I’ve often thought that every pastor (well… nearly every pastor) has a sense of the one thing that’s wrong with the church in America. I think of it as the “if only’s”… if only we had more expository preaching; if only we had more evangelism; if only people really believed what they say they believe; if only we abandoned empty tradition; if only we honored the traditions of our fore-fathers; etc.
Marriage counselors, too, have their favorite if-only. One of mine is that if couples understood – really understood – that life is not a movie and there are no Hollywood endings, then husbands and wives would stop feeling entitled to uber-happiness and actually stay together for life.
With that in mind, I give you two of my favorite marriage quotes. The first is from Lewis Smedes. Smedes was a reformed pastor and Fuller Seminary professor. The second is from Bill Doherty. I don’t know what Doherty’s spiritual beliefs are; I do know he is one of the preeminent marriage therapists on the stage today.
“Anybody’s marriage is a harvest of suffering. Romantic lotus-eaters may tell you marriage was designed to be a pleasure-dome for erotic spirits to frolic in self-fulfilling relations. But they play you false. Your marriage vow was a promise to suffer. Yes, to suffer; I will not take it back. You promised to suffer, only to suffer with, however. You get your share of suffering from, willy-nilly, thrown at you. You promised to suffer with. It made sense because the person you married was likely to get hurt along the route, sooner or later, more or less, but hurt he or she was bound to get. And you promised to hurt with your spouse. A marriage is a life of shared pain.”
-Lewis B. Smedes
I now think of marriage like I think about living in my home state of Minnesota. You move into marriage in the springtime of hope, but eventually arrive at the Minnesota winter, with its cold and darkness. Many of us are tempted to give up and move south at this point, not realizing that maybe we’ve hit a rough spot in a marriage that’s actually above average. The problem with giving up, of course, is that our next marriage will enter its own winter at some point. So do we just keep moving on, or do we make our stand now–with this person, in this season? That’s the moral, existential question we face when our marriage is in trouble.