Neither of us "needed" to get married. Both of us were independent and for the most part, content in our singleness. Paul dreamed of living alone on a boat off the coast of Newport Beach, California; Halee had plans to travel the world teaching English overseas. Yet there we were, barefoot on a sandy beach outside Santa Barbara, making our vows to the sound of rushing waves crashing on the shore.
Make no mistake, we were (and still are) head over heels for one another, but neither of us needed marriage to make us happy because we were already happy in our singleness. We understood—even then—that our marriage was ultimately more about our moral development than personal satisfaction and contentment. And that day, we washed each other's feet in the surf to symbolize our commitment to serve each other to that end.
For most of human history and in most societies, the goal of marriage was to provide economic security through family alliances and to serve as a context for procreation. To marry for personal happiness (or love) was considered a selfish act that disregarded the needs of the broader community. It wasn't until the 12th century that the troubadours (a group of traveling poets) introduced the concept of courtly love as we know it today.
Still other groups have emphasized the spiritual goals of marriage. The Catholic church believes marriage is a sacrament because the relationship between husband and wife represents the union of Christ to his bride, believers. In 1930, Pope Pius XI proposed that the primary purpose for Christian marriage was not procreation or sacrament, but to serve as a context for moral development. He writes, "This mutual molding of [spouses], this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony."
The trouble—even for contemporary Christians—is that we often approach marital issues in an individualistic way. In the cornucopia of Christian marriage self-help books, the guiding questions seem to be along the lines of "What can I get out of this?" or "How can I cope in this marriage?" rather than "What are we forging together?" or "How can our marriage make us each more like Christ?" It's not that God doesn't want our marriages to bring us deep satisfaction and happiness, it's just that marriage is bursting with opportunities for deeper spiritual growth—opportunities we may be missing if we're not asking all the right questions.
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For Further StudyDownloadable resources to go deeper
- Carolyn Custis James: What It Means to Be a Woman in MinistryeBook Format Available! Author and speaker Carolyn Custis James offers leadership insights for women.