Thursday, 12 April 2012

A Lifetime Commitment

Getting married is the dream of most young people. You don't need to look very far to see how much society is geared towards marriage. Magazines and newspapers are covered with images of brides and grooms, shops are full of greetings cards for engagements, weddings and anniversaries. Stores supply beautiful wedding gowns and other paraphernalia, and huge profits are made by businesses that supply the other trappings of traditional weddings such as the flowers, the cake, the cars, the photographer, the banquet and the accommodation, not to mention the honeymoon. Most large department stores offer wedding regsitries, and if you don't want to be troubled by the hassle and stress of organising your own wedding, you can pay a planner to do it for you and take care of every last detail.

Why then is it that although marriage is still embraced so lavishly by modern culture, in 2010 there were 119,589 divorces in England, compared with just 580 in 1911? That's an increase of more than 200 times the number, according to a small article in our newspaper today, in only 100 years. What on earth has gone wrong? Why has what should be a precious lifelong commitment become just another casualty of our selfish, secular society?

Well, we have been talking about this, while we were eating our evening meal today!

One major factor and probably one of the most important, is the nature of the throwaway culture of instant gratification that we live in, which makes it the accepted norm for people to take what they want, when they want it, without ever thinking of the consequences. People don't seem to consider the fact that the wedding is just the start of what should be a lifelong commitment. They see the big white dress, the glittering rings, the flowers, the cute bridesmaids, the beautiful photograph albums and the happy couple embracing in the midst of all this surrounded by their admiring family and friends, and they seem to forget that in point of fact, the wedding is just the very beginning - not the icing on the cake - the final piece of the puzzle in their relationship. It is not "happy ever after", no matter what the media will have you believe. Instead, it should be seen as the first step of a beautiful journey that you and your spouse will share forever.

Add to this the fact that it's actually very easy to get married, even in a Church (and even if you aren't practising Christians), and it's quite possible to see that a couple can marry on impulse, probably just as easily as they can purchase a car, or go on holiday. Consideration of the fact that this union - this most fundamental and important union of all human relationships - is intended to be forever, doesn't seem to come into the decision making.

Of course, people truely do believe that they want to be together forever, when they become betrothed, but another very important issue which we feel contributes to the very high divorce rate in our country is the fact that nowadays, most people have already been in several relationships, before the one that they believe is going to be permanent - and very often, are already living as man and wife, before they marry. To us, this cheapens and sullies the preciousness and purity of the marriage relationship. How can they know which relationship is "the one" if they've been in several before? And how are they able to make this one - the marriage relationship -different? If you've lived together as a couple before you marry, and particularly if this union is not the first that you've been in, then the level of commitment that you make when you marry is going to be devalued. Your marriage isn't special. Studies such as this one confirm that if you cohabit before you marry, and especially if you have a physical relationship, you are far more likely to divorce than couples that don't live together before their wedding day. And if you have children out of wedlock, then you are even more likely to separate, than couples that wait until they are married. There's less motivation to work at the marriage because it feels no different to the cohabiting relationshps that the couple have been in. It might seem as if it will, to start with, but because it hasn't been entered into as a way of bringing together a betrothed couple in a new and unique union that neither have shared or known before, there is no preciousness, no permanence to hold onto and treasure.

The wedding ceremony is not just a legal process used to cement a relationship which in every other way is no different from a marriage union. If it is viewed in this way, it is inevitable that once the splendour and sparkle wears off, once the challenges come, and the hardships and the heartbreak, then there will be a far shakier foundation for the couple to cling to, to support the couple through the hard times, than if they had waited, and allowed their love and mutual respect for each other to grow, in a reasoned, respectful and honest way as they get to know each other intimately. Marriage is not just about romance. It is not just about falling in love. It is about commitment - about supporting each other, through acceptance of the roles of man and woman within that union, growing together and working towards shared goals. If a relationship is entered into in a way that forces the physical intimacy and consequent emotional interdependence of a married couple before the man and woman are ready - before they are actually married - then all the elements of a successful marriage that are secured through a process of slow emotional growth and learning together, are overlooked, and cast aside for the more immediate pleasures of physical satisfaction and indulgence of self, outside that precious union.

Marriage is of course beautiful and loving and exciting. But it can't be these things - at least not permanently - if it isn't also cemented by a strong sense of shared responsibility for each other and of a willingness to work as a team in all things. These qualities have to be worked at, and they won't be if both the partners in the relationship are seeking only to please themselves, and not the other. Falling in love is about seeking to serve and please the other partner - not about how they can please you. If you enter into a relationship purely for the pleasure-giving it can afford you, it will only be satisfying for a short time. Thereafter, when the pleasure-giving ceases (and it will) because the other partner isn't able to provide it, if there is no true commitment, if there has been no way to develop the mutual caring and respect that comes only with time and patience and truly knowing each other, then the relationship will inevitably crumble, and therein lies the tragedy of divorce.

God's Word has all the advice about marriage that we could possibly ever need. In Hebrews 13, we hear that -

"Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee".
(Hebrews 13, 4 - 5)

And this is all that we really need, for clarification and guidance. Marriage should be treasured as the beautiful drawing together of two people who come together in chastity and innocence to learn the intimacy of true love within that precious union of lifetime commitment. And in case we needed reminding, it is covetousness and discontent that will lead us into a hasty marriage - not the desire to honour God. Let us celebrate the beauty of marriage for its true worth - as part of God's plan for us - and not something done as a lifestyle choice because it seemed a good idea at the time. That's no way to live in peace and joy - and no way to share the beauty of a love that can only be understood when it is seen in the glory of God's living light.

"But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin".
(1 John 1, 7).