On October 19, 2002, I had no idea what I was committing to. I mean, I loved the girl and understood enough about what marriage was to make a full consent to the union, but I didn’t really know what I was embarking on. And how could I? I was 22 and just graduated from college. I had no money to my name, but love and dedication were enough to give a wholehearted “Yes” on the altar.
Now, 16 years later, I’m starting to understand what I said yes to. I said yes to love, with all its glories and struggles. Certainly, we could have just lived together and forgone marriage, which would have seemed like the easier thing to do. However, “living together” and “marriage” are not synonymous terms. There is always an out-clause in cohabitation, and while we think “having our options open” is what is best for us, in relationships it is not. If we always hold back a piece of ourselves, then we will never be vulnerable enough to know what it means to love. Love always carries an element of risk. The abiding commitment of marriage is what makes it unique among all other relationships. Marriage is not just a “piece of paper,” it is a vow, an unbreakable promise to love another person until death does you part.
The indissolubility of marriage has to be the most misunderstood part of the union. Often, it is scorned and ridiculed. It is viewed as some lofty ideal that is no longer practically attainable. Or it is met with outright disdain and referred to as a “ball and chain” locking you down and preventing your freedoms. That is all horse manure. If we can reorient ourselves to see the true intention behind it, we will see that indissolubility is not about staying together for the sake of it, but rather it is meant to be a tremendous source of consolation. Do you know how comforting it is to know that no matter what happens in my life there is always someone there to have my back?I cannot even begin to describe how reassuring that is to me. Just think about that for a second. Imagine the worst thing that could happen: cancer, loss of a child, bankruptcy… no one wants to face this in life, but bad things will happen to us and would you rather face them alone or with someone else? But let’s not just focus on the negative, imagine the best things that could happen: getting a gold medal at the Olympics, visiting the Eifel Tower, raising a child…again, would you rather embrace those successes alone or with someone by your side? The gift of marriage is that whether I am in the high-highs or the low-lows, there is always someone there with me because she made a promise to love me through it all.
The converse is true, too. No matter what happens in Kristin’s life, she will never have to face them alone (as long as I have air in my lungs and blood pumping through my veins). That is the greatest gift I could ever give another human being because I only have one life to live and it is fixed and limited. I will only be here for so long. Therefore, my life is my most precious possession and I have willingly chosen to give it to another human person. That type of commitment shapes me. That type of love is the most real and important thing I could ever do in my life. No other relationship carries that weight and it is the gravity of the bond that makes it special. Through loving my wife, I will become the best me that I could ever be. My poverty gives me opportunities to receive her love. And her poverty gives me opportunities to give her my love. We go back and forth, giving and receiving, and never letting our cups run dry.
There is nothing easy about loving this way. Which is why we need grace. In Jesus’ teaching about the permanence of marriage, even his disciples found indissolubility to be a far-fetched idea:
“[His] disciples said to him, “If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”He answered, “Not all can accept [this] word,but only those to whom that is granted…Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” (Matthew 19: 10-12)
He is saying that grace is granted to those are disposed to receive it. There is not some exclusive club of a small number of people who can receive that grace. God’s love is given in superabundance to anyone who opens his heart to receive it. Marriage, as a sacrament, is a pipeline to that grace.
I still believe in marriage. Not just my own union, but as an institution. Nothing else lets us feel the fullness of our human capacities than journeying through life with our spouse. It is sheer grace that transforms our human love into something Divine… which is hopefully what will happen when death does me part.