by Rayola Kelley
As I was considering what my subject for June would be, Jeannette reminded me that this month was a popular month for weddings; therefore, a good topic to address would be marriage. Most know I have personal experience in this area, but I have also worked with troubled marriages over the years. Between my personal challenge and ministry experiences, I have observed the inner workings of this relationship. As I was preparing this article, I realized that just one article will not do it justice. This is the first of two articles on this subject. In this first article, I want to deal with the problems in marriage. The main problem comes down to our understanding and attitudes towards this institution. One needs to keep this in mind, when considering the challenges confronting this relationship.
Most people are aware of the staggering statistics concerning marriage, both in the secular world as well as in the Church. The divorce rate is now over 50 percent. This statistic causes much alarm, and the Church has tried to confront this problem. Sadly, the problem has not subsided, but continues to grow. Broken marriages not only reveal a weak society, but they create a tidal wave of repercussions that manifest themselves in children, attitudes and character. This tidal wave will eventually cause any society to cave in on itself.
In order to solve the challenges facing marriage, the problems must be properly identified. There are four main problems that plague marriage. They are foundation, idolatry, communication, and an earthly perspective. These often intertwine with each other, but they can be clearly distinguished.
Sadly, most marriages have a wrong foundation, or have no real foundation upon which to build a proper relationship. Marriage often starts out as a matter of lust, or a cloak to cover or legalize immoral, undisciplined fleshly actions and pursuits. Few ever enter this relationship with a healthy respect, understanding or view of it. Without the proper investment of respect, the healthy groundwork of understanding and acceptance, a marriage will be shaky and vulnerable to the challenges that confront it.
Idolatry is another big problem in marriage. There are various idols that are often brought into marriage, but the biggest idol is self. This idol manifests itself in individuals who are caught up with self. These people marry with expectations as to how their spouse will make them happy, and/or give them purpose and identity. In fact, it is not unusual that a man sees himself as the savior who saves a woman from a meaningless life as an old maid, while the woman wants a savior and protector from that which she can’t control. But, each role carries conditions. As savior, a man expects to be served and worshipped, while the woman sees herself as being cherished or adored. Both perceptions find their origins in fairytales, and are therefore unrealistic and idolatrous as each person demands that they be exalted and worshipped in his or her spouse’s life.
This desire for personal exaltation causes problems. When the spouse fails to create the utopia that has been envisioned, disillusionment sets in. Since the mate is not living up to personal expectations, disrespect takes over. When this harsh reality challenges this couple’s fantasy and the vain imaginations that surround this illusion, anger and bitterness take root, dooming the relationship.
Communication is another problem in marriage because most people do not know how to communicate. To be a communicator, you have to be a good listener. For one to listen, he or she must get past self in order to hear what the other person is saying. In many cases, couples are so busy trying to get their personal points across that no one is really listening. This is a tragedy because at the core of good communication is intimacy.
Without intimacy people will never really discover who they have married. The reason most people become disillusioned with their spouse in the first place is because they marry an image rather than a person. In fact, most people are in love with the concept of marriage or with the image they create in regards to how their prospective mate will fit into their fantasy and make it a reality. In their minds, this mate will not only bring happiness, but satisfaction and purpose. When people get married with this immature perspective, they are simply playing house, rather than becoming one in identity for a greater purpose.
This sensual love for the image that was erected by vain imaginations comes tumbling down when the spouse fails to align with this image, and proves to be human with personal opinions, habits and ways that disrupt environments and worlds. Resentment grows as the one with the image faces the harsh reality that his or her image is now shattered into many pieces. After all, how many people who deal in fantasy about marriage really want to grow up and face the harsh reality of life? These fantasies are fragile because they depend on other people making them a reality.
Reality reveals that lives (or people) are not here to revolve around another person’s personal perception of happiness and purpose. Because of immaturity and self-centeredness, people often fail to see that their error does not lie in the supposed failures of their spouses, but in their own unrealistic perception of marriage. Instead of repenting and growing up, most insist on holding onto their illusion. The reason they insist on holding onto this fantasy is because it automatically adjusts to their needs and ideas of a perfect world; therefore, it requires no sacrifice, toil, work, or personal growth. Ultimately, it allows them to play God of their world.
People who refuse to face reality lack character. They are basically lazy and want everything handed to them. They want their fantasy regardless of how unrealistic it is. But, this fairytale boomerangs on them as they become disillusioned and uncertain because they do not really know their spouse after all. The result is that an identity crisis arises in the marriage, producing walls of mistrust and anger. The typical declaration of such a person is that he or she no longer loves his or her spouse, making marriage a terrible joke or a burden too great to bear.
Finally, people never get beyond an earthly perspective to come to terms with why God instituted marriage. Sadly, most people prefer the image over what is real and lasting. The reason for this preference is because it feeds the flesh and appeases the pride. The physical part strives to feed and satisfy the fleshly appetites, while the emotional element operates in vain imaginations to maintain the passions or affections. A person who operates on the fleshly level never has to get down to the spiritual level to examine personal attitudes. Without a proper perspective, marriage is demoted to paganism that operates solely in the physical and emotional levels and has no godly purpose. People who operate at this level can remain indifferent to the spiritual as they adjust everything to their world or way of thinking. This indifference often makes others the scapegoat for the present conditions that plague the relationship. Such practices not only make this relationship a fleshly marriage that offers no real lasting substance, but it remains earthly in meaning.
The Apostle Paul addressed the issues of marriage in Ephesians 5:21-33, but even the Church often misses the spiritual implications behind the real purpose of marriage. Paul speaks of marriage as initially hiding a mystery in Ephesians 5:32: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Marriage was to symbolize Jesus’ relationship with His bride, the Church. With this in mind, we will consider in next month’s issue what or who serves as the correct foundation, overseer, and point of intimacy in this relationship. As we understand these subjects in light of God’s real plan for marriage, we will begin to gain a heavenly perspective. This perspective has the ability to modify present attitudes and conduct, changing the destructive course many are walking, due to their present mentality towards this sacred institution.