What’s up with marriage?
People get divorced all the time. It’s always sad to hear it through the grapevine, but for the first time it happened to people I know intimately. It is devastating.
While others’ tragedy has made me appreciate my own happy marriage far more sincerely, I’m still left wondering, “What’s up with marriage?”
Why can’t we make it work? Are expectations too high? Or do we not value the concept of a lifelong commitment enough?
Marriage is inherently painful. On one extreme are the train wrecks — a jumble of pain and loss smoldering beside the tracks. On the other is the sacrifice and effort it takes to keep a marriage intact.
God came up with the idea for marriage. Yet, I don’t think we marry to robotically perpetuate a custom we find in the Bible. We’ve ditched plenty of others.
More to the point, we’re told quite pointedly several times in the Bible that to be unmarried is best in the kingdom of God.
And if marriage originates with God, why does our secular society, in overwhelming numbers, desire to get married?
True love? Well, if we accept Jane Austen’s suggestion that “There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time,” then yes, we marry for love.
Companionship is a beautiful benefit of marriage. However, each person evolves in his or her own time and way. I can imagine various friends from the different epochs of my life that wouldn’t fill my needs like my current friends do. In reality, it would probably be more personally satisfying to change romantic companions like we do platonic friends.
Of course, many “cannot control themselves” and need to marry so they don’t “burn with passion.” (Thanks go out to Apostle Paul for that concession.)
But people have never needed a ring or a public vow to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. In our current culture, where sex outside of marriage is assumed, even Christians are asking, “Why wait?” And they don’t.
For thousands of years, financial security was a large incentive for getting married. Particularly for women.
Times have changed. It is no longer novel for a woman to make more money than her husband. Women get better grades in high school and are more apt to get college degrees, so our futures are looking bright. When it comes to money, women no longer need a man.
Acquiring and raising children are powerful reasons to marry. Bringing up children is an extremely stressful enterprise.
Having another person to pay the bills, shuttle kids from here to there, and to believe your specific children are worth the emotional fatigue and psychological head games, does indeed lighten the load.
Then again, there are people who, given their current options, prefer parenting solo.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says: “Two are better than one. . . . If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.”
The essence of marriage is really so simple: two people going through life together — catching a stumble, dusting off dirt, throwing out a towline.
I choose marriage over serial monogamy because I desire the hands that pick me up to be the same each time. I recognize them in good times and bad. I feel them and know that I am not utterly lost.
Human beings desire marriage for the same reason we desire justice or sacrificial love: we desire God.
The constancy and faithfulness that marriage requires is, ultimately, a reflection of what God perfectly provides.
Sarah Kehrberg lives in Swannanoa, N.C., and attends Asheville Mennonite Church.
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