In one of my sacred, bed-time conversation with my 7 year old son, Andrew, we’ve been talking about marriage quite a bit. He had some problems that were troubling him. He has two girl friends who both love him. How is he supposed to know which one to marry? I patiently listened to his dilemma and thought carefully about what advice I should dispense. I’ve never had a problem of multiple girls doting over me, so I may not have been the most qualified to counsel him on this topic. However, there were a few things that seemed relevant to discuss as a marriage practitioner.
When I was in my twenties and seriously considering the prospect of getting married, there was a question that lingered for me on the topic:
Do you “find” the one? Or do you “choose” the one?
Meaning – is it more important that you search the world high and low until you find that perfect spouse? Or does it not matter so much who you marry, as long as you make a commitment to that person. You “choose” them. In my earlier years, I have to admit – I was in the camp of “finding” the perfect companion. My son, Andrew, is in a similar camp. Who is that “perfect” companion for me? How do I find that right person?
Who can blame us for thinking this way? Most of the stories that we watch and hear are all about finding that perfect person – pretty much every Disney movie – Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Snow White, The Little Mermaid. They are all stories about finding that perfect significant other. Then you get married and live happily ever after. The End.
I’m realizing that the problem with this narrative is that it completely obscures the true meaning of marriage. What makes marriage so sacred and noble is that it’s about a life-long commitment. [In our church, it’s an eternal commitment.] The wedding day is not the goal, it’s the very beginning. In some ways, there’s really nothing that’s special or meaningful about the actual wedding day, other than that you have just made a commitment. What makes a marriage truly meaningful are the years of sacrifices, negotiations, and tribulations that you endure together. It is the joy you find in the life-long effort of rearing children together. It is the jobs that you could not take. It is the houses and neighborhoods you could not live in. It is all the things that you could not do or have because you love somebody, and their interests were more important than your wants. It is all the things you are willing to give up because your spouse is more important. It is the endless stream of apologies for neglecting their feelings and the resolution to do better. It is putting everything else on hold while you sit in a hospital chair and hold their hand. This is what a marriage is. This is why people respect the word “marriage.” When people live up to the word, it is sacred. It is noble. It is the most enviable of all relationships. It is the kind of love and charity that most people hope to experience in their lives. And it is all wrapped up neatly in one word – marriage.
Unfortunately, this true story of marriage is drowned out by the popular and commercial narrative – the Disney story. Even as adults, there are shows that subtly elevate the “find” the right person and live happily ever after mentality. Any show that glorifies the perfect wedding day, or finding “the one”. Say Yes to the Dress, My Fair Wedding, Bridezilla, The Bachelor(ette), etc. The problem with this mentality is that it propagates the message that marriage is about oneself and a spouse is the perfect product you are looking for. It is about selfishness. And in the end, selfishness is the opposite of what a marriage is about. It is what destroys marriages. Sometimes, this selfishness manifests itself in affairs, financial issues, the way spouses spend their time, abuse, etc. In the end, when differences can not be reconciled, marriages end – and that dream of a life-long commitment dies with it. Selfishness is the enemy of marriage.
The problem is that most of us all start selfish. On our wedding day, most of us have never been asked to sacrifice our needs and wants – at least nothing like what will be required by a spouse and children. It is through the process of marriage that we slowly shed our old selves and hopefully start to change – eventually becoming more charitable… more accommodating. If we are lucky, then the conflict and required sacrifice come at a pace that we are prepared to handle. Unfortunately for some marriages, the issues come faster than we are able to change and we are asked to give things up that we were not yet ready to sacrifice. Fortunately, life almost always offer second chances and I have many friends that have found success after a reboot in a subsequent marriage. I love to hear their stories and take careful mental notes when they tell me what they feel they are doing differently the second time around.
I remember a lesson that our good friend Natalie Glover gave us during a Family Home Evening when I was dating my wife Tenille. She told a story of a woman who kept special silverware. Every so often, she would take out the silverware and spent hours polishing them to make sure they were bright and shiny. On the most special occasions, a few times a year, she would take out her special silverware and present them at the table for her guests. The moral of the story is that the silverware was special because she treated them special. Our marriages are like that. They are special if we treat them special through the years.
So, my dear Andrew. Here’s the advice. Yes – it may matter who you choose, but you shouldn’t worry about that so much. Mostly because you are too young. But, secondly, you should be more concerned about how you will shape yourself in preparation for your marriage. Are you willing to negotiate? Do you try and find a way to make people happy around you? Can you give up things for people you love? Are you willing to put in a lifetime of effort to keep your marriage special? If so, I promise your marriage will be successful. You will grow to love your wife more and more as every year passes by. Paradoxically, the more you give up and sacrifice for your family, the more meaningful they will become to you.