I have been thinking a lot about marriage lately. Unfortunately, the reason for my thinking is the number of broken marriages that I have witnessed over the past couple of years. I myself come from a broken family.
I do not think of these folks in a judgmental way. Rather, I am brokenhearted because I love these people- all of them. They are my brothers and sisters. Beyond that, my spiritual father has said to me on more than one occasion “many men better than yourself have fallen.”
Marriage is not to be taken lightly. It is not for the faint of heart. It is not the “love” that we see paraded about us. Marriage is a very serious endeavor.
Marriage is martyrdom. This is the view of the Church. In the Orthodox Wedding, crowns are placed upon the heads of the bride and groom. These crowns are symbols of martyrdom. The Sacrament of Marriage is the beginning of the path of martyrdom for both individuals. Marriage is dying to self for the life of the other. Marriage is the martyric Icon of Christ and His Bride. (Galatians 5:22-33)
The idea of dying to one’s self is very easy to verbalize. It is a cliche which even in our day and age is commonly spoken of. However, this dying is very real and must be done on purpose. You cannot crucify the flesh incidentally. This is true outside of marriage, but marriage makes us feel it more acutely. In the life of a bachelor or bachelorette, it is easier to live for self and not feel the consequences. You can feel them a little more when one has roommates, but even then you can dismiss other’s feelings or glide along superficially. If things get bad enough you can leave and start fresh elsewhere.
In marriage, those are not options. You are one flesh. If you dismiss others’ feelings you will feel those consequences as harmony in the home is undone. It can lead to heated arguments. Or, if those involved are non-confrontational, it can lead to cover-ups which will only lead to devastating consequences later on.
In marriage the things that can be used against us by the evil one are endless. My spiritual father has told me that it is the simple and mundane things which are wielded against us with great success. We have all heard the jokes about arguments concerning how toilet paper is put on the roll or toilet seats left up. However, don’t be fooled into thinking those are laughing matters. Those very things are the early opportunities to die to self. As Christ told us “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” And to use a secular proverb “Everyone wants to save the world but no one wants to help mom with the dishes.”
The greatest advice I have ever received, which I have been thinking about lately, comes from direction that my spiritual father has given to my wife and I. He has told us that we must give in to one another. This is simple and not so simple. This is where the little things will make or break us. When your wife wants to arrange furniture a certain way or, as in the case of my wife, your husband does not want to get rid of any of his books. Give in to your wife when she has a certain way of handling things in the kitchen or give into your husband when he has a certain schedule he likes to keep in the evening.
When I discussed this idea of giving in to each other with my wife she spoke of how we do this by giving each other space to be who we are. We die to ourselves and this allows the other to be themself. My wife gives me the space to write this even now while she is in the kitchen preparing a meal. I give her the space to work on projects after I get home from work by watching the kids. She further pointed out that when we have done this successfully we end up getting what we wanted to begin with. To illustrate this she gave the example of how she had always wanted me to be involved in homesteading projects that I am not as inclined to enjoy. Over time she has noticed that when she gave me time to do the things that I wanted to do I naturally, even unconsciously, got more involved in her projects even, at times, with enthusiasm.
When you give in to each other and give each other space you allow the other to recharge their batteries. This is a cyclical pattern because they use that energy to allow you to charge yours.
We have not always been good at this and we still have a long way to go. In fact, there is no end to this struggle. To this, I point to something my spiritual father asks me after every confession- “are you going to continue to struggle?” I answer yes and then He always says “remember Jesus loves you.” We will fail and our spouses will fail but we must continue to fight the good fight and to die daily that we might live.
Marriage is not for the faint of heart. It is full of perils. It is easy to fall. It is hard to die to self. It never allows for a respite.
At the same time, marriage is a path to salvation. It is a path of friendship. A path of love. A path of joy. It is an Icon of Christ and His Church.
Marriage is martyrdom and ends in Heavenly Crowns.