Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Cross of Marriage

Being married is the hardest thing I've ever done. People say raising a child, for example, is hard. But parenting is easy compared to marriage. It's a cheat to say that, of course, because if you are married, parenting is a part of the marriage. Just like everything is a part of the marriage. Every Christian's primary vocation is to grow holier, to become more like Christ. And here's what that looks like for every single one of us:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  Matthew 16:24
For Christians whose vocation is marriage, that means it takes up every aspect of your life into itself, as you strive to become more holy in the process of sharing that life wholly with another person. Every single thing you do has the potential to affect someone else, and you are similarly entwined with the actions of another person.

I think Eve Tushnet speaks insightfully about marriage in her post at Patheos, "Marriage as Work vs Marriage as the Cross":
Conservatives often argue that Americans have a Disneyfied, “soulmate” view of marriage, which makes us unprepared for the fact that marriage–like all vocations–can be terribly hard. I don’t think that’s quite right. We do have a cultural vocabulary for talking about the “hard parts” of marriage. The problem is that we have only one vocabulary, only one metaphor; and it’s a metaphor which resonates with the fix-it, prosperity-gospel elements in the American character. Our one vocabulary for talking about the woe that is in marriage is the idea that “marriage is hard work.” You hear this everywhere....

But also, marriage can be the Cross. 
She goes on to say that we have lost the vocabulary to talk about marriage as a cross, and that this loss has some negative effects. The whole thing is worth a read. Ms. Tushnet mentions the danger of judging someone whose marriage isn't ideal, or is failing, as if they aren't putting in the "work." She mentions that we are in danger of overlooking the simple fact that patience—just waiting it out—is often what pulls a marriage through. She didn't say this in so many words, but I think that the absence of this "marriage as cross" outlook highlights the American sense of self-reliance that too often becomes a trap for despair. There's the danger of thinking that your marriage is all up to you, and besides the danger of self-judgment (thinking you are a failure if your marriage is a failure), you risk that a mentality of "I did all I could" absolves any subsequent decision to break up a marriage if your efforts don't yield the results you think they should.

The whole idea reminded me of something I read a while back. We liked it so much my husband wrote the idea into a best man's speech for a wedding he attended a few years ago:
When the bride and bridegroom go to the church to be married they carry a Crucifix with them. The priest blesses the Crucifix and instead of saying that they have found the ideal partner with whom to share their lives, he exclaims, “You have found your Cross! It is a Cross to love, to carry with you, a Cross that is not to be thrown off, but rather cherished.”

When they interchange the marital vows, the bride puts her right hand on this Crucifix and the groom puts his right hand over hers. Both are bound together and united to the Cross. The priest covers their hands with his stole while they pronounce their promises to love one other in good times and in bad, proclaiming their vows to be faithful according to the rites of the Church.

Then they both first kiss the Cross, not each other. If one abandons the other, they abandon Christ on the Cross. They lose Jesus! After the wedding, the newly-weds cross the threshold of their home to enthrone that same Crucifix in a place of honour. It becomes the reference point of their lives and the place of family prayer, for the young couple believes deeply that the family is born of the Cross.
The rest is just as beautiful.

Don't you think we could all benefit from hearing this more?

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