Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Duties of Matrimony

I have said before that marriage is more about what we give to it than what we get from it. That, of course, is a practical statement: for if we concentrate on what we're getting from it, we'll short shrift what we give to it and end up undermining it. Unfortunately, the sacrificial attitude necessary to maintain marriage is foreign to the narcissistic baby boom generation and all the alphabet generations that have followed. The result, the burgeoning divorce rate. One must give continuously, for a lifetime, to make marriage work.

Thankfully, there are plenty of happy marriages for us to learn from. There's a fair of amount of not so happy ones to take lessons from too. Those that I've come across that are happy and long lasting are those in which the spouses haven't saddled each other with the burden of making each other happy. Spouses can share our happiness, we can be happy to share life with them, but they cannot, in themselves, make us happy. Unhappy marriages are often laboring under that faulty assumption. It is the epitome of immaturity and folly to expect another human being to hold the key to our happiness.

We provide our spouses with fundamental emotional comfort, which (because of the gender effects of the Fall) takes different forms for husbands and wives. Natural women were cursed to live in a contest of wills with their husbands: redeemed women provide their husbands the comfort of knowing that their wives respect and submit to them. Natural men were cursed with ruling over their wives and the frustration of their toil (a source of preoccupation): redeemed men provide their wives the comfort of knowing that their husbands love them sacrificially (agapate) and will lay down their lives for them. A husband who has the respect of his wife is a man who has something to live for, and a wife loved like Christ loves the church is a woman who has something that makes life worth living.

When we see ourselves and yield ourselves as bound in oneness, providing our spouse that kind of comfort, we give our mates a sense of belonging and security that nothing else on earth can truly supply. My first pastor used to repeat over and over again for the sake of all of us coming into marriageable age, "love is not a feeling, it's a commitment." So true. I wish we all went into marriage buying into that. It is not just an emotional or relational dynamic, however. It translates into all those areas of a more tangible nature that mark our shared journeys.

Being a reliable source of provision and care is just part of the package. One area along that line that is getting a lot of pulpit attention these days is the marriage bed. I think that is more a reflection of our culture's fixation on sex than anything the word says on the subject. Short and sweet, it says nothing's wrong with sex in marriage, have as much as you like in whatever way you agree, and don't hold out on your spouse. Wow, I managed to say that in less than 12 weeks and without a single billboard!

Marriage will not work for the takers, nor the heart breakers, not for the jerks nor those who would shirk the obligations of love. Marriage is a picture of the love in the Godhead, and must be treated with the honor appropriate for such. Though we've managed to make it no more than a paper plate or plastic spoon, used for a moment than than tossed aside, there's always hope if we can but begin to dedicate ourselves to the duties of matrimony.