“Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.”
You already know who I am, even if you don’t. I am the fiancée who occasionally waves from the sidelines in this blog, a supporting player in my warrior hippie’s brave new venture in cyberspace. She has graciously allowed me to take a moment in the spotlight. So I figured that a good debut for me in this space would be to consider the question, “why are you getting married?” It seems transparently easy to answer, yet it gets more complicated the more you think about it. One is reminded of A Christmas Carol: Scrooge – “Why did you get married?” Fred – “Because I fell in love”. That seems like a pretty shoddy answer to Scrooge, and I must admit that if Fred thinks that warm fuzzies are a compelling basis for a lifelong contract with another fallen mortal, I would have to agree with the old miser. Why would anyone take the crazy step of committing their entire life to another person, especially given the high probability of failure? Why limit yourself? Why put yourself through the inevitable fights and compromises? Why bother? As a person for whom these questions are more than academic, I’d like to find some answers. Let’s explore.
There are a number of compelling practical reasons to get married. Married people, on average, live longer, healthier lives. You have greater earning power and tax breaks if you are married. Despite the increasing acceptance of singleness (look at the iconic nature of Seinfeld and Friends and the popularity of Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory, all sitcoms that celebrate single people), there is still a societal taboo against being single past a certain age. Women will start hearing more than they care to about their “biological clock”, while men will inevitably have their sexuality questioned at least once. It’s just easier to navigate adult social circles as a married person. And, of course, there will be somebody there for you as you get older and approach that inevitable end toward which we all methodically plod. While this is all well and good, I think that very few people would get married for these reasons (except for gold diggers. Since I only work part time, I occasionally accuse my fiancée of being the world’s most inept gold digger).
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think security is a good reason to “settle down”, as they say. Married people generally are happier and report lower levels of depression and other mental problems. There is something to be said for the confidence and self-esteem boost of knowing that another person wants to commit their entire life to you of all people. The reason that most successful men are married is that they have someone to fight for. Make no mistake: life is a battle. Having someone who you can count on to fight beside you, and for you, makes an enormous difference. And I must admit that the thought of having a wife to come home to is one of the most inviting things about marriage. She’ll be there for me: to talk, to cry, to laugh, to bicker, to just sit with. Having someone to hold in my arms when I crawl into bed at night will, I think, be one of the most comforting and joyous parts of married life.
Which brings me to the elephant in the middle of the room: sex. It may seem silly to get married in order to have sex, but studies have shown that not only do married people have more sex, but they also report higher satisfaction with their sex life than single people do. That, in a nutshell, is why God is so negative on extra-marital sex. It’s not that He’s trying to spoil all of our fun. Just the opposite. He wants us to have fantastic, mind-blowing sex, and marriage is where that happens. Why? Because you have the intimacy and trust to be able to fully give yourself mind, body, and soul to another person. Over the years, instead of wading in the kiddie pools of one-night stands, you swim in the ocean of your beloved, discovering the beautiful complexity of who they are. You learn how to please them, and they learn how to please you. Sex is like nuclear power – capable of producing tremendous energy, but also capable of explosive destruction. God wants the emotional intimacy that sex provides to be kept within marriage because He doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves with His good gift (sin could simply be defined as that which hurts ourselves or others). If you think that God is negative on sex, read Song of Songs. Sample verse: “Blow on my garden that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits” (4:16). Did it just get hot in here? All of that said, I don’t think getting married just to have sex is a good idea. There must be more than this…
When I get married, the priest will tell the congregation that there are three basic purposes of marriage: mutual joy (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more), help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity, and the procreation and care of children. A quick word on that last one: I need hardly argue that, if you want to pass your genetic material along to future generations, your kids will have a much better chance of being happy and healthy if they grow up with a married mother and father. And I think that the goal of raising children is among the noblest and most rewarding of all human endeavors. But getting married just to have kids isn’t a great idea either. Both the presence of children and the eventual empty nest can put incredible strain on a marriage and, unless there is something deeper, kids will not fix a broken relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I want to have children. But that’s not why I am getting married.
