In the midst of wedding season, I want to share again this powerful observation by Stanley Hauerwas.
Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person. We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married. For it is through the need of another that the greatest hindrance to my freedom, namely my own self-absorption, is finally not so much overcome as simply rendered irrelevant. It is through the other that I am finally able to make peace with myself and thus have the power to make my life my own.”
Marriage, for many, is an incredible blessing. For others it falls far short of its promise. And yet in either case, holding marriage in its proper context appears important. Marriage does not make one “whole.” Marriage does not solve all problems. Marriage is about a struggle, a blessed one, but a struggle none-the-less in which we wrestle with our inherent self-absorption, seeking to put that very self-absorption – seeing it rendered irrelevant – as we learn with the years the gift of unconditional love.