. Churches need to seriously look at this. Far too often we have allowed the culture to shape the way we approach this issue. Maybe this is one reason why marriage of many Christians seem to not really be much different than those who don’t follow Christ.
By the way– I like Eleanor’s questions in her comment above #6. Very good.



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RJS

posted July 1, 2009 at 10:40 am


Eleanor’s point – the marriage issue is just one part of turning our people away from being the kinds of people the culture trains them to be, and turning them towards who God wants them to be.
And Tim’s point on an egalitarian view of marriage.
These hit the core for me. I don’t think that the church will make any headway on this issue if the goal is to keep marriages together.
The church will make headway when the goal is to build Christ followers with healthy relationships with each other and the world governed by love and mercy and forgiveness and servanthood and mutual submission and commitment. The church will make headway when it overturns the lure of success and prosperity and power for the way of the kingdom.



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John W Frye

posted July 1, 2009 at 11:33 am


As a pastor for some 35 years now, I’ve seen the spin-out of a me-centered Christianity into marriages. “My personal self-esteem” has unwittingly trumped permanent vows (at the encouragement of so-called ‘Christian’ counselors). While acknowledging the reality of sin and some very dangerous marriages in which exceptions may be necessary, many Christian spouses have bought into the USAmerican value of disposability and pursued divorce for self-absorbed reasons. I also think that turning the *Song of Songs* into a “how to have really hot sex” manual for Christians diverted many unsuspecting couples into creating unrealistic expectations of their spouse, and this leads to a quest for “greener pastures.”
Along with my biblical beliefs in the permanence of marriage, I have experience that drives me to stay married. My mother and father divorced when I was 10 years old. When Julie and I married (forty years ago this August) I had an internal commitment to save my own children from the dark side of divorce. God NEVER intended for children to grow up without their biological mother and father living in the permanence of a “oneness” relationship. Even if divorce becomes the only option, you can never paint divorce in bright colors.
The more I gaze at Julie these days, the deeper in love with her I find myself. We not only are living a story, we’ve been creating a safe story for our children in terms of our marital commitment. We have made our share of mistakes, but we are committed to staying together.



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Homeless Drew

posted July 1, 2009 at 11:54 am


One thing I would suggest the church as a whole do is to tone down the message that marriage is the ultimate goal in life. Marriage can be a beautiful thing, but it’s not right for everybody and Paul says it is well for the unmarried to stay unmarried. Honestly I believe most people marry for the wrong reasons whether or not they want to admit that to themselves, they say they truly love their spouse but could it really just be the things their spouse does for them. If Christ was at the center of every relationship and people were showing his unconditional love, divorce (a sloppy example of conditional love) would happen a lot less and marriages would be much happier.
Attending a small Christian university and a church I most definitely feel the pressure socially from both places to find myself a spouse when I don’t know if that’s really what’s right for me. At my school the thing to do seems to start dating somebody so you can get married right out of college, then forget about all other relationships while you’re in just that one romantic relationship. Most kids in college hardly know who they are or what they’re doing with their life, what makes them think they’re ready for a serious relationship? I would venture to say that it’s probably selfish reasons as I’ve seen in my experience.
So basically the church and the Christian sub-culture need to cool off and help people understand that marriage is not an inevitability or even right for everybody. People should learn to be happy with themselves and their relationship with God before they go searching for a spouse to ‘complete’ their life.
P.S. This kind of sounds like I hate marriage or something, really I think it’s great as long as it’s Christ centered and not sought after with selfish intentions.
P.P.S. A statistical analysis of why I wont ever have a girlfriend let alone wife! I just thought this was hilarious: http://en.nothingisreal.com/wiki/Why_I_Will_Never_Have_a_Girlfriend



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Homeless Drew

posted July 1, 2009 at 12:07 pm


P.P.P.S. I don’t even want to get started on unrealistic expectations, but just as porn creates unrealistic expectations for men (and women) so does disney/chick flicks/twighlight for women and children, somebody needs to address the problem unrealistic expectations. Everything is not always happily ever after with marriage, I’d like to see disney put out a remake of sleeping beauty where after a few months they start fighting and realize they don’t know each other at all and as a result get a divorce, that’d be a lot more realistic…



