After I went through a divorce, I was finished with marriage. I was soured on the institution. I was skeptical about the sacrament. I mentally and emotionally prepared myself for the single life. Parenting would be my top priority, followed by my ministry as a priest and rector.
I’m sure you know plenty of cliches about the best laid plans, so I won’t burden you with one now. On January 14th of this year I’m marrying the most incredibly special person I’ve ever met. Though it may have not been my plan, it was God’s plan, and through meeting my fiancée, God opened my heart to the beauty and wonder once again that love – especially Christian marital love – can bring to your life.
My fiancée and I have talked a lot about what this re-marriage means for our children. My daughter is six and lives with her mother in Maine. My fiancée has two children of her own. In addition to the regular challenges of becoming a blended family – understanding new family dynamics, interpreting the step-sibling relationship, etc. – we are especially attentive to the meaning and message that our children will receive.
What will they think about romantic love and marriage when they have experienced their parents separate? Is marriage something you simply put down and pick back up again? What will this teach them about commitment? And in the context of the Christian life, how will this impact their understanding of their own baptismal vows and responsibility?
All of these questions have weighed heavily on us over the last several months, when we finally had a breakthrough. Mel’s daughter was reading the story of Noah, which includes God’s promise never again to flood the world. It made me realize: in order to explain marriage, divorce, and our upcoming nuptials, I could use the concept of a covenant.
A covenant is something that children can understand pretty simply: people make promises to live a certain way or do a certain thing. At our baptism, we make promises to follow God’s way and love other people. God promises to make us part of his family and always be with us, forever and ever. Marriage is also a covenant: two people make promises to love each other, take care of each other no matter what, and be with each other their whole lives as a family.
And here is the frank explanation we gave to Rose about divorce: human beings often break their promises. Sometimes we disobey God and break our promises to follow his way. And sometimes, married grownups break their marriage covenant to each other and hurt one another. But here is the incredible good news: God never, ever breaks God’s promises to us.
God is always and forever faithful, and abundantly so. When we went astray, God sent his Son Jesus to help us find our way back to God. In baptism, I told Rose, Jesus sealed you as his own forever, and nothing could ever separate you from his love.
The good news for our marriage is that God is with us in our covenant we are making to one another. Sometimes we will make a mistake, or break a promise, or hurt each other, but God will always be there, teaching us how to forgive, and reminding us how to love one another as God loves us.
The conversation with Rose seemed to go well, although she honestly got fairly distracted toward the end by her Bible storybook. Sharing this good news with her, in a way that a six year old might understand, opened up for me once again the good news of Christian marriage not just for her, but for me.
In a world that does not understand sacrificial love, at a time when perhaps more than ever before selfishness and ego rule the day, the kind of self-giving love that marriage takes is an epiphany. Christian marriage is as important now as ever, and we have the opportunity through this sacrament to testify to the love of Jesus Christ for the world.
I’ve come to believe in the importance of Christian marriage again. I pray that God will give us in our new vows and new life together the grace to live into those promises we will make. And I pray that through us our children will be drawn more deeply into the knowledge and love of God.
How do you think about marriage? How do you explain it to kids?
Mary Ann Mertz says
Beautifully written and profound reflection on Christian marriage and family life. Thank you.