What If Marriage Was Fun?

I’ve always liked weddings. People are mostly happy and they’re fun.  I’ve also officiated several weddings.  To me it is literally the best seat in the house.  You get to stand with two people (who you already love) as they say their vows and make a covenant with the Lord.  It’s awesome!  Sometimes they are nervous or stumble over words.  Sometimes they are focussed.  But always they are happy.

Happiness you see, is good.  Seriously, it really is.  It’s ok to want to be happy.

One of the things I’ve seen more and more of the last decade is this tendency in Christianity to try to walk back the fun.  It’s as if people seem to think that if the ceremony is more solemn that the people getting married will be less likely to get divorced. Really?!

Now I get it, I really do.  We want people to understand how big of deal it really is. It’s the second covenant of your life.   And it is just that – a covenant not a contract.  But that is good news not bad.  If it were just a contract, it wouldn’t be worth the celebration.

We also often want the people in the audience to get it.  And I get that too.  It’s great to charge the people to stand with this couple, a great reminder to those that are married, and good thoughts for those that aren’t as they consider whether or not they want to be. But here in lies the part that bothers me.

Where is the Joy?

Joy is a good thing and it is a part of marriage.  You are supposed to be excited.  What really is the point of trying to temper that?  “Let’s make sure everyone knows how somber this is so that later when it’s hard you’ll remember.”  Really?!

Marriage was created before there was sin not as a response to it, so we shouldn’t look for it to solve all of our problems. But that also means it’s a stand alone good thing. If our message is constantly, “Marriage is really tough”, “Make really, really, really sure you want to get married”, “Once you go down this path, there’s no turning back – and it’s a long road”, etc., then we can end up pushing a group of people (everyone under 35) who already aren’t getting married, further away from marriage.

I’m not suggesting that we stop telling people the truth.  In other words I’m not saying that we in the Church should soft sell marriage.  But I think we need to understand that when we say all of this stuff to the general public (be it sermon, wedding message, book, or blog) that most of the people we are talking to are already scared crapless of marriage.  They are not rushing into marriage, they are rushing away from it.

We need to stop reacting to a problem from 20 years ago and start reacting to the one we have now.  People are not getting married.

We need to share that marriage is indeed hard, but we also need to share that it is worth it. We need to realize that no one can actually understand a lot of it until they are married anyway and we are not doing singles a favor by scaring them or turning them into some sort of solemn, unfeeling, drone dater.

Dating, marriage, all of it should be fun.  It’s not just fun.  But if it’s not fun at all, then you know you’re in trouble.  (Bonus – This could be said about community, mission, worship, and on and on).

One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy and if marriage comes from the Spirit, well then. . .

It’s even in the Bible –

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love all the days of this meaningless life God has given you under the sun”

Proverbs 5:18 – “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

Song of Solomon – Well there is just a whole lot of joy going on here!

Marriage can be work, even hard work.  But it doesn’t have to be joyless work.  God created it when He saw that Adam wasn’t enjoying being alone.  Adam had it perfect right?  Perfect relationship with God.  Perfect relationship with nature.  But it wasn’t right yet.  There was a piece of his joy that was not complete.  God didn’t look down and say, “Well Adam’s got it pretty good, let’s make it harder”.  No, God wanted to make it even better.  

I bring all of this up because I think as those of us who don’t feel called to celibacy struggle to wait, pursue, try, quit, breakup, date, try to get a date and so on, we need to not be afraid of marriage.  We need to not feel like it’s all serious, all of the time.  It’s not the end of fun – it’s the beginning of a deeper fun.  Joy should be a big part of it.  In fact, I’d submit that its one of the main ways that you’ll know if you find it.

Is Marriage Under Attack?

There’s a lot of talk these days in the Christian community that marriage is under attack. The idea is that marriage is no longer seen as valuable or as a lifelong commitment.  I’ve heard it stated that young people don’t see it as important.

I can see how people come to this conclusion.  We are all well versed in the numbers. 50% of marriages end in divorce.  A third of first time marriages are over within 10 years. But, the divorce rate has actually dropped steadily for the last couple of decades. (That doesn’t make it good, but it’s not going up).  (This is also in spite of the fact that no fault divorce has been legal in 48 states since 1983).

But one of the biggest reasons the divorce rate is going down is that people aren’t getting married to begin with.  Only 51% of all people in the U.S. are married at all.  Only 20% of those aged 18-29 have ever been married.  That number is down from 60% 40 years ago. Catch that number again – 80% of adults 30 and under have never been married.

But here’s the part that should have everyone freaking out.  A lot of singles seem to not care about getting married.  They seem to be saying do whatever you want.  We haven’t quit having sex or even living with other people and having kids.  This is where the numbers are just astounding.  41% of women aged 15-44 have cohabited.  The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased 88% from 1990 to 2007.  Most startling of all, since the late 1980’s more women in the U.S. give birth to their first child out of wedlock than as a married person.  Read that last line again!

So everyone is dong what every generation has done. . . except get married.

That is not Biblical singleness.  Let me assure you that when the Bible talks about singleness it is not talking about living with someone and having a kid or two.

But here is where I think we are missing it. I’ve met literally thousands of people currently age 15-35.  I don’t actually think young singles are devaluing marriage.  In fact, a recent survey found that 84% of women and 82% of men said that marriage was somewhat or very important.  Only 5% said that it wasn’t important at all.

The problem is they have no idea how to do singleness and most don’t know how to get married. Many are scared crapless of marriage or better stated they are scared of divorce and bad marriages.  People like the idea of marriage, they just don’t know how to do it.

Marriage is under attack but not in the way we think.  The problem isn’t that people don’t want it.

I think we need a new strategy.  We need to quit defending marriage, and start helping people figure out how to get married.  This is going to take a lot more than slogans and rhetoric.  We are going to have to get messy.  We are going to have to actually go after these people.

First we have to help define what marriage really is.  We need a right theology and practice of marriage.  This is one thing that the Church is doing very, very well.  There has been a huge movement in the last 20 years to talk about marriage in a new way with an emphasis on covenant and commitment.  We have gotten much more real about how hard that can be.  We’ve become more practical and real in our sermons and books.  We’ve stepped up Christian marriage counseling.  I’ve been hard on the Church here and there so I want to give due credit here.  The Church truly is fighting for the married.  Not perfectly of course but they have changed.

But we also have to figure out how to help the unmarried.  We have to step into the mess, not just send out conflicting and confusing spiritual platitudes.  Instead of trying to convince people that marriage is right, we have to help them become right for marriage.  We have to help them face fear, be it fear of commitment, fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of divorce, fear of choosing wrong, fear of being let down, fear of how hard it is, or fear that they’ve already disqualified themselves.

That requires reaching out to them.  Want to change the culture?  Change how we do singleness.  Want to help people not have sex outside of marriage?  Want to deal with homosexuality, abortion and porn in a new way, and help young single people navigate this stuff?  Then help these young single people understand the theology of celibacy and marriage.  Help them pursue one or the other. Don’t just call out their sin, help them face their fear, hurt, and wounds. We need some sermons and books on this.  We need Christian singles counseling – dead serious.

Right now, over all, we are not winning.  But it isn’t because young singles don’t want to be married.  We are helping married people stay married.  It’s time to help single people get married.