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eric

posted July 1, 2009 at 12:32 pm


homeless drew-
My wife and I married when we were 20 and you are right, we didn’t really know who we were or where we going. But such a big part of our story is that we figured it out together. I wonder if by continuing to push marriage back until we are older that we are losing some parts of the shared story. My direction in life was shaped with and for my wife, but if I already have a plan and a direction and add marriage on top of it, and then find but after a few years that marriage isn’t pointing in the right direction anymore we lose the marriage to get back to our personal direction.



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Peter

posted July 1, 2009 at 1:18 pm


RJS’ (#9) comment on Eleanor’s questions and insights broadened a little bit: the consumerism that floats individuals/couples/households from one church to another is just another manifestation of the same thing; when my wife & I returned home from years in SE Asia we found our church shriveled, divided and sickly. The decision was made that we would be there, that others could count on us being there and so, we were there, in spite of the fact that we really wanted to be somewhere healthy where someone else would take care of us after a very traumatic time in a foreign land. It was difficult, but our church is healthier now and I suspect that the faithfulness of a number of families to NOT leave and find a more satisfying community is starting to bear fruit, hopefully fruit that will remain. See the analogy?



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Peter

posted July 1, 2009 at 1:23 pm


Hi, it’s me again; my “contribution” may seem a tad off-topic, but I am putting it forward as part of the solution to people’s apparently infectious attachment disorders :-),
ie., unwillingness to commit to relationships that might cost them more than they had bargained for.



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Julie Clawson

posted July 1, 2009 at 1:23 pm


I am all for the “stay married” message. But I wonder where the balance is for sending the message in a way that doesn’t further hurt those who have been hurt by divorced. I’ve met women who stay in very abusive relationships because they think the judgment they would face from church is worse. Or at the church I grew up at people who divorced were humiliated in front of the church and asked to leave. But even worse, the women who bought the lie that the abuse was their fault or the kids who blame themselves really don’t need to hear one more reason why they failed. So Scot, you do make a good point about being afraid of who might be in the audience, but I think that fear is based in a real desire not to cause harm to others. I would add too that what you are calling the exceptions is far too often the norm. When one in 4 women experience domestic abuse, its not the exception. Or I’ve met quite a few women recently who in order to protect their finances (and their children) from a husband addicted to gambling, drugs, alcohol, or shopping had to file for divorce (which they strongly oppose) because in Texas that is the only way for a women to protect herself. Sure selfishness can be blamed for a lot, but the other stories are far to common to be ignored as merely exceptions.
and Homeless Drew – I do understand the unrealistic expectation thing, but I also wonder why those stories can’t be admired for their positive aspects. When something like Twilight revolves around utter unconditional love and the desire to sacrifice oneself on behalf of the other – should we deride it as unrealistic or strive to emulate that sort of love (which of course isn’t a complete picture, but no example ever is)?



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Karen

posted July 1, 2009 at 1:33 pm


In this culture (and that includes within the church) we have swapped out intimacy for sex and they are not the same thing. It is not unusual for a Christian couple to enter into marriage with 8 other people — an average of four past sexual partners each.
Given the transient nature of our combined sexual histories, the wonder isn’t why so many marriages collapse but how any survive.
We are a culture of people who cut and run.
We do it in business.
We do it in war.
We do it churches.
We do it in marriages.
If it’s the novel we want to create and not the short story, then I suggest instead of focusing on what we’re doing wrong, we start looking at how the masters get it right.



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Scot McKnight

posted July 1, 2009 at 2:11 pm


Julie,
I suggest we talk about staying married more often, that we create a clean and safe environment for those who are struggling and divorced, that we come alongside such folks, but that we continue hold out the teaching of Jesus that marriage is permanent. That we declare that message with sensitivity to the divorced and to the struggled and that we do all with authenticity.
The balance today is not toward the stay-married message.



