Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Unpublished Letter -- in support of marraige

Sorry posting has been slow -- Easter is the busy season, and I just haven't had time to put things together.

Thus today's post -- a letter to the editor that I wrote last month -- it went unpublished, so I thought I'd share it here. The context: the Enquirer ran a story about second marraiges; a few days later, a gentleman wrote the Enquirer saying that marraige in general was a bad idea. What follows, is my response:

In his March 28, 2007 letter to the editor, Stephen Kessen writes “marriage is a bad idea in general.” He adds that people are free to live together and have children without need of a “piece of paper” to make it official.

I disagree. Marriage strengthens our society and makes us a better people. But a shallow view of marriage infects our society. Pick your romantic comedy and you will find a depiction of the thrill of romantic pursuit, with the implication that if marriage is an option, it should be characterized by such thrill. In this view, marriage is mainly for our personal self-fulfillment, and when it stops being self-fulfilling, then we abandon the marriage.

A wiser tradition, however, understands it to be a good thing for two people to bind each other to a lifelong commitment. One must have great courage and resolve to pledge to share in fortune and difficulty, abundance and lack. In my religious tradition, we look back to the book of Genesis, in which marriage is instituted, and we see that “…a man shall leave his father and mother and be united unto us wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The picture here is not one of self-satisfaction, but self loss. We lose a bit of ourselves in the other, but in so doing, we gain so much more.

My faith also teaches that marriage benefits the whole society. Chapter 31 of the book of Proverbs paints an idealized picture of the healthy family: setting up industry, benefiting the poor, being involved in civic affairs. In premarital counseling, I ask couples what legacy they want their marriage to leave. How will they invest in their offspring and the broader community in such a way that the world is left stronger? The commitment of marriage is far beyond doing whatever you want. It is a commitment to be a pillar of society. It may sound like hard work, but the rewards are great. Indeed, marriage helps us all understand other societal commitments, whether in business, civic, or social realms. Marriage provides a first foundational understanding for society to see that people aren’t objects to be used and disposed of; rather, people are to be cherished and honored.

I’ve had the good fortune to know many elderly couples who have been living examples of the fruit that comes from the lifetime commitment of marriage. I’ve seen people endure amazing stress while caring for a declining spouse. They persevered with joy and kindness, lovingly providing care because of the deep roots of commitment that had been grown in the rich soil of the covenant of marriage. Far better, I’d say, than the disposable relationships so common today.