I’ve imagined a column with this title for some time. While it sounds more than a little presumptuous, it is a topic to which I’ve given a great deal of thought.
For starters, as a counsellor and pastor, I have been invited into deep conversations with many individuals and couples about their marriages. I’m also curious about relationships—some might even say nosy—and I have engaged freely with my family and friends on the subject. And there’s the union I have shared with my partner for nearly 35 years. So I come to a reflection on the truth about marriage with significant experience.
The phrase pops into my mind regularly as I move in and out of people’s lives: sparkling new lovers as they shyly explore the gift of each other . . . . young parents who navigate the tumbling chaos of tending children . . . . mid-lifers emerging into the space of an empty nest and finding each other again . . . . elderly spouses who keep a long and faithful vigil by their partner’s deathbed . . . . and the people whose marriages end in the pain of divorce. In all these places, we might see glimpses of the truth about marriage.
Probably the phrase has been with me since a counsellor asked me and my spouse, “What is the deeper truth of your relationship?” In the years since then, I’ve returned to the question often, sometimes with gratefulness when we connect deeply, sometimes with my teeth gritted at longstanding frustrations, sometimes in the mundane moments of sharing a simple meal or the familiar comfort of our curled poses in bed. Seeking the deeper truth of a relationship clarifies one’s perspective and sharpens one’s resolve.
Our Scriptures speak to the truth of marriage. On the occasion of the first union, between Adam and Eve, the storyteller declares, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Jesus returns to this truth in response to questions about divorce (Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7). Paul also weaves this truth about marriage into his teachings on sexuality; he names it as a great mystery and goes so far as to apply it to Christ and the church (I Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 5:28-31). The truth in the Genesis passage seems to be centred on the three movements of leaving and clinging and becoming one, all of which merit their own thoughtful reflection.
Given the complexity of human life and relationships, it seems wise to shift from a declaration of the truth about marriage to a more modest offering of a truth about marriage. Today, I propose that we honour marriage as a sacred friendship; to be sacred is to set aside a holy boundaried place where we encounter the Divine. To be a friend means to leave aside something of one’s self-focus and interest, and to create space for the other’s needs and interests. It means leaning into each other—clinging together—to weather stormy winds and troubled waters. It means entering the crucible where two beings are, at least in part, shaped into one flesh.
To name marriage as sacred friendship is to bind together the holy and human qualities of our unions, a truth in which we can rest.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) lives in Winnipeg, Man., where she ponders family relationships as a pastor, counsellor and author.