To my young friends: why you should consider marriage

Most of the time, unsolicited advice falls on deaf ears. And perhaps it should.

Among the younger set, we adults get a deserved rap for being kind of pushy with our opinions. To be fair, we usually have a lot of good experience to back up our advice, and hopefully we’re sharing because we’re caring, not because were just busybody assholes.

The Great Recession has hit 20-somethings hard. They’re leaving college with a lot of debt, heading into a rough employment market, stuck living at home far longer than they’d hoped, and delaying marriage for plenty of reasons including an honest hard look at their economic options right now.

There’s plenty of pressure today for relationships to stay loose and undefined. Our new ways of communication — texting, FaceTime, social media, Tinder — redefine what it means to be “connected.” New rules have emerged: like if someone texts you and you don’t immediately respond, you’re either angry/displeased or you’re committing a huge social faux pas. The struggle is real.

Buzzfeed for the win
Buzzfeed for the win

I am so thankful I didn’t grow up in a world where “dating” meant  24/7 social contact. To be “always on,” in constant contact by text or chat. No one should have to live a fishbowl life like that, yet it’s what I see in the lives of Millennials. The pressure to always respond, always reply, always be interested — I’m not much of an introvert, but even I find the idea alone exhausting.

Even when we were engaged, Coart and I were forced by the shape our grad-school lives and the state of 90s technology to make do with the limited time we had to see each other. An hour here or there, maybe studying at the same table in the library. Even the goodnight call was short. We eagerly awaited our wedding day because it would mark the last night we had to say “goodbye” in place of good night.

So I understand why marriage looks less ideal given the easy communication of our connected world, the uncertainties of a young adult’s life, and the bad examples set by the adults in their lives. (The overall divorce rate is 50%, though divorce rates for marriages in the 2000s are much lower so maybe the cautionary tales of the Boomers did some good.)

So given all these realities, it’s no wonder that moving in for a test drive before signing up for a lifetime of matrimony seems like the sensible thing to do.

Amid all these changes, and at risk of offering advice where it is unwanted, I want to make a case for why 20-somethings in a serious relationship should consider marriage over cohabitation.

I hate to be misunderstood, so please note: I’m not crafting a moral club to beat people with here; I’m trying to start a conversation. I think marriage has advantages that aren’t as easy to see from the outside.

That, and I’ve been married for 17 years, so I’d like to think I have a worthwhile perspective on what’s good about it.

1. It’s an institution that pictures community. 
Marriage is more public than cohabitation, and that has some consequences. Even if you head to the JP to get hitched, your marriage will be witnessed by at least one other human being. And most married couples stick with the traditional path of a public ceremony, which means something to the community you’re in.

I have a friend who instead of saying “I was a bridesmaid” says “stood up in their wedding” when referring to participating in a friend’s ceremony. I like that. I think it communicates much more clearly what’s actually happening when we are involved in the wedding of a friend (though no one ever seems to bring this up):  when I “stand up with” you up there, I’m offering my public commitment to support you in your commitment to a lifetime partnership.

Cohabitation offers little opportunity for people to step forward and say, “I’m with you.” Sure, you can have a tool shower or housewarming party, but it’s not the same. I realize that attending your wedding may not mean much either for my perseverance in caring about you and your marriage, but at least I’m going to be challenged to think about it.

In fact, I think one of the greatest downsides to “let’s just move in together” is that it robs the rest of us (your friends) of the chance to celebrate your partnership with a raucous wedding reception and terrible dancing three drinks in.

2. The psychological shift (in your own mind) that comes from making a public commitment to a “permament” partnership is worth it. 

Marriage is a unique relationship. It’s more than being sexual partners. It’s more than being best friends.  It’s not just a different flavor of “roommate.” It’s deeper than a financial partnership.

Marriage is for keeps.

When you take the steps necessary to incarnate your love for one another in a ceremony and legal document, you’re offered the chance to make this vow: I love you unconditionally. (That’s what the “for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better and for worse” part of the traditional vows is getting at.)

Marriage is hard, not because it’s “marriage” per se but because deciding every day that I’m going to love my husband more than I did yesterday requires that I sacrifice some of myself for his benefit. It’s a daily challenge, not because he’s a trouble to live with (he’s not) but because I’m a self-centered, difficult human being and he’s in my space.

Knowing that I signed up for a lifetime of this, and that I promised I wouldn’t quit when I stop feeling like I love him is foundational to the deal. That’s what unconditional love means. It’s not unconditional until you run into something in the other person that erodes your chipper can-do attitude about how much you love him/her.

Cohabitation can develop really deep feelings of loyalty and partnership, and I do find great merit in “common law” recognition of long-held partnerships as marriages. (Because I think they are, by that point.) But when you’re young, just living together means you’re heading into some very difficult storms without much of an anchor. In fact….

3. Your support network can’t take you seriously if you aren’t clearly “seriously committed.” 

A solid relationship that lasts will be a relationship grounded in a support network. That network has already been partially built by the time you get together, but it’s going to need more people to be effective across the length of your lifetime.  Life is never about just you. Lone wolves (and couples) get eaten in this world.

