When I got engaged at the end of August, I wondered if it would open a door onto a world of deep thoughts concerning womanhood. It didn't. Granted, much in my life has been changing. But those changes have not made me inherently wiser or more thoughtful about my identity and place in society. Life goes on and I remain mostly the same. Now I find myself wondering the same about marriage. My suspicion is that it might have some small impact on my observations and thoughts, but overall nothing earth shattering will change. I still ask the same questions; I still struggle with the same doubts; I still get irritated by the same signs of brokenness.
While my personal changes have not yet caused much writing, the world around me remains much the same and continues to provide much food for thought. I worked briefly for a woman as a "mother's helper," and I find myself pondering something she once said in conversation.
I consider this woman to be very typical of a certain American demographic. She is in her mid 30s, but looks and acts younger than what older generations would assume of her age. She and her child's father have been together for more than a decade, but are unmarried, and the baby was an unexpected surprise after many years chasing careers and enjoying life with friends. Their lack of preparation for or pursuit of creating a family has not deterred from their love for their child and they now dedicate all of their time and energy to giving him the most perfect, protected, and politically correct childhood in their power to give. They have and want "family," but in untraditional ways.
I found out they are not married through an awkward conversation about my own upcoming wedding, and it was in this conversation that she sparked food for thought. After answering many of her questions regarding my wedding, I nervously asked about her own wedding and she laughed and replied there had never been one. Her laughter eased the whole situation and we were able to talk more freely. I asked if they had ever considered marriage assuming assumed the answer would be "no," but was surprised when she replied that actually her partner really wanted to get married while she did not. I asked more about why he wanted marriage and her response went something like this, "...well, I think he believes it's something sacred," but as an atheist she just could not see any deeper significance to marriage since they already knew they were a committed family. From my understanding, neither one of them have any particular religious commitments, and yet, here she was, telling me that the only point of discussion they had concerning the value of marriage was its possible sacredness.
In the midst of our conversation, this point of sacredness was interesting to me, but it was until I drove home that the full weight of it settled through the silence of my car. Here was a couple with no real interest in or connection to the theological arguments for marriage stating the whole point of the union. It struck me that in all the "culture war" debates concerning marriage, we tend to focus on and speak to the practical or natural needs and reasons for marriage. I believe the rational is that those reasons are the only space in which Christians can speak a common language with nonbelievers, the only areas in which we even have a hope to persuade. But maybe that is not the case. Maybe the younger generations are more open to arguments based on the spiritual aspects or "sacredness"of marriage?
The more I think about it, the more interesting it is to me that faith communities are relying more and more on "practical" arguments for marriage while this very secular couple focuses more on more on the spiritual arguments for it. And it makes me mourn that the church thinks it must neglect what it believes to be the most central truths about humanity in order to speak to the broader culture. The centrality of sacredness in the meaning of marriage should be the starting point of the church in speaking to the culture about marriage, not something that is left for those who already accept the reality of a God who created marriage and therefore has something to say about the institution. I believe some are focusing on this, but the overall voice of Christianity in America does not emphasize the sacredness of marriage when arguing for it. We talk about need for commitment and the goodness of the family, but those two things are only byproducts of understanding and knowing the sacredness of marriage. It is not commitment that we should mourn the loss of in marriage. For who can remain committed to something purely secular? Who can find within themselves the capability for it? The lost meaning that should be mourned and fought for is the rich and deep meaning of marriage that goes beyond commitment and family.