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Dana Ames

posted July 1, 2009 at 2:12 pm


Formerly, the churches I was part of were all over the map on this. The best encouraged significant premarital counseling, and self-examination along the way as to why there were problems and how things could be better. Some were of the “cope and hope” variety- just cope with the problems and hope everything turns out ok. Most emphasized gender roles and to some degree made marriage the sociologic “gold standard” of life (“God has the One Person picked out who is just right for you…. Women submit and care for kids, men lead and earn the money…. Get married, get to have sex….) and could not give meaning to a person’s life apart from being married with children, even if they tried to do so. The Ev. Christian point of view is not so different, nor practiced much differently in aggregate, from the view of Americans in general. Take out the God-words and bible references, and what is left could sell as one of those magazines by the check-out stands. ISTM that the message and expectation are the same: getting married (or finding your One True Love) will ensure happiness. Perhaps the experience of others is different, but I found that marriage and family are routinely idolized among Evangelicals.
What I like about the church I am in now is that they tell the truth: being married and staying married is hard; how you deal with the other person’s foibles says something about *you* and how your own heart is still far from God; there are no “super-Christians”- everyone (whether in “full time” service or not, or married or not) is “in the same boat” and called to the same goal; it’s healthy to get to the place where you can say “forgive me” and mean it; I exist in order to help my spouse come to the fruition of life in God; marriages exist in a community (in this case, the community of the Church) and are not just couples as couples units.
In all my church experiences, the couples with healthy long-term marriages at some point came to the place where they viewed their primary call as loving and serving one another and started to try to live that way, not as being happy and personally fulfilled- and they are all extremely happy and contented people, with themselves and one another, and ok in their own skin. And this is not because there has been no hardship. Happiness is there, but it’s a byproduct of sacrificial self-giving for the benefit of the other, which is what deeply true love is. There is something to be said for having an idea about who you are, because you have to have a Self in order to give it. At the same time, our identities are constructed in relationship with others, on all levels, so delaying marriage until “I find out who I am” could mean never getting married at all… There’s no “perfect time/age” to get married.
Interestingly, I see in my children and their friends a deep respect for marriage. So many of them have been affected by divorce, that in a weird sort of logic they are avoiding marriage- but still live together as if they were married- not because they are thumbing their noses at God or convention, but because (I think) they think that they can avoid the pain of divorce by avoiding the “institution” of marriage altogether, or at least until they are older and “more settled/secure/ready”. This may bear on the “hook-up” situation too.
I wish three things would have been emphasized more when my husband and I were approaching the wedding date: 1) Tend to your own heart; your actions/thoughts/feelings are your responsibility, and if you are upset, the problem is likely YOUR issue, not your spouse’s. 2) Your spouse does not exist to complete you or make you feel good/keep you from feeling bad; this attitude is a bottomless pit of frustration. As Chrisitans especially, you both exist to help one another to holiness and life; this ends up benefiting you in many ways, but your benefit can’t be the point, or it’s not deep love. 3) A marriage license/wedding is not about “getting permission” for sex or anything else: it’s the couple giving *the wider community* permission to intervene to protect and minimize damage in situations where someone is at a disadvantage (due not only to divorce or abuse, but also to death or other unexpected loss). A couple/family does not exist in a vacuum.
Wish I could have said that with fewer words- sorry for the length.
Dana



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AHH

posted July 1, 2009 at 2:24 pm


Good points in the comments about unrealistic expectations, not only from Hollywood but from Christian culture that idolizes “family”.
Also good points about the impact of our consumer culture. If our way of life is to shop around to find what suits our taste and satisfies our selfish desires at the moment, not only for material goods but also for churches, is it any surprise that this approach carries over into marriage?
And, while “stay married” is a good message (with needed caveats from Julie @16), I sympathize with Homeless Drew @11. I did not marry until I was 37, to a wife of similar age, and we have no children. In our church, the ideal family (married with children) is idolized, and those who are single, or married and childless, often feel marginalized. Yes, marriage should be affirmed and faithfulness and perseverence in marriage (and in relationships in general) should be encouraged. But this needs to be done in such a way that it does not tell those who (for whatever reason) are not married that they are incomplete, second-class members of the Body of Christ.



