Faith Works 5-15-10
Just one quarter-century later…
So here we are, married for 25 years.
It's more than that, actually, since we dated for four years before that. My wife and I passed the "known each other half our lives mark" a while back, and (ahem) are now married for that percentage of our journeys as well.
It seems like I've known her forever, and that we just met a little while ago: funny how that is.
25 years isn't one of those major mega anniversaries, what with Willard Scott having all these 75 and 80 year marriages on along with the centenarians. 50 is golden, 75 is diamond, and 25 is silver, but after our microwave broke last week and the new one arrived (happy anniversary, honey!) it feels like it ought to be the Styrofoam jubilee, or maybe corrugated.
We can't say that "everyone said it wouldn't last," because they didn't; the campus ministry where we met and ultimately married (yes, we met at a church committee meeting, it was kismet) would often get very excited about engagement announcements during the post-worship fellowship time. When we announced ours, the reaction was a polite, "well, sure." Apparently it was both obvious and inevitable.
Staying married used to be that, which of course it is not anymore. 25 years may be a harder trick than getting to 50 these days, given a generational shift between those two eras that's still hitting us with aftershocks. And now, with medical advances, if you can build a marriage to the quarter-century mark, it should readily stand the storms of life and tests of the times to a half-century and beyond.
The big increase in this last twenty years has been in the early divorce. I know that some reading this would like me to make the Biblical and moral case for why cohabitation is wrong, which I'm happy to preach on at length on a Sunday, but in a 700 word column aimed at a general audience thinking variously about what faith means, I'm content with saying: we've run a generation long experiment on cohabitation as a tool for building healthier, happier marriages, and the data are in.
It doesn't work.
Cohabitation doesn't promote stability throughout your life, it doesn't increase marital happiness, and it doesn't reduce divorce. Quite the contrary. The fact that I know a number of couples who lived together, sometimes for quite a while, before "tying the knot" in a legal or liturgical sense, and have stayed married for a long time – that just means that demographically there are more people who have lived together, but the stats are pretty clear that the numbers go strongly towards cohabitation making relationships weaker, less stable, more likely to split. The exceptions, blessings to all of them, don't contradict that fact.
Churches have struggled with how to minister to couples in this new environment. If you say things like . . . oh, like what I just said in this column, from the pulpit, are you condemning all the couples now married and solid and stable sitting in your pews, who lived together before marriage? How do you teach a clear message to your youth when not only the culture but institutions and even most of their families will be telling them something quite different?
I would affirm, both here and in my preaching mode, that the key here is not to say what marriage is better than or what manner of life is worse, but to simply proclaim, with great love and clarity what marriage is: a model of God's intention for Christ and the church, a secure basis for building not only families but the indispensible element of community itself, and a school for the soul in good times and bad.
Do other manners of life know nothing of those things? Certainly not, but I can say, from scripture, and tradition, and my own beloved experience that it is certainly and indisputably true that an enduring marriage is the revelation of God's redemptive work in creation, an ultimate reality of its own that connects us the reality that is God.
Thanks for preaching me that sermon, Joyce. I'm ready to listen another 25 years!
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him about life & marriage & listening at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.