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Five Things Church Culture Gets Wrong About the Marriage Idol

February 9, 2015

Hey!  It’s gonna be 21 years since I met the hunka-hunka burnin’ love sitting across the table from me. I feel the need to celebrate.

And, by celebrate, I mean throw out my pet peeves about the idolization of marriage by church culture.

21 years ago he came into my heart and my world, like a knight in veritable Jesus-blessed shining armour (spelling intentional) and ALL my insecurities, fears, and issues melted away like the weight after babies.

Seriously.

That’s about how fast all those things disappeared.  That means my favorite issues are still here.  Getting old with me.

Because marriage isn’t Shangri La, y’all.

heidis wedding day edit
*Google this literary reference if you are going to make my literature loving heart                                                                    weep by not understanding an allusion to Paradise Lost*

I come from a long, long line of folks who got married and stayed married for a really, really long time.   My parents will celebrate their 56th? this next September.

Longevity runs in my genes, so, being loyal and sticking with folks during the good, bad, and the ugliness of what the heck just happened?  I got that.

But marriage? Marriage is another thing on STERIODS.  Sorry not sorry for shouting.

It’s that kind of thing.

If that doesn’t scare the skittles out of y’all?

It should.

Hold onto your pulpit, friend, and hold on tight, because this might just NOT be what you want to hear on the eve of St. Freakin’ Eat Every Chocolate Thing Valentine’s Day

chapter break linesSo, you have been watching the shows or attending the wedding showers where she’s all Totes Adorbs at him and he’s all Hold Open Anything With Hinges and Be the White Knight while they bat eyelashes and spend thousands on her very own princess party and a once in a lifetime vacation while everyone keeps their fingers crossed that it will all work out because…

Frankly, anyone over 30 at many of the weddings we attend has the same thought. We all think the newlyweds look 12.  What are they thinking? Children marrying children.  It’ll take a miracle.

I can’t be the only one who tries not to hide my cynicism behind butter mints and embossed napkins.

You sit in a puddle of tears at the sweetness and the sugar overload and the whole “Why isn’t this happening to me?” or maybe it’s the ugh and lemon juice and sea salt in the unhealed wound of “My wedding was nothing like this…” Or a mixture of both?

See, here’s a break in the regular programming.  Marriage isn’t a wedding anymore than sex is parenting.  Sure it’s all bells and whistles and feels great for a little bit but there’s gotta be more to it than a party with candles and champagne or the next day will basically suck.

And all the days afterwards.

chapter break lines

So, if you are still feeling me, then I’ve got some things to tell you about the lies you hear from church culture about marriage you probably won’t get from the next women’s retreat:

wedding dress#1: Being “Pure” Is The Best Way To Find & Prepare To Become The Perfect Spouse

Of course, if you don’t stay pure, the compounded guilt, shame, and angst will surely put your hopes for a white wedding on the back burner until God “really gets ahold of your life”.

And by being pure there are some who actually mean you haven’t had a sexual thought or inclination since the 9th grade and even holding hands feels like some kind of spiritual and personal compromise. Of course, then, when you do get married, you will be great and marvellous in all your deeds, marriage bed related.  No one gives you permission to laugh hysterically about how stupid and ridiculous you are when you first try to make the lovin’ work… Like everyone is whenever they first try it out…

The corporate mentality about sex swings with enough force to re-direct the Titanic from hard-core taboo to the “most beautiful expression of love between two people”.

That leaves a mark, sister.

#2: Falling in Love With Jesus So Deeply You Don’t Care Is The Magic Moment When That Perfect Soul Mate Shows Up

There was a girl I used to know. She made sure every Valentine’s Day was set aside in a special, secret “date night” with Jesus. I’m sure it was sweet and lovely but since her daily conversation showed an OBSESSION with loving Jesus SO MUCH He would give her a husband?  I had to wonder what really motivated her to such devotion… Can you really manipulate God like that? Really?

#3: Being Single is The Enduring Part, the Patience & Character Building Part of What God Has In Store For You…SomedayYou Will Get Married & Your Life will Have Fulfillment and Purpose. And Unicorns.

Because only wives/husbands and parents feel fulfilled and purposeful and everyone gets married filled with patience and strong character.

