As a devout cradle Catholic, I was raised with a traditional, Catholic understanding of what marriage is. I was also blessed to have two parents who strove to live out a Catholic marriage through the good times and the bad and who defied the frequently cited statistic that 50% of marriages today end in divorce. More and more today, however, I see and hear claims that marriage can be whatever you want it to be, that marriage is just about being with the person you love so long as you both make each other happy, that marriage is making it work as long as both people are “keeping up their side of the bargain.” According to our world today, marriage is an arrangement that two people make so long as it is pretty, fun, and happy, and it is ultimately an arrangement that is solely and completely about those two people.
A month or so ago as I was having dinner with one of my dearest friends and her family, I had that subliminal message completely slapped down. Dinner had just finished and I was waiting in the kitchen, doing a few dishes, while my friend and her husband put their two small boys to bed, after which she and I planned to enjoy a quiet cup of tea and uninterrupted conversation. As I waited, I watched the understandable chaos of bedtime ensue. My friend’s nearly 4-year-old son ran frantically back and forth in front of the kitchen door loudly searching for his milk, his toy, his anything that he needed (that would also conveniently delay bedtime). Her nearly 2-year-old son was calling out that he needed both mommy and daddy to be there for the unchangeable, all-important bedtime ritual.
In the midst of the scene, rather frightening and overwhelming to an as yet childless person, a song came over the speakers playing in the kitchen. It was the song that I had watched my friend and her husband dance to nearly 6 years ago on the day that they promised to love each other in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, for better or for worse, until death parts them. When they promised to welcome children lovingly as a gift from God and to raise those children according to the teachings of the church. The initial contrast between those two moments, snapshots in time and in the life of this family, struck me deeply. The one image of two beautiful human beings on one of the happiest and most perfectly orchestrated days of their lives. The other of a mundane, rather chaotic moment that will likely be repeated hundreds more times. Despite the outward dissimilarity between the two situations, the presence of my friend’s first dance song brought into light that this chaotic moment was really the deeper picture of that perfect beginning of their marriage from six years earlier.
My friend and her husband entered into a marriage. Not a contract or arrangement simply for their own happiness. They entered into a covenant that has at its heart to love and care for another person, and all the persons who come from it, totally and completely, when it’s not deserved or earned, and through the years where it’s not necessarily fun. It is beautiful, yes. The scene that I witnessed was incredibly beautiful to me, but I imagine that my friend and her wonderful husband probably didn’t have the time or energy to stop and revel in that beauty. They were too busy actually living out a marriage, with all of the mess and sacrifice that makes it so wonderful and strange to a world that seems to have forgotten how to take up its cross and thus find true happiness and fulfillment.