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Unflinching Love: In Praise of Marriage as Spiritual Therapy

February 11, 2009

Valentines Day is coming up. It is tempting to gloss-up this post with a trite but heartfelt Dobson-approved sentiment and be on my way, but a real love relationship is more complicated than that…

This year my beautiful wife and I will be celebrating twenty-four years of marriage. That is certainly a long time for two people to be living together. In certain circles, that is enough time to qualify for freak-show status. We married in our early twenties, at the time both of us recent college graduates. We thought of ourselves as full-fledged adults back then, but really, we were still just kids with very little experience of true responsibility in life. We have been through quite a lot since then, and can safely say that we have grown up together – both of us at different times tragically leaving behind our naïve, simplified and over-spiritualized views of the world – the baggage that we carried in from our church and family upbringings.

Despite all the growing pains throughout the years, I must say that the end result is all good. The churning and the chaos, the high hopes and the accomplishments, the ecstasy, the devastation, it all melds together to create a beautiful palette of what is now uniquely our own marriage. We are constantly amazed by our dysfunctional desire to be together, always. There is a unique comfort and assurance we take in knowing each other so well, having lived through so much, having seen so much in and through each other. To me, that is what all that “one flesh” stuff in the bible was talking about. It’s so much more than just the physical union of sex. It’s about the meshing together over time. The meshing together of two completely independent, unique, stubborn, empty souls into one whole, working unit.

It’s not always pretty, by traditional standards. But like fine art and wine, the beauty appreciates with time.

Here’s what I have learned about marriage. Because the intimacy of the relationship between two people is so intensely concentrated, it becomes a little microcosm of God’s manifestation in life: sacrifice, forgiveness, redemption, and of course, unconditional love are all played out in the field of marriage. We can either get on board and learn how to do these things in and through our relationship, or the marriage becomes forever lost.

I once read a book written by a marriage counselor who said that marriage is the best therapy one can ever experience for personal growth. When it came time in the book to discuss solutions for handling disagreements and conflict in a marriage, his advice was simple. One of the partners has to change. Duh. Just as simple as that. Once you get beyond the defensiveness of being right and thinking that you’re view of the world is the only reality and that this is just how you are wired and you can’t do anything about that – once you stop obsessing about all those things – just humble down and change. It’s funny, you don’t realize how self-centered and self-absorbed you are until you try to live with someone else for a long time, and work it out together. I think the professionals call this “psycho-spiritual growth.”

I remember a little segment that CNN did last year for Valentines Day. They interviewed various couples who had successful marriages that had lasted for over twenty years. In one of the interviews a gentleman was saying, “I grew in ways I never thought was even possible. My wife challenged me to see that ‘my way’ was not the only perspective in the world, and she forced me to think about things that were very difficult for me.” I can relate.

When I was younger, I used to worry that Jesus was disappointed with my domestic devotion to a wife, family and career. Marriage, after all, does bring with it a certain amount of economic responsibility, which leads to a focus on the “non-spiritual” aspects of life, such as job, mortgage, household appliances, the baby stroller, the big-girl bed, college tuition…well, you know what I mean. I was haunted by that scripture in Matthew 13 – the seed-throwing parable where the good seed was sown and then got choked out by the “worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth.” I pictured God shaking his head in disappointment when my name came up. “That Bradley Moore, I had big plans for him! If only he made more of an effort to stay in the good soil!” I struggled, trying to reconcile the responsibilities of my grown up married life with the tone taken throughout much of scriptures. It seemed like the biblical writers portrayed domestic life of work and marriage and family as secondary and inferior compared to having a single, passionate focus on spreading the gospel and “following Jesus.” This would frustrate me to no end. Couldn’t Jesus and the disciples and those other guys who wrote the gospels and the epistles have given us fathers and husbands a little more credit? Instead we hear them encouraging men to stay single, don’t get married unless your loins are burning up.

Now, however, after having a few laps under my belt, I say the truth is that working out a marriage and family life is one of the most self-less things you can do in learning to live out the truths of Jesus’ teaching.

Question: Who do you think is the nobler person: Someone who has a great impact on many people, while only developing limited intimacy with any one of them; or a person who devotes his entire life learning to completely love one person, foregoing the multitudes?

I know what my answer is.

For the unflinching beauty of facing love head-on, for the spiritual growth I’ve gained, I am forever indebted to my wife. Beth, I love you. Here’s to the next twenty- four.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2009 10:28 pm

    i hope that you two have many more years together.

  2. February 15, 2009 9:23 pm

    What a lovely, honest and candid tribute. My favorite part: “. . . working out a marriage and family life is one of the most self-less things you can do in learning to live out the truths of Jesus’ teaching.” So true, and so good to remember. Thanks.

  3. February 10, 2010 7:17 pm

    Sweet. : )

  4. February 10, 2010 11:29 pm

    I’ve found the same thing, Bradley: that the meshing of two lives in marriage can be both messy and marvelous…but it does sound like marriage has grown to be mostly marvelous for you and Beth.

    Congratulations on 24 years!

  5. February 10, 2010 11:31 pm

    Wait…if this post is from last Valentine’s Day, does that make this year your 25th?

  6. February 11, 2010 10:30 am

    I love your honesty. Happy Anniversary to you and your wife, and to the family you honour and cherish above self.

    You know there was a time when I lived by two mantras , that Jesus never went to church, and that he didn’t have a spouse and kids .

    I’ve grown and grown up since those early days.

  7. February 11, 2010 2:19 pm

    This hit me – I am married to a man who doesn’t care to change the world in a huge way. He cares about changing my world and the world of our girls. Which he does beautifully and consistently.
    Guess how the recipients feel? Highest on the priority list. We give him and A+ all the time. He gives his best to us, any leftovers drip out from here. It is the sweetest honor.

  8. February 12, 2010 8:23 am

    You’ve described what I see in my own marriage — that “little microcosm of God’s manifestation in life.” You speak witht he heart of a poet, sir.

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