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(Christian Week – August 2013)

HAMILTON, CANADA ✦ It was a summer Sunday and communion was finished and so was the sermon and they stood, both of them, old and gray and a little stooped. And we all clapped for some time to say ‘congratulations’ and ‘thank you,’ too.

This, in a Hamilton church, a moment to show that even after 60 years of marriage you can still stand as man and wife and smile at the world, and smile with the sort of lines that show old things like truth all over your face.

It’s something to think about as marriage hits hard times.

The number of Americans getting married is at an all-time low. The rate of marriage in Europe has halved in the past 40 years. In Canada, for the first time, unmarried adults now outnumber the married. Even in developing nations—with the exception of South America and parts of south Asia—marriage is down.

Of course, there are many good reasons not to marry. But simply going with culture’s flow, one that often hurts abandoned children, is not one of them. Neither is the fear of losing yourself.

I know this whenever my wife sits at the piano in our home and plays a certain song, one she first played on our wedding day, in her full wedding dress, a creative piece composed just for me, one that showed a deep giving of herself.

Somehow through that music, even though she barely knew me, really, my wife captured the essence of who I am, at least who I am in my better moments, something joyous and boyish, something I maybe didn’t even see in myself. It makes my blood jump even now because now is when we celebrate our own anniversary.

And also because when we do this for our loved ones, when we capture their essence in any form that we can muster, we’re doing something else. We’re pointing to it all: to faith and hope and love, to that well-known passage that’s read at weddings everywhere.

That is, when we capture a person’s essence we’re doing what God does. Not that we can see God fully. As Paul so eloquently put it, for now we can see only dimly, like through a dark glass.

But one day we’ll see our Creator face to face. We’ll know Him intimately. And on that day He’ll somehow capture our deepest essence in a way that goes beyond anything we can ever imagine.

This isn’t to say that marriage is an easy sail. If it was, then those vows wouldn’t include “for better or worse.” Nor is it to say that marriage is some higher way. Jesus never married and He never suggested that married people live a more valued existence.

But Jesus did have something to say about letting a seed fall into the ground and letting it die and then seeing new life to come from it.

Which is to say that marriage will always be one way—and for many people the best way—to give and receive certain things, certain losses and gains that enrich our lives, remarkable things, really, that we’d otherwise find hard to discover.

It’s funny. When you have something, then give it away, you’re left with nothing. This is what we know from math and logic. But with marriage, you give yourself and then you find more of, well, yourself.

It’s not a bad deal, really. Even if fewer people are willing to go for it.

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