It’s not that cohabitation strips you of your support network. Not at all.  But I do think, lacking the confirmation of a marriage —that you’re serious about making this work— many of us more experienced married couples (who ought to be mentoring you) are less likely to fight for the survival of your relationship when you come to us weeping and angry and ready to throw in the towel.

Note that I said when, not if.

Truth is, cohabitation looks like “try before you buy.” And who am I to tell you to make the commitment if you aren’t sure yourself?

But once it’s made, once you’ve stated “before God and these witnesses” that you want to make a go of it for keeps, I’ve got better footing to encourage you to make it work and walk with you through the hard parts. (I’m assuming that we aren’t talking about domestic abuse or anything similarly destructive. That is a totally different conversation.)

Your relationship will face deep, difficult problems, because you are a broken, difficult person. Whether those problems wreck your relationship has much to do with how serious you are about making it through together and how much help you get from the people around you.

4. Living like you’re married without the commitment of marriage can load you down with emotional baggage and heavier expectations than you’re ready for. 

The pressure of a joint household apart from a commitment to a united life can be suffocating.  You still have to make all the same decisions of a married couple — whether you’ll keep your dishes or his, whether you’ll live near her workplace or yours, how you’re going to prioritize your spending to achieve mutual goals — and all of those decisions take time and thought and commitment to your needs as a couple.

And since you’re sleeping together, you’re also cementing a physical intimacy that generates deep emotional intimacy and vulnerability, but without affirming that should you “slip up” and create a life, you’ve thought through the ramifications of child-bearing, rearing (or aborting – not a choice I support, but among your options).

You’re binding together your lives, finances, career trajectories, health care options, vacation plans, budgets, student debt, and friend circles.

Undoing all of these connections now that you’ve melted things together will tear you into much worse pieces should the unthinkable happen and this partnership blow apart.

So why aren’t you getting married?

There are lots of great reasons not to get married: you’re too immature or emotionally unready, you’re undecided about this partner, you can’t afford to support yourself yet, your job or grad schoolwork takes away all the time you would need to foster a healthy relationship… to name a few.

But those reasons, if they are true of you, should equally warn you against creating all of the financial, physical, practical, and emotional bonds of a marriage apart from the actual commitment of a life together. In other words, get side-by-side apartments if you must. But you’re not ready to live together either.

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Hey, it’s my view. It doesn’t have to be your view, and if you disagree with me, we are still friends. I won’t make it awkward, I promise. Everyone is always welcome at my table.

But I figured it was worth taking the time to explain what I think and why.  And I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop me a comment.

Good read: The Small, Happy Life – NYTimes.com

A a delightful read on vocation and calling that focuses on the small bits of life. Satisfaction emerges from small acts of love and meaning.

“Perhaps,” she concludes, “the mission is not a mission at all. … Everywhere there are tiny, seemingly inconsequential circumstances that, if explored, provide meaning” and chances to be generous and kind. Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.

via The Small, Happy Life – NYTimes.com.

To my students, upon their graduation from high school, May 2015

Script for the commencement address at New Covenant School,
May 22, 2015

Friends, parents, students, and—most importantly—NCS Class of 2015:

It is with deep gratitude that I take the podium tonight to celebrate your completion of a very long race. I am honored that you asked me to speak at your commencement, and as a return favor, I promise to keep my thoughts short and to the point. It’s no light calling to stand in front of talented, bright young people and say anything that might be considered ‘wisdom.’  Even a fool, when he keeps his peace, is considered wise—so Solomon tells us—so I will keep my words few.

To return to the school where I spent a decade of my life teaching is an emotional experience this evening. I taught many of you as far back as that awkward junior high phase, when all of your friendships were messy and the boys were still playing with plastic Army men while the girls, having grown a foot taller and discovered “real men,” whispered in the corner about all the hott guys in the movies.

Therefore, we share some of the same fond memories from the years when I taught you Shakespeare and Dante and Greek mythology, or dragged you kicking and screaming into a new Latin conjugation, or taught you how to survive “Honey If You Love Me Smile” without cracking up in drama class.

Several of you were in the 7th grade class who performed that Sherlock Holmes play that was just a bit outside your reach for performance—but I was so proud of you for trying.

DSC01822You dressed up as cave men for Barbarian Day that year too and, if I remember correctly, recorded an adorable video of Beyonce’s “All The Single Ladies,” rewritten as “All You Cave Ladies.”  I’m pretty sure I’ve still got that video footage tucked away on YouTube, for bribery. Just in case.

And although I wasn’t here to take you all the way to the end of your high school journey, I can see that you’ve grown into a fine group of young adults, capable of tackling the challenges you will soon face in “the real world.”  I imagine it feels like you’ve learned all the things, taken all the tests, survived all the projects, and swum through all the drama. Drama in the interpersonal sense, not the cooler “on stage” sense, though you’ve done that too.

Now you’re sitting here in these seats at NCS for the last time, on the cusp of the biggest transition you’ve ever faced—to this point at least.

What I want you to remember, above everything else you will hear this graduation season about your accomplishments and your future and your potential, is this:  Your life is not for you.

