I came across an article with this title in the magazine THE WEEK. It is an excerpt from a larger essay (which I didn’t read) in THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY by Sandra Tsing Loh.
Ms. Loh describes her divorce after a 20-year marriage, as well as her friends’ gripes about their marriages and husbands. She quotes some statistics and a few experts and asks some very pointed questions:
“Why do we still insist on marriage?”
“But now that we have white-collar work and washing machines and our life expectancy has shot from 47 to 77, isn’t the idea of lifelong marriage obsolete?”
She makes a few suggestions and concludes, “In any case, my final piece of advice is straightforward: Avoid marriage – or you too may suffer the emotional pain, the humiliation, and the logistical difficulty of breaking up a long-term union in midlife.”
Is she right? Is she on to something? Have Uni and I been pursuing the wrong course for all these (nearly) 53 years? Did I do wrong in marrying those dozens of couples in my years in the ministry? (Apparently some of them thought so – they didn’t all take!) Did I do wrong in counseling all those couples to be faithful and to stay married? Would we all have been better off single?
I don’t think so!
It is easier to be sympathetic, however, with Ms. Loh’s views when we look at them in their context. She lives in a world that is unfamiliar to me, but which I fear is encroaching more and more on that of my family and friends – even church friends.
Her world (it appears) consists of two career families, families where children seem to be more of a burden than a joy, where the “girls” have their “night,” where bored and boring sexual partners have long ago set aside their passion for one another. The passion has been gone so long that it’s not worth attempting to recover. God is nowhere to be found. Divorce is inevitable!
Maybe she’s right! If that’s what marriage is, then why bother? If the relationships we enter in order to find happiness bring nothing but boredom and grief, maybe they’re not worth entering!
But what’s the alternative? Boredom and grief alone? Multiple sex partners who can provide what has been called “recreational sex”? A lifetime of being impoverished, not only relationally but financially? (Obviously finances are not a problem to Ms. Loh.)
Most of us spend our lives in “the pursuit of happiness,” and, I believe, never has this been truer than it is today. We seek our own happiness in things, in careers and in our marriages. If our things don’t satisfy, we get more and better things. If our careers don’t satisfy, we quit and look for better ones. And if our marriages don’t satisfy, we quit and either look for a better one, or seek the benefits of marriage without the burden of commitment.
But the pursuit of happiness doesn’t work. Happiness must pursue us! If we make our personal happiness our main goal, we will never attain it. Happiness is a byproduct!
We all need to take a look at what Jesus said. And He was saying to all, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he needs to deny himself and pick up his cross every day and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever will lose his life for My sake, he will save it. For what is a person profited if he gains the whole world but loses or forfeits himself?” (Luke 9:23-25)
This is the great paradox of the Christian life. When we seek our own life -- our gain, profit, happiness -- we don’t find it. When we give our life away for Him, we really find it.
And this applies in marriage. If we enter marriage expecting it and our partner to bring us happiness, we will be sadly disappointed. It’s not first of all about me – my happiness. It’s about a commitment to Jesus Christ and to our partner. It’s about seeking their happiness. And it’s about finding happiness – finding life – through giving it!
It’s worth the bother!