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ted

posted July 1, 2009 at 2:27 pm


Tim can you support your assertion? I am curious to here why you think that is the case. Truth is divorce rates were much lower 50 years ago, 100 years ago and continuing on back, basically long before the egalitarian argument even existed.
You opinion simply is not supported by history.



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RJS

posted July 1, 2009 at 2:37 pm


Well ted (#21), since we are not likely to return to a time when women were property, unable to vote, in many cases work, or hold property once married, where often in fact an inheritance became the legal property of the husband, I think Tim is dead on. There was less divorce because half the population had no reasonable alternative.



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Kacie

posted July 1, 2009 at 4:02 pm


I have felt almost over cared for in the marriage department. My church has pre-marriage counseling, and then they have community groups for couples within their 1st-3rd years of marriage that meet weekly and are led by an older married couple. They go through books and materials on a variety of topics (marriage commitment, communication, sex, money, etc.), as well as personality and testing of the couple to address problem issues. After a year of this community group you are still required to be in community, and if a marriage starts to show signs of being on the rocks they offer individual counseling or an intensive marriage recovery ministry called “Re-Engage”, which several of my friends have been helped by.
Plus the pastor has probably preached on marriage three times in the last two years I’ve been there. Marriage is a huge focus.



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Steve S

posted July 1, 2009 at 4:06 pm


I just had a conversation 20 minutes before I read this with someone whose spouse is leaving and refusing to work towards any resolution…
And, to tag on to some of the other themes in the comments: they made a choice to walk away from church, walk away from relationships with people who loved them, which led to walking away from church altogether, and then to walking away from faith, and then to walking away from each other…
The underlying root issues of all of this being an unwillingness to submit to adversity, a desire for self-centered living; me-focused, consumeristic faith that rots peoples faith, marriages, and lives…
…sucks!



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Eleanor

posted July 1, 2009 at 4:18 pm


This is me applauding what Dana has to say, and agreeing with Dana and AHH about the dangers of the evangelical church holding marriage and family as an ideal.
The church must always take into account what it has said in the past on an issue like this, where we’ve gone wrong on it, where we’ve hurt people or misled them. When we move forward, we might have to own up to a few things first to get our credibility back.
That’s one of the reasons I think a holistic approach is a good idea—being faithful and consistent in marriage not as an end in itself, but as part of a faithful and consistent discipleship to Christ in which our family relationships are but a part.



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Dana Ames

posted July 1, 2009 at 4:21 pm


ted @21,
There was also less divorce because desertion was rather widespread. For example, in my own part of the world, many married men who came to California for the Gold Rush simply didn’t return to their wives “back east”. In cases where women deserted the marriage, often it was because of abuse driven by the alcoholism by the husband. Study the rise of the Temperance Movement. If the woman had any “decent” way to make a living, or had family who could take her (& children) in, she could make it through, but without legal separation or divorce (see RJS@22). Nobody discussed the situation; it was not socially acceptable. If a woman had no resources or family, the picture becomes much darker.
History shows that there has never been a “golden age” of marriage and family, not before egalitarian arguments and not even in 1950s America when people, religious/Christian or not, had de facto complementarian marriages. I could tell you stories about some of those people from the ’50s, of my personal acquaintance. Sure, stricter laws probably made people think twice before getting divorced, but law in and of itself (even the supposed “biblical order” of complementarianism) does not change the human heart, or automatically make a bad situation good.
Yes there are plenty of good marriages, because the Persons in them want to love well. Not everyone has that aspiration. Let’s aspire- and let’s also not lose touch with reality.
Dana



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Randy

posted July 2, 2009 at 8:59 am


Why would you not reccomend getting married early to your kids? It sounds like it was a tough time, but you and your spouse are better for having gone thru it?
We have told our children that if the Lord is telling you that this is the person He has chosen for you; then marry them. It doesn’t matter if you’re 19, 25, 30 – or older. If this is the person He has chosen for you to spend the rest of your life with; start the rest of your life ASAP!



