3 Hallmarks To A Fulfilling Marriage

Realities To Live By

For the past few months our family has been in wedding prep mode. During the final three weeks the preparations became intense. A week ago we were setting up for the rehearsal and dinner. Six days ago the beautiful event took place without a hitch. As a result of all of this, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage. Add to this that Rhonda and I celebrated 39 years of marriage in June. In all this focus on marriage I’m discovering, with the help of others, new aspects of this unique relationship.

Here is what I’m discovering:

Marriage is Mystery.

Mystery implies something strange and marvelous. It cannot be figured out. It cannot be solved (like a murder “mystery”). How is it possible for parents to give up their children (whom they’ve known and loved for decades) and for the newlyweds (who have known each other for only a few years or months) leave everyone else and join themselves to each other? How can such oneness take place? How can marriage be a picture of Christ’s union with his church? This is not merely a human accomplishment. Every relationship is transformed. Everything changes when two people get married. And the changes never stop. If they stop, the marriage is in trouble. Marriage is a mysterious work of God to transform all of us into His likeness. The newlywed’s home is a monastery where its occupants learn to love and live in God’s life together.

Marriage is Martyrdom.

It is the venue where you show up to die. Marriage is not for your self-fulfillment (unless you understand fulfillment as dying daily) but for your self-crucifixion. Here is where you learn to check your ego, keep your mouth shut, serve, sacrifice, suffer, and embrace it all in Christ’s love. Here is where you plant yourself in the ground, die, and experience new life. At times you will be treated poorly, misunderstood, taken for granted, or dismissed. Yet, as you allow these realities to shape your heart, not reacting in ego-driven anger or shame, a better you will begin to emerge. Death brings forth life. Marriage is the crucible where new life takes place. (Ephesians 5.22, 25)

Marriage is Morality.

It is in the beautiful bond of marriage that chastity is preserved and cultivated. It is not just the “avoidance of immorality, but integrity of the person, body and soul, and direction of oneself towards holiness” (Catharine P. Roth, Introduction to On Marriage and Family Life; St. John Chrysostom). “Due to the temptation of immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman here own husband,” writes Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 7.2). One purpose of marriage is to make you chaste – to set a limit to your desires; teaching you to keep yourself for one person only. In marriage you can become more holy, pure, clean, sanctified (Ephesians 5.25 – 26).

There is so much more yet to be learned and experienced in marriage. There are no experts (some try to be) in this most intimate of human relationships.

As wonderful as our experience has been to watch two young people fall in love and get married, Rhonda and I are also close to a couple battling through an awful divorce. The first couple is aiming to live out their marriage with the guidance of these three realities. The second couple did not know about these realities let alone live them out.

A greater concern for me, however, is how I’m living out these realities. With Rhonda, am I growing in oneness, learning to die, and becoming more pure in my relationship with her? I can’t control the marriage of others but I certainly can do something about myself within my marriage.

Of the three realities above, which one resonated with you the most? What can you do about it? 

Dr. K 

P.S. My thoughts on marriage have been stimulated by the writings of St. John Chrysostom (349-407) some of which have been captured in On Marriage and Family Life, St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986. His thoughts are relevant to us today.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

4 thoughts on “3 Hallmarks To A Fulfilling Marriage

  1. Your thoughts do portray a very idealistic view of marriage. And there is scriptural evidence to support much of the idealism. But in the Bible most of the portrayals of marriage are a sloppy mess.
    Congratulations to you on the marriage of your dear daughter and the happiness you have in her choice for a husband. I remember that joy when my own daughter married 5 years ago. And I rejoice that her life is going well with her husband and their 2 sons.
    Also, congratulations on your fulfilling and enduring marriage. I also rejoice in my wife of 34 years and the blessing it is for us to be together.
    Yet as a pastor, it is hard for me to strike a balance between the ideal and how marriage exists in the Bible and in my congregation. I reread 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 often seeking where do I begin to apply the stark realities of marriage discussed in this passage. Throw in Romans 7 and Jesus’ teaching on marriage and where do I even begin to give a full orbed, biblical teaching on marriage?

    • Hi Greg. Thanks for engaging the blog and for your good comments. I understand that holding to an ideal is always good. Yet, the realities of life are…well…the realities. You don’t throw out the ideals because of the realities. Marriage is a mess as you said. Yet, God is in the midst of the mess teaching us to die, to live in the mystery of what it is for marriage to depict Christ’s love for the Church, and to struggle to live His design to use marriage as a purification station. What we do with it is up to us. We can mess it up pretty badly. That’s where your pastoral work comes in. You are there to shepherd lost souls to a better experience of God’s love in the midst of the mess. There is no full-orbed picture of marriage. There is just the mysterious journey to know God with marriage as a main pathway on the journey. My marriage is not always fulfilling. Only God can fulfill. In many ways, my marriage is a mess. Yet, God is using it to transform me into someone I never imagined. Your struggle in making sense of marriage is real and good. Maybe there is no making sense of it. It’s just to be lived. Yet lived as God designed it – mysterious and messy. I guess you’ve come up with the 4th “M.” Thanks be to God for all things!! Keith

  2. I was particularly struck by your statement “And the changes never stop. If they stop, the marriage is in trouble.” Earlier in my marriage this would have been a counter-intuitive statement. We knew things would change, but we didn’t think they’d keep changing. Fast-forward nearly 12 years, five homes in three states, three kids, four jobs, three degrees, and, and, and…not to mention the spiritual renovation we have been undergoing, and change has been constant.

    I lament, though, that we didn’t start out with the initial understanding that the spiritual and physical changes would be constant. Perhaps then we would have stayed more agile. As we step into our next steps of change, we are trying to implement a new posture: we pray for mercy, stay agile on our toes, and listen.

    Speaking of Martyrdom, I love the thought of marriage being a purification, where as “(we) allow these realities to shape your heart, not reacting in ego-driven anger or shame, a better (us) will begin to emerge.” Checking my ego, my sense of entitlement, and bringing it to be crucified…whew…how do I even begin?

    Thanks, Dr. K!

    • Hi Josh. Due to the changing nature of all of life, I think the best analogy for marriage is “journey.” We expect things to be different in the next mile from what they are now. The scenery is always changing. We are always changing. To embrace this is life-giving to our closest relationships. Your words on martyrdom…”how do I even begin?” introduce the Mystery that is marriage. How can this thing we call marriage kill us so that a vibrant, beautiful “oneness” relationship will emerge? — Oneness with Christ and oneness with our spouse. Primarily, marriage is about making us one with Christ. Now that’s a mystery that only God can bring about. Within your marriage is the best place to grow spiritually…to become a saint. It is so much more than a covenant. It is a mysterious relationship, with God at its core, working out His mercy and love among two people transforming each into His likeness. Thanks be to God!! Dr. K

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