If you aren’t listening carefully, you might miss another reason that the priest gives for getting married: “[marriage] signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church” (Book of Common Prayer, p. 423). Marriage is a sacrament – it demonstrates the grace and love of God to the world. In marriage, we learn how to love another person and, in so doing, learn how to love everyone else a little bit better. And, as we learn to love another person, we also learn how to love God better. As we receive love and forgiveness, often undeserved, from our spouse, we are more able to accept the love and forgiveness of God, no matter how little we deserve it. Just as sex is the visible, physical sign of the love of husband and wife, so is marriage the visible embodiment of the mysterious love of God for His people. To participate in God’s redemptive work, to help Him undo the damage done by the Fall, to bring Adam and Eve back to the garden where they walked with God, naked and unashamed, is an awesome and humbling task. Our world is broken, a place where hatred, division and mistrust rule, the Devil’s playground. Well, I’m tired of that. It’s time to fight back. Marriage demonstrates unequivocally that love conquers hate, that hope conquers despair, that faith conquers fear. A successful marriage causes the very gates of Hell to tremble, which is why staying married is such a battle and why so many lose heart. Do you want people to know that Jesus loves them? Start by loving your wife, by loving your husband. A wedding is the picture of that final day when all will be set to right. A marriage, despite its ups and downs, is a little glimpse of our heavenly home here in this veil of tears.
Yes, you may be saying, that all sounds wonderful, but what about you? Why are you getting married to our favorite warrior hippie and not to somebody else? I really wish I could give you a hard-and-fast reason, a simple 1-2-3 formula for knowing who to marry (Here’s the surefire way of finding your soul mate in 8 easy steps! Just send 5 installments of $19.95! Order today!). Life, like the union of Christ and his Church, is a mystery. The older I get, the less I know. The world confounds our attempts to understand it, and God is inscrutable. We are all flying by the seat of our pants. I try, in my limited way, to discover where God is headed, and attempt, fitfully and unevenly, to follow Him. It may seem to be unromantic to say I’m getting married because God told me to, but I really have no other explanation. I was not planning on doing so as a little as a year ago. But then I discovered that this beautiful, broken woman who I sometimes hung out with was my best friend. I could talk to her about anything; I could not imagine my life without her. She always seemed to show up just when I needed her and to say just what I needed to hear. She actually wanted to pray with me. And the people around me who I most love and trust loved her instinctively. One day I realized, with a start, that I was really looking forward to spending eternity with her. If that was the case, why shouldn’t I also spend time with her, too? Increasingly, when I look into her eyes, I see Jesus looking back. She brings me closer to God and challenges me to be a better man, to “live up to what I have already attained” (Philippians 3:16). When I hug her, it feels like home. The more I know about her, the more I want to know about her. I want her, not just her body (though, yes, I want that, too, and how), but her. She is just so there, so herself and no one else. All of that doesn’t add up to a rational argument. But there is more to life than reason. “Why are you getting married?” “Because I fell in love.”
Pontius Pilate once famously asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). And Jesus’ reply was to just stand there. He stood there because how can one answer such a question? He stood there because He is the Truth. How do I know that I’m doing the right thing by getting married? I don’t. But I don’t really know anything. The truth is as enigmatic as the Man who embodies it. But I trust Him; I believe despite ample evidence to the contrary; I hope against hope. There is something about the way she looks at me, something about the way my heart leaps and my breath catches, a strange, warm feeling in my gut. It’s a whisper from beyond the walls of this world. No, more than a whisper, a chuckle. It is the contented laughter of a God who is making all things new in the most unlikely ways. After I got down on one knee and proposed, we prayed together and then lay down on the grass and laughed until we cried. I could neither imagine nor contain such joy. I don’t really know what happened that day, how God’s love broke through into this pain-stricken world. But it is something worth battling to keep. And who better to have beside me but a warrior hippie? Why am I getting married? Because love is worth the fighting for. Isn’t that reason enough?