One of my favorite theological blogs belongs to my friend and mentor Jason Micheli (www.tamedcynic.org). Recently, Jason produced a number of posts about the importance of being in relationships. In a similar vein, I have decided to post a few of my thoughts on the theological virtues of relationships.
“To say ‘I love you’ one must first be able to say the ‘I.’”
So says the fictional Howard Roark to Dominique Francon in Ayn Rand’s behemoth novel The Fountainhead. Though Rand herself was staunchly opposed to all forms of religion, I believe her quote, in a way, speaks profoundly to the importance of what it means to be in relationship with another.
To use Rand’s language: To say “I love you” one must first be able to say “I.” And, perhaps, more importantly, to say “I do” in marriage, one must first be able to say “I.”
Will Willimon writes, “Most people think that the toughest part of marriage is deciding who we ought to marry, making the right choice, and preparing for the decision. We say we are deciding whether or not we are “in love” with this person. Curiously the church has traditionally cared less about our emotional attachments. What the church cares about is not who you have deep feelings for but rather whether or not you are a person who is capable of sustaining the kind of commitment that makes love possible.”
In today’s culture people (young and old) often commit to a romantic and marital relationship before ever experiencing what it means to be an individual. Young people are maturing later and further delaying the ability to find sense in individuality and therefore seek identity in others. Yes- there must be sacrifice in all relationships, but not at the expense of losing whatever it is that makes you, you.
Before a couple can fully appreciate the depth of what it means to covenant their life to someone else, they have to know who they are in order to give themselves over.
But here’s where it gets a little complicated…
You will never fully know who you are.
As a pastor, when I stand in front of a couple leading a wedding ceremony, the question is not “Jack, do you love Jill?” Instead the question is, “Jack, will you love Jill?” There, in that precise moment, we discover that, according to the church, love is something you commit to, something you promise to do, a future activity, the result of a covenantal marriage rather than its cause.
As Stanley Hauerwas famously put it, “we always marry the wrong person.” This is to say that we never marry the right person because marriage and life changes us. There will come a time when you realize that the person you have been living with is no longer the person you married or met at the coffee shop or knew from high school.
No one can fully know what he or she is getting out of a husband or a wife. There is a lot to be said about preparing for marriage (meeting with professionals, discussing the future, etc.) but there is an element of unpredictability that must be respected. We can never prepare for marriage in totality, but we can prepare ourselves for a lifetime of commitment to someone who is always changing (ourselves included).
This is exactly why it is so important to understand what you say, when you say “I.”
You will change in ways that you cannot predict just as your partner will change. But, as Christians, we have been adopted into a new identity through water and the Spirit that sustains us throughout the many changes of our lives.
Christ is alive through us, in us, and with us.
If we hold on to that identity, love can be the result of our relationships rather than the requirement.