What's Tony Thinking

Marriage: Grace Required


As readers of this blog know, my wife, Linda, and I celebrated our 50th anniversary this past May.

Marriage depends on — requires — grace. Which means at least two things. There’s grace on the human level, and then there’s God’s grace.

Level one grace means that the people involved in a marriage are more interested in being in relationship than they are interested in being right. This doesn’t mean that right and wrong don’t matter. They do. Only not ultimately.

The second thing it means to say that marriage depends on grace is not so much about our graciousness toward one another, but about the grace of God. That is, there is a power in the universe — God’s grace — that works forever toward healing and new life. Marriage relies on this, requires this — the grace of God, a power and mercy not our own. Trusting this grace is the challenge.

In a recent article in The Christian Century, Craig Barnes, a regular contributor, reflected on marriage. His thoughts were prompted by the wedding of his stepson.

“I have officiated at a lot of weddings, but I am still amazed by this moment when flawed young adults, nurtured in love by their even more flawed parents, make vows to be bound together for the rest of their lives.

“They have no idea about what their future holds, no clue about who they will be in 50 or even ten years, not can they imagine the wounds they will give each other along the way. They’re dependent on the grace of God if their marriage is to survive, and even more if it does not.”

I too have officiated a lot of weddings. A fair number have taken place at the edge of some body of water — a lake, the Sound, the ocean.

It’s a  beautiful and romantic setting, but something more. Just as we have no certain knowledge of what lies beneath the water at which edge we cling, so the future lies hidden from us. We don’t know what it will bring. What it will give to us. What it will require of us.

In the face of this uncertainty, of the hidden depths, the promises of marriage are, I often said, “crazy,” “wild.” Therein lies the romance. After all, if you’ve got it all lined out in the pre-nup, every contingency anticipated, where’s the romance? Or just living together so long as it “works for me” — where’s the romance in that?

Barnes continues,

“Like so many couples before them, they took each others hands and vowed, ‘I will always be loving and faithful to you.’ How can they make such a claim? Only by counting on the grace of God that will be more faithful to them than they can be to each other.

“Both of them are preacher’s kids, raised in churches that proclaim God’s grace every Sunday. They understand grace. But when you’re 22, you haven’t had enough time to discover how desperately you’re going to need it.”

True that. Well, one thing I can say after 50 years of marriage is that I have had a fair bit of time and experience to discover just “how desperately” I need God’s grace to make a marriage work.

I suspect that, from the outside, marriage continues to look like the safe, bourgeois option. I get that. But those of us who have been at it a while know something different. Marriage asks a lot. Actually, everything. And, we are utterly — desperately — dependent on the grace of God as we sail on these beautiful, dangerous waters.

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