When I first read the article “Marriage Isn’t For You,” I cringed. While on one hand, I agree with the author. Marriage is about loving the other person and about giving to the other person. At the same time, the author’s image of marriage came across to me as a relationship built on martyrdom and self-sacrifice to the point that the spiritual director side of me was screaming “no, no, no!!!” This author’s image makes marriage out to be a one-sided relationship.
My fear with this is it sets people up to enter marriage or any significant relationship thinking if they give enough to the other person or do enough for the other person this equates to love. In spiritual direction, the most frequent topic that arises is the other person questioning his or her worthiness to receive God’s love or to receive love from another person. Often, the lack of worthiness comes from feeling they have not done enough or they are not good enough to receive love that is freely given by God. At times, this leads people to feel that they can never give enough to God or to another in order to be loved. To love another, we have to understand that we are loveable, and this is vital to married life.
As a Catholic, my understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage is a threefold understanding. First, key to my understanding of marriage is the belief that God loves us first. We do nothing to deserve God’s love, and we can do nothing to earn this love. It is a gift freely given to us by God. God’s love for us is unconditional. Often the hardest part about being in relationship with God is opening ourselves up to fully receive God’s love. In marriage, it is important to remember that both husband and wife are loved first by God. It is only because we are loved by God that we are capable of loving others.
Second, as husband and wife, we are called to be open to both giving love and receiving love. As humans, one of the ways we can wrap our heads around a piece of God’s love for us is the love we experience from another person – a spouse, a parent, a friend, a relative, a mentor, a significant other, etc. In marriage, love is a two-way street. We are called to be active participants in receiving God’s love both from God and from our spouse. At the same time, we are called to be active participants in giving of our love, God’s love, freely to our spouse, and at the same time, return our love to God. To me, this is sacramental living, the ongoing encounter with God, both through our personal relationship with God and through our relationship with our spouse. It involves both giving loving and receiving love. Being loved by God and by my husband, Chris, allows me to love in return. Chris models Christ for me in how he loves me, and I am called to love Chris in the same way Christ loves.
Third, while Chris and I are called to be witnesses of God’s love to each other, I believe there is also an outward element to our married life. In the Nuptial blessing offered at our wedding, the words of the prayer were, “Give them strength…so they may be witnesses of Christ to others”. As a married couple, we are called to be signs of hope for others of God’s love. While this is a challenging task to live up to, I know that Chris and I hope that our marriage is a sign of God’s love for our children. We also hope that we live our marriage in a way that is a sign of God’s love for others. This means that marriage is for more than just the couple as well, it is a sign of God’s love out in the world.
To live out the vocation of marriage, though, marriage cannot be one-sided. To live up to this call, I cannot see marriage being only about one person giving. It is about all of us- God, husband, wife. Just as God loves us and wants us to love God, we are called to love one another in this same way of mutual giving and receiving of love so that we can be witnesses of God’s love in the world.