The Meaning of Marriage: Chapter 1

Thursday night, I got to the coffeehouse with The Meaning of Marriage book and a full hour before my friends arrived. As I sat and read, in walked one of the pastors from a church we have been visiting. 

It was date night.

I tried not to be too obvious as I watched them. I was thrilled, though, and could barely glance away. He was physically affectionate, arms wrapped around his wife's shoulders. Her head in the crook of his neck as they waited in line. He said something funny later as they played UNO and she threw her head back and laughed a hearty laugh.

Clearly, they were having fun, enjoying each other. My heart was singing.

{Perhaps it was singing extra loudly because I know they're in church leadership. I've been in church leadership roles and led ministries. Craig has done the same. We also have many friends who are in these roles, too. We know how easily it is to feel continually pulled away from you spouse because the call of ministry can be so strong. People always seem to need you and even when you're not out helping, their stories, their problems, and their welfare still nags at you. With the storms all around you, it can be hard to find peace and be present in the moment when you're with your spouse. Truth be told, many of us can fall into the trap of not being fully present in the moment no matter what our job entails.}

I was so giddy over this date (that wasn't even mine) because it was a witness. 

A witness that marriage is good.

A witness that marriage is fun.

Marriage is capable of inducing great belly laughs, sweet touches, and looks of admiration and love. You wouldn't know this couple had been married for over a decade. If you hadn't seen the wedding rings, you might have thought they were newly in love.

Why is this witness so important? Did you read the statistics in chapter 1 of The Meaning of Marriage? I found myself particularly floored on page 17. A twenty-four year old male announced his decision to never marry because "he had concluded that at least 70% of married people must be unhappy in their relationships." Keller says also that in his conversations with the young people within his church reveal similar attitudes. But actual statistically valid surveys show that "married people who say they are 'very happy' in their marriage is highabout 61-62 percent—and there has been little decrease in this figure during the last decade" (page 18-19). 

So even though statistics show that marriage actually benefits us, people aren't getting that picture. Why is that?

Keller gives us some good reasons:

  1. There's been a shift in what our culture views as the purpose of marriage. We've shifted from something designed "for the sake of mutual love, procreation, and protection" to a "new reality of marriage as a 'terminal sexual contract' designed for the gratification of individual parties" (page 20).
  2. There is an unrealistic idealism now associated with marriage. While there is a desire to receive emotional and sexual fulfillment through marriage, there is unwillingness to surrender any kind of freedom and independence. There are two people involved in marriage, thus two people longing to be filled. But fulfillment can only truly happen if there is some amount of self-sacrifice and prioritization of another. We can't each get what we want all the time because chances are there will be moments when we want opposite things. In addition, we put a huge burden on our spouse to be our everythingto meet every need and fulfill every desire. But only God can do that. When we put a god-like expectation on our spouse, it's easy to become disillusioned and disenfranchised with marriage.
  3. The search for a "soul-mate" is built on things other than the soul (i.e.physical attractiveness, sexual compatibility, and a willingness to not try to "change" the other. While I fully believe that we cannot change another person, we must be willing to accept that we are flawed creatures that can be made better by those around us.) I'm sure it's not news to any of us that our physical appearance changes overtime and it is unrealistic to compete with a photo-shopped and porn-filled culture.

There's a lot at stake here. How can we get the word out that even though marriage is hard, painful, and full of sacrifices, it is also incredibly wonderful, rewarding, and satisfying? Can we show the world a counter argument, not with condemning words, but by our actions and the authenticity of our stories? 

I don't want us to underestimate the power of our marriages as a witness to the world around us.

Hear me loud and clear: I am not talking about pretending, faking it, or Facebooking it. {After the "7 Day Love Your Spouse Challenge" went viral, I saw many comments and articles about how the challenge doesn't depict the real picture of marriage. While this is true, it also doesn't negate the truth, fun, and love within that snapshot. But regardless, it seems many people didn't come away from these pictures with thoughts that marriage is oh-so-great. Many people saw it as a facade.}

How can our marriages be a true witness, not only about the goodness of marriage, but also about the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I truly believe that all our marriages are flawed—we will not find perfection in anything in this world. However, this does not give us an excuse to cease being a witness. The purpose is not to display perfection, but to show how Jesus can bring amazing life and love to the decidedly imperfect! 

For individual reflection:

  • How do I portray my spouse to those around me (friends, extended family, my kids)? Is what I'm saying an accurate reflection of who he/she is? If I'm speaking about how I've been wronged, do I come back and show the resolution to the problems? Do I share how we've been able to work things out?
  • When I talk about my marriage, do I share the good along with the bad? 
  • Do I have a "Me-Mentality" about marriage? If I believe that Jesus' sacrifice for me was necessary, I can draw the conclusion that my sacrifice for my spouse is also necessary, as I am called to live like Christ. Am I making the necessary sacrifices in my marriage?
  • Do you allow God to fill you when your spouse isn't loving you as he/she should? Do you rely on God to help you love and accept your spouse?

For discussion with your spouse:

  • Are we authentic in our sharing? Do we let those around us know what's really going on with us?
  • Have we been open about how we have overcome issues? Are there people in our lives that could benefit from our trials and the wisdom we gained from them?
  • Share with each other one way your marriage has benefitted you.
  • Re-read this quote on page 44: "Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it give us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God's saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us. The merciful commitment strengthens us to see the truth about ourselves and repent. The conviction and repentance moves us to cling to and rest in God's mercy and grace." Are y'all able to speak truth in love? Are you able to receive the truth spoken in love? How could doing this bring you closer together and closer to Jesus?

For discussion with The {K}Project Community

  • What is one tangible way you can be a witness to the goodness of marriage this week?

A {K}not Project note: There was so much packed into this chapter that we couldn't cover it all in one blog post. Be looking for some other quotes and ideas during the week at