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Dana Ames

posted July 2, 2009 at 10:01 pm


Randy, if you’re asking me rather than someone else in the comments,
We probably would not agree on the concept of “the Lord has chosen this person for you”. While believing in God’s sovereignty, I don’t believe he micromanages the universe like that.
I would agree that getting married earlier rather than later could be a good thing; depends on the emotional health of the parties involved, and their willingness/ability to adapt over time to giving rather than getting. It’s certainly better in lots of ways to have children before you’re 30, if you can.
Dana



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Peggy

posted July 3, 2009 at 12:45 am


I find it very interesting that we haven’t heard from one divorced person concerning what they think might have made a difference in their lives. (At least at the time I started this comment a few hours ago!) I have lots to say about that from my own experience, but I must say thanks to Dana for her comment — right on!
So here goes: What I wish the church and my family would have helped me understand is that, as a young woman, I had other options for a meaningful life than marrying and having children. I did not hear that message … but, rather, heard the exact opposite.
In addition to that overt message, I needed to hear that I must anchor my heart and soul in the matchless love of God for me “just as I am” — what Wayne Jacobsen calls learning to live loved — so that I would not look to anyone else to “complete” me and make me “whole” — usurping God’s place in my life.
Finally, I would have loved for someone to explain the “why not” behind the “what not” when it came to intimacy … and to that end I have begun to process Townsend’s book “Boundaries in Dating” with my 14 year old son. And when we’re finished with that book, and he get older, I will suggest Lewis B. Smedes’ book, “Sex for Christians”. We just cannot continue to not fully educate our precious children concerning the emotional and spiritual, as well as physical, implications of being sexual beings.
As it was, I waited until I was 27 to get married … and even then it was because I “settled” for a brilliant engineer and musical genius, but nominal Catholic, who pursued me and asked the question … when no young men in my Christian circles was willing to engage with a dynamic, thinking, challenging Christian woman. They wanted to ponder the deep things of the spirit with me, but did not want to be married to such a woman. So, I was caught in a conundrum: I must be married to have value; no suitable Christian men were interested = I settled….
And suffered for four years as he nurtured a growing resentment of God’s place in my life … and sought to steal my heart away from God … until, after a year of excellent counseling, he decided it was too much work to be married — and he has issues he was unwilling to work through. Broken things are discarded, not repaired.
I prayed and talked and reasoned and prayed with him about staying together and working things out for 7 months … until he said he was just not going to continue. And so I had to let him go….
And yes, divorce ruins one’s story, on one hand, because there are years of memories you are no longer allowed to hold onto.
But six years (and 16 more months of counseling) later, at 36, after I came to understand that I could choose to serve God just by myself, God was gracious enough to bring me to my precious husband.
So, yes … teaching about life-long commitment is a fine thing. It is not either/or on this subject, either. For our God works in and through all things to bring about good for us. He redeems the broken — people and relationships.
Forgive the length…



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RJS

posted July 3, 2009 at 6:44 am


Thanks Peggy, a powerful story.



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molly from AinM

posted July 3, 2009 at 1:36 pm


Ah. (((hugs))) Scot, you da bomb. :)
Thank you for talking about the beauty and permanence of marriage while at the very same time giving those of us in abusive marriages, failed marriages, etc., grace.
You have just done an incredibly rare thing.



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Your Name

posted July 29, 2009 at 4:26 pm


The one thing that I really believe helped me to accept that my marriage is a lifetime commitment is that I did not expect it to make me “happy.” I expected it to be hard and sometimes unpleasant. The examples from my own family were of people who realized that marriage wasn’t going to “fulfil” them and chose to stick it out anyway. I love the times when it is “happy,” but, to be honest, there are few romantic, warm-fuzzy, deeply intimate and soul-fulfilling times. Since we have young kids, it is mostly about being partners in the mundane, day-to-day work of providing for and raising children. Which is fine. Because that is mostly what I expected during this period of life. I don’t mean to sound… down on marriage. But, this really seems to be the reality of most couples our age (30-somethings) with kids.



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