So about a year ago, Leslie started watching that show, “John and Kate plus 8.” She doesn’t like to watch T.V. that much, but that show became like crack for her. Now, I am assuming that the less estrogen-prone among us probably don’t watch the show, but whether you watch the show or not, chances are you’ve probably heard about the drama surrounding that family.
Last night they announced their pending divorce, and the fans of the nation felt a sense of collective disappointment. At least the ones I am Facebook friends with did. Maybe it was because they had fallen in love with that little family, maybe it was because it brought back memories from their own family history, or maybe it was because there is a sense that divorce, no matter who is to blame, is always a tragedy.
I was trying to count the other day how many weddings I have done in my five years of ministry. I couldn’t recall, but a couple dozens times I have stood in front of a couple and led them through vows they said to each other, to God, and to their friends and family. I couldn’t remember the number of weddings, but I had no problem remembering how many were divorced.
I always wonder, where did I fail them, what counseling did we miss, how could I have equipped them for the bumps of sharing life with someone better. It’s made my pre-marital counseling more intense. I am now the Nazi version of Dr. Phil.
I was listening to NPR last week, when a guy came on who had just written a book on marriage in America. He said that a child who is raised by two non-married parents in Sweden is more likely to be raised by those same parents through adulthood than a baby born to married parents in the U.S.
Disturbing, I know.
When he was asked why divorce was so prevalent in America, he gave an interesting answer. He said it’s because there are two philosophies of marriage that are bouncing around in the average citizens head. When someone is asked, “Should a couple ever be divorced for any reason, outside of infidelity, physical or sexual abuse?” The overwhelming majority of them said never.
But when that same person was asked, later on in the interview, using a different wording, “If a person was unhappy in a given marriage should they get a divorce?” They said yes.
So never, under any circumstances, get a divorce. Unless you are sad.
Now, I am not belittling the pain that comes with some marriages, or the hurt that comes with divorce.* I know the church has hurt a lot of people by their unwillingness to forgive divorced people, and I hope I don’t sound like I am adding my voice to that mix. If you are divorced and reading this, than I hope that you grasp just how forgiven you are, and I hope you do not sense a spirit of condemnation in this post. But the statistics of Christians divorcing more than non-Christians, all while following a man who says we shouldn’t divorce, says that something is badly wrong.
Leslie and I have our problems, mainly my problems that I give her to deal with. And Lord knows that there are times that she would like for the “death do us part” to come soon. But we have never thought that this was a temporary gig. Now I know we have a long way to go before we are a success story, but I think will get there.
And here’s why.
Movies always show us the beginning of love stories. The puppy love stage. You know, he meets her in an antique book store, they’re browsing for the same book and then “it” happens. They may let us see the initial stages of the relationship, boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back. And then the story fades to black.
And sometimes movies show us the end of the relationship. The elderly couple die in each other arms, or she cares for him as he passes on. And we cry and dream about how that’s going to be us one day with our significant other.
But what is absent from our mass-produced story telling is the middle of the relationship.
Because life isn’t made up of puppy love, and reality doesn’t end walking on a beach holding hands.
Life is made up of a series of Tuesday’s and Veteran’s days and March 12ths.
Life is made up of millions of opportunities to take out the trash, and wash the dishes, to not say that one clever thing you know will hurt her, or to wash his car because you know he’ll appreciate it.
Marriage is an agreement to live all those days together, to let someone matter to you, even if they don’t to anyone else, and to make those days count for each other.
That’s what’s behind those stories of the older couple dying together. It’s so powerful because we know the sacrifice that went into those years. These people for decades chose repeatedly to serve one another, and now when their story comes to an end it matters.
I think that’s what is missing in our collective idea of marriage. We have forgotten that the bedrock of marriage is habitual sacrifice. It’s not flashy, and you won’t always feel like doing it, so you go to counseling (which we have) when you need help, you work on your sharp edges (which I am doing), and you re-learn how to love each other year after year.
Because behind the end, is decades of the middle.
*Did you know that a person who is divorced is more likely to die of early age than a person who has smoked for 30 years? Did you know that surveys show that people who divorced, 5 years later are less happy than when they were married? I think it’s indicative about how deeply divorce affects us, it’s not just a simple legal proceeding. It’s in a very real sense more like an amputation.