I’ve been married nearly a dozen years. I’ve performed I don’t know how many weddings, presided over even more pre-marital counseling sessions and refereed an equal amount of relationships as they were coming to an end. So I’m not Dr Phil but I’ve learned a thing or two. Or ten.
#6: You Don’t Love Your Spouse For Who They Are
As a pastor I’m often in the position to ask couples: ‘Why do you want to get married?’ You’d be shocked- then again, maybe not- how few people can answer that question beyond some vagueness about how ‘we’re just so deeply in love’ or how the other person ‘completes me.’
The answer I get most often though is this one:
‘He/she loves me for who I am.’
To be fair, I suppose I couldn’t articulate much more than that when Ali and I got married.
Just as often as I get that response, I do my best to quash it:
‘Well, that’s no good because once you’re married it’s going to be his/her job
to make sure you don’t stay who you are.’
That comment usually meets with equal parts confusion and disgust. But dammit, it’s honest-to-goodness bible true. Pop culture has convinced us that true love accepts us exactly for who we are and- goes the rest of the unspoken assumption- leaves us exactly who we are. Pop culture has convinced us that true love doesn’t expect us to change.
That may be love as Taylor Swift defines it but it couldn’t be more different than how Jesus loves people. Yes, Jesus accepted everyone for exactly who they were: Zaccheus, Matthew, the Rich Young Ruler. But accepting them as they were, Jesus’ style of love never left people as they were. Never left them unchanged.
And, don’t forget, married love is meant to be sacramental. We’re supposed to love each other in a way that makes visible and tangible the way Jesus loves people.
Therefore, marriage is all about changing the other person.
And it’s not simply a by-product of marriage. It’s the vocation of marriage. It’s what marriage is for.
St Paul wrote to the Corinthians that anyone ‘who is in Christ is a new creation.’ Anyone who’s a Christian can tell you that doesn’t happen in an instant or even very quickly or easily. It’s a long, hard, slow process of throwing off sin and growing into who God intends us to be, who God has always intended us to be, who we will be in God’s New Creation.
The purpose of marriage- it’s Christian calling if you like- is to offer the sort of friendship that helps your spouse grow into their best self. Their future, new creation self.
It’s the vocation of marriage to see in your beloved the work God is doing in them, the promise in them of new creation, and to join God in that work.
Put another way, marriage- Christian marriage- is analogous to how Michaelangelo described the craft of carving David: ‘I looked inside the marble and just took away the bits that weren’t David.’
Marriage is about trusting another to see and notice how God is taking away the bits in you.
It’s about trusting another to join God in taking away those bits, to help turn your raw material into something magnificent.