This is going to bump around a bit and then come together at the end.
Over the past few years I’ve brought a social media/marketing-minded lover of theology & whiskey friend of mine in to talk a few times to our youth about stuff. Sometimes I give him direction, sometimes he says he has a thing and he talks about that. It usually revolves around youth culture, and the past couple of times it was more specifically about intentional design obsolescence (how stuff is designed to break/be replaced) and how that affects their view of spirituality. How it makes them willing to hand off an old thing for a new thing without even thinking about it.
So. I had a really shitty week this week. Two friends’ marriages are coming apart. Well, four friends, two marriages. Five friends involved. 6 kids. One couple married for a year, one for twenty. Neither is blowing up for what would be considered a good reason. Both involve affairs; one a horrible slow train wreck of indecision and the other a brutally hateful and abrupt severing. I wept for both. And for my own, looking back at things in my 17 years of marriage realizing how close we might have been to separation if either of us was any different in any of those situations.
In the days that followed, I began searching for a way express the hard truth of marriage to youth in a way that wouldn’t be totally depressing: you can’t really even get married for love, kids. They say that if you want to be the 80 year old couple that’s been married for 50 or 60 years, you’ll fall out of love with each other at least 4 times. Which means that over the course of a long marriage, there are stretches where you’re riding solely on your commitment to the marriage. That’s still love, of course. It’s just the kind with teeth instead of gently falling rose petals.
My concern is this: if everything else in their lives is exchangeable the moment they’re unhappy with it, why would youth think that marriage is any different? Where are they learning that marriage is a thing worth sticking with, even through hard times? And right there is where it gets difficult to talk about–in our own group we’ve got kids from permanently broken homes, no parents, step-parents, healthy families, single-parent homes where the marriage genuinely needed to end, and ones where it didn’t. To talk about it openly is like asking your whole group to walk barefoot into a room where the floor is covered in broken glass.
To complicate things further, we seem to have a tendency in the church to only learn hard lessons from people in recovery. If your life has been officially destroyed, we can learn from that! Tell us all about your troubles. It may even be cathartic for you. I don’t mean to make light of the suffering of those people–many of them have walked roads I’ll never know. But I don’t think it’s fair or necessarily healthy to put the burden of life lesson-sharing on them alone. I feel like transparency from those who have weathered severe storms in their marriages could richly benefit this thing we call a community of believers. I think our best opportunity and simultaneously largest failing ground for Christian living happens in the home–knowing what they know could save us all.
In the short term, I’m brainstorming a series that will probably inevitably land here called Things Worth Keeping. Houses. Cars. Marriages. Things that have character-building benefit if you learn to maintain them after the the shine wears off. I want to bring in a general contractor to tell our group what to look for in a house–a house you intend to keep. What people forget to maintain on their houses. The financial benefit of owning a home on the long term. I want to bring in my mechanic and have him teach our group how to pick out a reliable vehicle instead of just buying a paint job. The importance of regular service. The kind of care that can see a vehicle beyond 300,000 miles.
And, if they’re willing, I want to bring in our youth parents to share their own joys and sorrows in a long-term relationship. What held things together. What drove things apart. What meant things had to end. What meant that they couldn’t. It won’t be easy. But it could be life-changing.
The picture at the top is of my wife’s grandparents. It’s one of my favorite photographs; a classic wartime newlywed snapshot, as if stolen from a movie. They’d been married for almost 60 years when he died. In her 80s now, grandma (“G.G.” to my kids) steadfastly refuses to marry her boyfriend of the last several years, though he asks her every day. Why? She’ll tell you that it’s because she’s already known what it’s like to give your whole life to someone for your whole life–and that it was hard, and that it was wonderful.
What else is worth keeping forever?