This is especially true at the post-partum aspect of heaven on earth when it’s 4am,  the baby is screaming, you are 2 days past the last attempt at showering, have forgotten all your 3 syllable words, and the Thrill Is Gone.

So… Being single is supposed to be character building for something you’ve never done? And being married kinda makes all the single time “worthwhile”?

This entire mentality is so insulting to my single friends I have no words.

#4:If You Get Marriage Counseling You Get To Bypass Fighting & Struggle, Head Straight To Peace & Harmony. (If this isn’t true, you are the one with the problem.)

For just 6 months of your time, at 1 hour a week, you too can fill out enough compatibility sheets to satisfy eHarmony AND try to answer questions you aren’t REMOTELY qualified to answer.  If you don’t want to start pre-marital counselling because you aren’t ready to jump onto the Rainbow Bridge, go to the Internets. The “Are You Ready To Be Married” quiz is as easy to figure out as a simple click on Yes or No to a 20 questions like:  “Do you spend at least 8 hours a week together?” and “We share our secrets regularly.” Just curious?  What’s a passing grade?  Do I get a gold star for 100%?  I’m kind of an over-achiever. These things matter.  Does the counselor mark the page with a red pen?  Am I absolved of any culpability if the counselor grades on a curve?

#5: You will Become One with This Person And All the Fears/Insecurities/Struggles You faced As A Non-Married Person will Magically Disappear. 

I just can’t even here.  I just can’t.  There is so much wrong with this mentality I want to break things.

chapter break linesSo…. I’ve been married to this guy for 20 and 1/2 years and we are doing pretty good. And by good I mean we had an ugly fight this morning but got over it.  He got over it faster than I did… But I am learning to be more gracious.  Baby steps.

Every anniversary I still celebrate making it through the month and the weeks leading up to a commemorative eventsa.

If you are married and looking at teens who are being fed this line from their church culture or you are single and want to know what I think?  Well, then I want to address these issues for you from a little bit further up the road or right next to you or even leading from behind…

chapter break lines#1:  Being PURE is a redemptive process we wrestle with All Our Lives.  Getting married and having access to someone else’s wobbly bits won’t fix someone addicted to p()rn or broken by sexual abuse or afraid of intimacy.  

Being inundated with a constant diet of “Don’t Feed The Bears” and then being thrown into the bear pit with a no-hold barred mentality is crazypants. See above.

How do you make that adjustment? How can you live and exist unsullied? Especially in the world in which we live.

It’s not just the hyper sexualisation of everything from burgers to… Everything else. All of that contributes to making it hard to live in a way that honors God.  Within the normalisation of self-indulgence through every form of media and entertainment readily available to everyone, everwhere it seems that everyone, everywhere, is having amazing sexual exploits and deeply fulfilling romantic relationships.  And you are missing out on the Most Perfect Thing Evar.

Trying to remain pure and ready for the Holiness of Marriage becomes akin to counter-cultural revolution and often results in the pain of social isolation.  That’s really hard. Not everyone makes it through unscathed.  Not everyone knows how to navigate wisely the shark-infested waters of singleness.  (Married people don’t know how either, if we are being all BFF’s and sharing our secrets.)

Those who are able to find a place of personal virtue do so this way:

They start by recognizing a weakness. Then they work hard at finding folks to confide in and support the desire to live with honor and integrity.  Then, instead of wallowing in the middle of it? They spend time repenting and determinedly can be found walking (running, skipping, hopscotching, interpretive dancing) AWAY from temptation.

Having a wedding band doesn’t make this whole thing disappear.

#2: Falling in Love With Jesus is CRITICAL to Faith… Not so much To Finding Mr/Miss Right. 

See, I’ve met plenty of people who found their spouse while they were running away from God, while they were serving whole-heartedly, while they weren’t even *gasp* Believers.  Stop it with the Spiritual Manipulation while you try to get God to fix you. Or fix you up.

Newsflash:

#3: Being Single Doesn’t Mean You Are Broken.  Or unattractive.  Or conventDestined To The Convent/Monastery. Or Children’s Ministry (not that there’s anything wrong with that…).

Seriously. All the single ladies!!! And dudes. You rock.  I adore seeing you dive in and build community for each other and for everyone around you.  I NEED you in the life of my sons so they see that LIFE doesn’t have to start when you get married but happens while you are living and breathing and all that jazz!

