That may seem like a strange question, and perhaps it is, but I’m not the only one asking it. Numerous reports remark upon the trend among young adults toward “delaying” marriage, sometimes indefinitely. Women and men are focusing on their education and establishing their careers before entertaining thoughts of “settling down.” For many, including Christians, putting off marriage doesn’t feel like a sacrifice since a certain amount of instant gratification comes with their having embraced the false ideal of cohabitation, or worse, the hookup culture. That being said, I realize that as a proponent of marital chastity, the question Why should I get married? is perhaps even stranger.
Here’s why I’m asking it. For the last decade or so, we have routinely told one story about marriage: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another husband and wife sharpen each other.”
We have done this for good reasons. We want to be, and indeed we must be, honest about how difficult married life often is. We don’t want to set people up for failure. (Though, perhaps somewhat ironically, there are more failed marriages today than ever before. Not that divorce is the only way to fail a marriage.) In fact, it is, I think, partially in reaction to the climbing divorce rate that we have begun to focus on this “sharpening” aspect of marriage.
We do need to tell this part of the story. But we also need to remember that it is only part of the story. We must guard against overcorrecting and being so laser-focused on marriage as purifying fire that we neglect the rest of the story, thereby developing a truncated view of marriage.
We must discipline ourselves to tell whole truths.
Teenagers and 20-30-somethings listen to sermon after sermon, small group after small group, blog post after blog post, dating book after dating book… declare that “marriage is the number one tool (second only to having children) God uses to make us less selfish and more Christ-like”—while simultaneously watching their parents and friends’ parents and peers divorce. And then those same sermons, small groups, blog posts and books turn right around to lecture young adults for delaying marriage, calling them lazy and selfish. Are we insane? (Now, there is certainly some truth to the lazy-and-selfish critique; young adults are, after all, human. But again… not the whole story.)
As a single young 30-something myself, every time I hear this refrain about marriage, a not so small part of me thinks, The Lord’s got several sharpening instruments at work in my life, and if that’s the main thing marriage does… Why should I get married?* Fortunately there’s a part of me that knows better; there’s a part of me that reminds the rest of me of the blessings of, for example, companionship. But the world we live in is fast-paced, fragmented, and isolating (and propagates its own narratives about marriage). I need reinforcement! I need whole narratives and complete pictures. Or at least not tragically truncated ones.
As good as it is to communicate the character-building hardships of married life, when we allow this single narrative to dominate our definitions of marriage, we shouldn’t be surprised that young adults grow more and more wary of it.
While we should want to be sharpened and disciplined, seldom do we deliberately put ourselves into difficult situations solely so that we can build character. And, in the case of marriage, I’m not sure that’s actually good motivation—Darling, will you marry me so that God can use you to make me more spiritual? Lamesauce. Plus, kinda selfish, no?
No. We put painstaking practice into our work and craft because we love. Skateboarding, painting, accounting, teaching, guitar. It’s that I-feel-God’s-pleasure-when-I-run kind of love. Because we are created to enjoy the triune God and the fullness of life he supplies.
Question: In addition to being a sacrament,** what is marriage? How can we paint a more complete picture?
*Yeah, but I’m sure that nothing in your life is as sanctifying as marriage. It’s in the Bible… somewhere. So you really need to stop being a self-centered slacker and get married (and have children!) already. In the meantime don’t forget that before you do get married, singles have more time and energy on their hands to devote to the Church, not having any sanctifying relationships like a spouse and kids, so you really ought to spend all of your free time here. Don’t worry; if you’re doing it right, God will bring someone to you. ** I know we Protestants tend to have a visceral reaction to the word sacrament, but as sanctification is a divine grace, and married life is often a channel of that divine grace…
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)
(Editor) earned a Masters' degree for her studies in literature and is currently doing graduate research in African American Literature, specifically, the women poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Prior to starting her current work, Renea spent a year studying at the famous L'Abri Fellowship in Switzerland, where she, in addition to studying theology, read the Harry Potter saga for the first time and fell in love with the stories of the triumph of sacrificial love. In her "spare time," Renea takes great pleasure in leading a very talented creative writing group at her church and swing dancing at the historic Sons of Hermann Hall.