Mu husband and I belong to a small Bible Study group. We meet Thursday nights and have a perfectly hilarious time every week. At the moment, we’re working our way through a book called Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll. It’s a pretty controversial study, apparently, but we’re loving it. It’s challenging us and forcing us to be (sometimes painfully) honest with one another.
I’m not reviewing it. It’s not Monday, for goodness sakes.
Something about this past weeks reading just jumped out at me and I wanted to use this Rag to talk about it.
Martin Luther. Father of the Protestant reformation, and apparently a not-so-bad model of what marriage should be.
Stay with me.
I’ll give you the short version, but Martin Luther was essentially forced into his marriage to Katharina von Bora (by Katharina von Bora, incidentally). She was apparently not attractive in the facial area, and none too pleasant to be around. He said later that he married her “to spite the devil.”
But out of a marriage that seemed doomed to hateful unpleasantness, a beautiful friendship and a sweet, affectionate love grew. In letters, they referred to each other by pet nicknames, praised each others judgement and wisdom, and spoke of an enduring friendship that had grown between them. Read the story sometime. It’s a good one.
The point is, somehow we have lost the meaning of our marriage vows. We promise to love until death, then throw in the towel when we find that we have fallen “out of love”. It never occurs to us that the feeling of butterflies and the infatuation are not the true definition of love, but we put so much stock on that feeling, and we hinge our expectations and our happiness on it.
Marital love should be, at its base, a friendship. And everyone knows that friendship requires work. You have to make time, you have to communicate, you have to go out and really work hard to make a friendship flourish, especially when you factor in kids and activities and work. We manage to do it with our girlfriends (and guy friends, I assume), but somehow our spouses get lost in the jumble of life. Somehow we forget that the friendship we put the most effort into is the one that will stand the test of time, and if it isn’t the friendship with our spouse, then that may well be the one that crumbles.
Martin Luther and Katherine De Bora are such a testament to the idea that being “in love” is not actually essential to a marital relationship. Cultivate a friendship, and love – the deep, abiding kind – will blossom.
I don’t claim to be an expert in marriage. I’ve only been married three years. but I still recognize a lot of truth in the idea of marriage as a friendship, and one that requires constant attention.
Today you get left with one of my favorite quotes, by the indomitable CS Lewis:
Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.
And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably never was nor ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?
But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense–love as distinct from “being in love”–is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else.
“Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.