Political naif though I be, you’d expect that Christians would have the sort of track record on marriage and relationships which would earn them the right to speak authoritatively in the public square.
Sadly, the statistics bear out something like the opposite as Christians are, unquestionably, just as compromised in their marriages as everyone else.
Indeed not a few studies suggest church-going, bible-believing, sanctity-of-marriage-professing Christians divorce at even higher rates than the general population.
Parenthetically, I can’t help but wonder if the recent cultural swing towards acceptance of same-sex unions has less to do with affirmation of homosexuality per se and instead reveals the extent to which the Church has lost the moral authority to weigh in on marriage at all.
If the above statistics are objectively true about Christians, then, in my experience, this is anecdotally true of the same Jesus tribe:
too often we think that faith alone will secure/strengthen/safeguard/salvage our marriage.
That Christians fail at marriage at the same or worse rate as everyone else is understandable.
After all, we’re sinners. The same or worse as everyone else. Christians are just those people with the particular vocabulary that describes all people.
That Christians would think grace alone in any way guarantees a relationship’s success, however, is foolish.
God’s grace heals and ultimately perfects our human nature.
It doesn’t replace our human nature.
Faith in God’s grace can help us to forgive our spouse.
It is not a substitute for acquiring the skills necessary for a relationship to grow and bear fruit.
A faith held by one or both people in a relationship while great- I AM a pastor remember- doesn’t relieve them from learning the skills (and, yes, they’re skills) upon which their relationship will fall or rise:
How to show discretion
How to balance candor and tenderness
How to listen and how to be speak honestly
How to recognize destructive patterns and habits
How to reframe
How to talk in a way that says ‘I heard’ you
How to act and speak so as to enable your spouse to be their best self.
In the same way God’s People gleaned and borrowed wisdom from Egypt, these are all skills couples are best off learning from books other than the bible. Sometimes people of faith are better looking to Athens than Jerusalem.
Very often when couples come to a pastor or priest for help in their relationship, they bring with them the mistaken assumption- whether conscious or sub- that ‘faith’ is the key that will rescue them.
I mean, that’s why you’d go to a pastor instead of a therapist, right?
If they only prayed more or harder. If only regular worship were a part of their (read: other spouse’s) life. If only they apply their belief in love of neighbor to their spouse. If only they had God in their marriage, all would be well.
Or at least better.
Not to minimize the importance of faith but learning greater loquaciousness in prayer won’t remedy a relationship if a couple haven’t learned how to listen to each other.
Grace is necessary but it isn’t enough.
Faith, for example, is little help to a basketball player if they’ve not also learned how to dribble, post-up and box-out their opponent.
And the grace that’s more helpful to a baseball player is learning how to slide into second with your leg tucked just right, how to hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat or how throw the perfect one-hopper to make the tag just so.
Likewise, marriage plays out in such a way that both sides lose if they’re not willing to commit themselves to learning the skills that are the relational equivalent of hitting, fielding and pitching.
So much of relationships really is about learning skills, habits of relating, and concrete practices.
And like baseball, basketball or anything else requiring the acquiring of skills, marriage can require a lot of practice, drills and awkward play before you’re participating in something whose challenge is surpassed only by its beauty.
Grace may be enough for our eternal salvation.
But it’s not enough to start, strengthen or save a marriage.