God is using you in ways I can’t even imagine being used while doing the homeschool and the laundry and the dinners to plan while you are praying late into the night and investing in the lives of folks at your jobs and churches and heart passions.   There are so many things you do with fervency and dedication that is singular and inspiring.

Frankly?  I want to be part of your group sometimes.  The chasm of married lady/unmarried lady implies that somehow I’m obligated to Titus 2 you to death when I would rather sit and breathe in your freedom and intensity, and talk about all things NOT parent/child.  I long to learn from your life instead. 

#4: Marriage Counseling…

Because two adults can’t make a life decision without the input of some other adult? And IF that other person gives you the thumbs up to espouse one another?  Who gets the blame when it all blows to hell?

A focused Q&A is not really a substitute for determination and walking steady Eddy with one another.  Besides, according to the quiz I talked about above?  Brian & I are NOT ready for marriage.  Well, that could have been a savings of 2 decades if I’d just had access to that before. Who knew?

Seeking counsel is good.  Don’t misunderstand me. But we are all people here.  There aren’t any short cuts to learning how to make life work with another human.    Making your decision based on conviction and purpose coupled with lots of prayer and the insight of folks who actually know you?  Awesome.

Note: This happens in every relationship in life.  I can break up with a friend with minimal fall-out.  Married breakups are a bit more heinous. There is that.

But, hey, getting married is still your decision and I think it only fair to warn you that being married sucks sometimes.

Like when he spends all the money and you have to forego the trip.  Or when she crashes the car into the pole and the insurance goes up. For 5 years.

OR when you just don’t like each other.  Or when you parent toddler issues differently… Or disagree on education.

Or anything.  Really.  Sometimes I think I just pick fights because, basically, I am a Picker of Fights.  Some people knit.  I argue.

But staying married?  It’s hard.  I can’t even go to my room and slam the door.

He lives there too.

#5: Becoming One… Amplifies all the things. Fear. Insecurity. Struggles.

It just does.   He sees me with stretch marks and sagginesses and over-compensations.   I see him struggle with leadership and fatherhood, and gray hairs that I’m pretty sure I gave him.   Sometimes I do really stupid things and I am afraid he’ll certainly reject me now for that thing.   We dance and tiptoe around those issues that are our triggers until exploding, the fallout makes the children cry.

I’m an introvert. He’s an extrovert.   We’ve had to learn that too much for me is often not enough for him and end up alternately overwhelmed and frustrated.  I am not adventurous.  He’s got itchy feet.

This becoming One is less an actual Felt State of Being and more of the gritted teeth determination to just do it.

chapter break linesAt the end of the day?

He who finds a wife finds a good thing.  Being a wife is often lovely. And being a husband is cool, many times.  I won’t deny that I am blessed.  He is too, btw.

But, a lot of the times?  Marriage isn’t much more than really, really focused hard work. Kinda like everything else in life.

Yet, contrary to church culture (and the rest of society) it isn’t Nirvana and it won’t Fix anything.

Just in case you are wondering?

brian and me

Leaning on Him,

Heidi

PS. I have always hated Valentine’s Day. Fabricated, awkwardly mandated romance, crowded restaurants and over-priced chocolates.  What’s to love?

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  • Crying and Laughing. I don’t know where to begin. Being married hasn’t fixed anything about me. If anything is magnified all my issues more than before.

    I love Valentine’s Day this year. Simply because it’s happening at home, without crowd and over-priced chocolate. There’s a lot to love but not a lot to share. 🙂

    • I actually had so much more to say on the topic. The whole thing about the deification and unrealistic expectation put on the institution of marriage is retarded. Glad you liked it! 🙂

      • You should say much more. After 21 years of not getting it and finally getting it…I think we spend way too much time trying to get it. Instead of just living in the moment.

        And yes, we make marriage the end-all. But that’s because we can’t POSSIBLY imagine how a woman could be fulfilled without being a wife…and we can’t POSSIBLY imagine a man can be pure without having his own wife to fulfill all his animal, lustful desires.

        The way the church has portrayed the relationship between men and women makes my brain hurt. I swallowed it all and it gave me 20 freaking years of nightmares.

        Mercifully Abba got a hold of me…NOW I understand. At least a little bit more than I did before. 🙂