Looking For Love 4. Why Marriage?

    My wife called me “high maintenance” the other day! I was both offended and amused by that…

     It was a shock to me, but I got thinking about it, and had to sort of agree. I’m not emotionally needy or lazy, I don’t buy expensive toys, but a sort of chaos follows me around. I was born asking “Why?” when it seems to me so many were born asking “Mine?” In fact, Why? drives me so crazy that I often challenge status quo and systems that aren’t working or don’t serve their purpose anymore. Granted, it’s a valuable question, but it does make me high maintenance. I’m just not “OK” with stuff. I have no emotional connection to “reasons why I’m losing”. I just don’t like losing and seeing people lose. I should clarify… I’m probably just fine with stuff I’m ok with (if that makes any sense… blind spots), but not ok with a lot of other stuff. My wife was…um… honest enough to laugh at me about something I didn’t see. That’s marriage some days.
     Why Marriage? Why even bother anymore? It’s just a piece of paper. Just a contract. We can have all the trappings of marriage by living together without that…
     This may come as a surprise, but if you see marriage as just a contract, you shouldn’t get married. (But aren’t you a pastor and supposed to tell people to quit living in sin?) I seriously mean it though, don’t get married if that’s all it means to you.
     A rental agreement is a contract. No pets, no smoking, No late night parties, whatever you’d find in a normal housing rental contract. A contract is there for one reason: to protect the owner and his/her property. It is for ME, not for YOU. If you break any part of the contract, the entire thing is null and void and you will get kicked out of my property. If it’s a game, I’ll take my ball and go home.
     Our society is viewing marriage as though it’s only a contract. I read a couple of Prenuptial Agreements this week just to see what they’d say. Now those things are contracts! Everything sewn up nice and neat. The long and short of them are “Don’t touch my stuff! I’m leaving with what I came with when I go!” When I go. When this doesn’t work out. You get yours and I’ll get mine. Me.
     My reaction was anger, and yet….Question: why am I thinking that it sort of makes sense these days to have one of those contracts?
     That’s why we have to ask Why Marriage? in the proper circles. It is not an assumed value or answer to anything anymore. The basis is so twisted and has become so ingrained in our society we are going to have to do something drastic to change it, but should we change it even?
     My job as a preacher is not to be perfect (thank God) or even to give that illusion. Sorry to disappoint, but you’ll have to get in the long line of people I’ve disappointed. You’ll see a lot of people who look exactly like me in that line too, ironically. I breathe the same air and think the same stupid thoughts everyone does. I wake up needing mercy just like you. My job is to be as honest and vulnerable as I can in asking the question “How is this really working out for us?” Our assumptions? Our misconceptions? Our values? To look at the formulas we’re living by and predict some of the results. To help people with the Why? so maybe we can save ourselves from great pain down the road?
     If marriages and families were working, I wouldn’t have to ask Why Marriage? But they’re not. The ones that are working have this in common….
     Hold that thought while we look at some marriage vows…
      “I, ____, take you, ____, to be my lawfully wedded(husband/wife), to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” The religious leader then says: “You have declared your consent before the Church. May the Lord in his goodness strengthen your consent and fill you both with his blessings. What God has joined, men must not divide. Amen.
     That was NOT a contract. That was a COVENANT. It was all about YOU, not me. “This is what I’m going to do: ________, regardless of what you do.” My commitment to you. Not based on your performance. Not based on my self preservation. Until death parts us. 
     I know it’s almost insane to remove our armour like that and walk into a possible war, but there is a precedent. It actually comes from the One who instituted marriage as a covenant in the first place. Genesis 2:23-24
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
     The two become one. A contract looks more like 1+1=2 but then…2-1=1 again.
     I hate to state the obvious impossibility of a covenant that requires that sort of vulnerability and courage and just…perfection really. I don’t have it in me if I’m actually saying what I’m thinking. In the times when I’m strong…sure. It’s those other times when my own crap torpedoes me, when I don’t do what I know I should. When I don’t even do what I want to do. When I fail, when I fall. 
     A contract is you and me. A marriage covenant is you, me, and God. That’s the shocker. 
     Ok, so past experience has burned you and you think I’m living in a magic fairy world where everyone gets along all the time and sugar and cheeseburgers don’t make you fat. Look, I’m a realist who has a real marriage and real children. I’ve been both lucky and unlucky. I talk with people with real problems all the time. I get down on my hands and knees and help broken people pick up broken pieces every week. I don’t do it to get something for myself. I know if you’re skeptical about God and church it’s always easy to say that, but you don’t walk in my shoes. You’re not awake at night with me wondering how on earth that person could ever forgive him, how to change what’s been happening for generations in that family, why I even bother when someone who has no skin in the game takes a shot at me from the cheap seats, why I’ve spent years helping with their family and when my family needs the smallest thing they walk away and blame me for their own problems? 
     Am I feeling sorry for myself? Sorry dad:)
     Not really… I’m making a point. It’s just not about me. I don’t rise and fall by myself. My marriage is not dependant on me getting everything absolutely right. It is this:
          When there was no hope for us, God sent Jesus to die for the ungodly. We had broken the relationship and contracts so many times and were so proud and sinful that God had to change the game altogether. 
     He made a covenant with us. He gave 100% first when He sent the best thing in heaven down to us, His only Son. We abused Him, we killed Him. He died for us and our problems when we had nothing to offer. Then He somehow said “Come, follow Me”. I don’t know why, and I don’t care why. It doesn’t make sense on any human level and it never will. It has never been dependant on perfection or will-power or anything we could be proud of. We don’t hold it together, He does. That’s it. 
     I suppose He could ask anything He wants of me now. I will fail, that’s the only guarantee I can realistically give. Thank God it’s not a contract! 
     Neither is my marriage. It’s a covenant that God holds together. The real issue is that the surety I would want from my wife I wouldn’t be able to give her myself. If it could be broken, I’d figure out a way to do it. It’s a scary thought that we could destroy the thing we love the most (people do it all the time), but that very real fear might just lead us to this thought:
     It’d better be a covenant! Covenant is serious and hard and meaningful and terrifying, but it beats the heck out of renting a relationship. 

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