Did you hear me?

Your life is not your own.

This simple idea flies in the face of everything the world is telling you. Around every corner you will hear people telling you to follow your passions (a good idea, really) and to pursue your dreams (sure) and to make sure you select a major in college that will make you a lot of money (a riskier gamble, in my opinion).

I’m here to tell you what is a much less popular idea, but very true.  Your life decisions affect more than just you. They affect everyone around you.  And that’s important.  If you’re going to accomplish anything in this life, you’ve got to recognize that you cannot do it alone. And you cannot do it for yourself alone.

The Apostle John records Jesus’ words:  “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (Jn 12:24).  And in case we missed the point, Matthew tells us,  “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 16:24-25).

You’re not living your life for you.  You’re not picking a career just for your benefit, though your life’s work will bring rich benefits to your life and your family and your community.  You aren’t on this planet to make yourself happy, though a life lived in the Grace of God and for the Kingdom of God will most likely be a life of Joy, for God is a Father who loves His children.

You’re here to love.

Jesus, when asked to name the “greatest commandment” that we all should ‘focus on,’ replied with an answer that you know by heart:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these hang all the Law and Prophets.”

You weren’t put here to love yourself.  You were put here to love God as hard as you can with everything you have all the time, and to love other people.

It’s easy to make this mandate complicated than it is. We can get all caught up in arguing over who we’re supposed to love and whether we think they “deserve it.” (Not that any of us deserve the Grace that God pours out on us every single day; He sacrificed Himself to absolve our sin and loves us fully and completely when we were absolutely unlovable.)

We can argue over “who is my neighbor,” when really the answer is simply to love the person in front of you, the people around you, the people in your way, the people you’d rather not have to deal with.

If you invest your life in other people, if you focus your career goals not on money or fame or power but on bringing the most good to the people you’re supposed to love, then you will find what you really want out of life: fulfillment. Meaning.  Joy.

If you came to NCS when Coart and I taught here alongside Jack Knipe and Joey Thames and Debbie Smith and so many others, you might remember some of the “catch phrases” that peppered our conversations in class and at recess and as we sat around the lunch tables.

Remember this?  The “good kid” isn’t the one who stays out of trouble. The good kid is the one who does good.

Goodness—righteousness—in the biblical sense is active. It’s not passive. It’s not wimpy. It’s not sitting back and allowing other people to assume all the risks or finding a way to get what you want without getting caught. It’s impossible to separate being good from doing good.

Your highest calling, dear ones, is not to “achieve greatness.”  It is to walk the path that your Savior already walked, the path of the Cross, the path of sacrifice and hard work and sometimes tears in pursuit of loving God and loving others.

It is your choice. But the call—the vocation—I set before you today is the call to live a life centered on the love of God in your life poured out into the lives of others.  It’s ok if you don’t know what that means. It’s ok if you aren’t settled yet on who God is or how He fits into your life. If there’s one thing God is very good at, it’s making Himself known to you at exactly the right time. He will find you.

Pursue a life calling that matches your talents (what you’re good at) with a deep and difficult problem in the world that you’d like to help solve.

Start now. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten your college degree or “know enough” or have earned enough money to be “stable” or figured out what you’re supposed to do with your life. I’m 20 years older than you and I’m still “figuring out what I’m supposed to do with my life.” But I do know that whatever my job title may be, whatever your job title may be (and remember, your job might not have even been invented yet), our mutual calling is to Love God and Love Others.

Because the incredible thing about Love is, the more you pour out, the more you have to give.

God bless you as you walk your journey. I cannot wait to see where you go and what you do in the power of the God who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:6). Thank you.

Mad Max: Fury Road is Great. Here’s Why It’s Also Important. | Tor.com

Great read. And marvelous film. Go see the movie, then read this analysis. (The whole thing.)

Much as silent film used to be able to reach across cultures and languages, Miller’s focus on action and emotion over dialogue and exposition allows us to experience the story in a direct, intimate way. The people who referred to this film as a “Trojan Horse” were completely correct—but Miller wasn’t smuggling feminist propaganda, he was disguising a story of healing as a fun summer blockbuster. By choosing to tell a story about how a bunch of traumatized, brainwashed, enslaved, objectified humans reclaim their lives as a balls-out feminist car chase epic with occasional moments of twisted humor, George Miller has subverted every single genre, and given us a story that will only gain resonance with time.

via Mad Max: Fury Road is Great. Here’s Why It’s Also Important. | Tor.com.

LINK: Pulling Together: Marriage, Ministry, and Calling – Sometimes a Light

Good post from Hannah about a better way to see marriage, calling, Kingdom work, and the balance among them.

Of all the neighbors you are called to love, your spouse is the closest one. This means that being married will naturally limit your ability to pursue other callings in the Church. But Scripture also makes it clear that the call to marry is rooted in a larger call so that even as we enter it, we remember that marriage itself is not all-consuming. It is only part of how we serve the Lord with our whole hearts and lives. This is true for men. This is true for women.

via Pulling Together: Marriage, Ministry, and Calling – Sometimes a Light.