Only I would get teary-eyed in a gym. Not from the pain of the weights I was lifting but from the grave news I had just received: the marriage of two old friends had fallen apart. Moments before, I had crossed paths with someone who knew them well. I hadn’t gotten all the details--who, what, when, where, and why. Frankly, it was none of my business and it didn’t matter to me. Another marriage had died and that was weight enough to consider.
As the news settled in my mind, the heaviness and grief grew in increasing measure on my heart and spirit. My mind traipsed from disappointment to grief, and then to gratitude. I was disappointed in these friends and grieved that a covenant, meant to last forever, had ended. Yet I experienced renewed gratefulness to my parents for their marriage of almost 40 years. Oh marriage. Where does one begin?
I grew up understanding that marriage is a lifetime commitment. Those star-studded moments of wedding vows and “Forever I will’s” at the altar were meant to initiate a lifetime of growing together, investing in communities, raising children, and being an incredible unit to serve God. As a little girl, I would learn of adults getting a divorce and feel like I’d heard the scandal of a lifetime. “Marriage for forever” was the standard and the norm. Two plus two equals four was an unchanging mathematical equation. In my understanding, it was the same with marriage. So to experience a ripping apart of a cemented union, even as a little girl, grieved me. Divorce wasn’t supposed to happen then. It isn’t supposed to happen now.
I still believe that “marriage for forever” is the ideal, even in the 21st century. But I am not oblivious to the reality that marriage’s reputation and track record have declined. These days divorce feels like the routine. We have lowered our expectations; two marriages in one lifetime seem like the trend. If someone’s marriage makes it to 15 years, we’re shocked. Gone are the days when grandparents are on a track record to celebrate their 60th anniversary and faithfully stay committed to one another.
Why is it that my generation craves commitment and safety but struggles so profoundly to find these things within the marriage structure? Why have we wandered so far off the well-worn path? Lifetime marriages have worked pretty well for centuries. Why not now? Why is my generation just washing their hands and saying “It’s too hard for me; I’m walking away”?
What happened to resilience to keep our marriage promises, even through the barrage of pain and struggle? Has the overall value of this bond been so lost on our shallow understanding that we equate it with a pair of dirty socks to wash, or an apple that’s past its expiration date? What has happened to us as a culture?
Most of our wedding vows still include the phrase, “till death us do part.” But now, the subliminal message is that when the feelings change, we deserve the freedom to go our separate ways.
Try as we might, we cannot dismiss how deeply the death of a marriage influences those outside of the marriage. A broken marriage will damage the couple and their children, but its pain and shock will also rock the broader community.
How should we react to broken marriages and are we reacting at all? When we hear the news of a marriage falling apart, be it in a public or private setting, and we don’t cringe--perhaps we should check our own soul.
Perhaps we need to educate our emotions to feel this pain again and work to understand what marriage for life is supposed to look like. Maybe we need to ask the older and wiser among us about the benefits and pitfalls of marriage. And perhaps, in the quiet chambers of our heart, we need to surrender our own self-focused ambitions and admit that a marriage covenant made before God is more valuable than our own limited understanding of happiness.
Divorce is not supposed to be the norm. And if it means my generation has to make it less normal, so be it. We must turn this devastation around. Like no generation before us, I believe it will take those of us who have experienced the brutal effects of divorce to make marriage a thing of value again.
To restore the beautiful covenant of marriage, we must first acknowledge that marriage breakup is a problem. Upon acknowledging it, we must check our own souls. And then, like those tears in the gym, we must return to a place where the break up of a marriage is worthy of our reaction.Media: