My heart beat a bit faster as I struggled to sit comfortably on the couch I had carelessly reclined on so many times before. My angst made the room where we met for marriage preparation seem smaller than I recalled. The priest who was going to celebrate our marriage would be there shortly, and I looked over at my fiance, who returned my worried gaze with an understanding and comforting smile. We were two months away from tying the knot, and I had a burning question to ask Father.
The 100-100 Principle
Secular society has coined a phrase about marriage that is radically flawed. You’ve probably heard it before: “Relationships are 50-50. It is give and take, but your partner must meet you halfway”. That idea sounds nice. In its fluff, it may even make sense to us for a brief moment. But, as with all things in life, Christianity one-ups the world and offers an even better way, a way that leads to greatness as opposed to mediocrity, a house that is built on rock rather than sand (Cf. Mt 7:24-27).
Christian marriage, if it is to flourish as it is intended by God, cannot consist of giving merely half of ourselves, but absolutely everything we’ve got. We have to be all in, so to speak.
Think about it, we accept the 100% principle in most other arenas of life. If an athlete wants to excel in his sport, is he told to just give it 50%? If a musician aspires to play at Juilliard, is she encouraged to give just half of herself during practices and performances? Certainly not.
We are told that if we desire to succeed in our crafts, our careers, and as persons, then we must be willing to put our whole selves into our pursuits. So why would we strive for less than that when it comes to our marriages and families, the building blocks of society itself?
The mystery of the 100-100 principle is that it is in giving that we receive. By giving more of ourselves to something or, in this case, someone, we actually receive more than we give. By giving 100% of ourselves to our spouse and our marriage, we in turn receive 200%. That math doesn’t make sense, you say? My friend, God works wildly beyond numbers.
That sounds great; but how does this look in real life?
The question that plagued my mind had to do with this 100-100 principle. In our marriage preparation, I had come to love and value this principle. As a Christian, it made sense to me: Christ gives Himself completely and entirely to His Bride, the Church. If spouses are to love another as Christ loves the Church (see Eph 5), then we must give of ourselves entirely in imitation of Him. I was excited about that.
But as I sat in our meeting that day, I didn’t feel like I was giving 100% of myself. In fact, I felt like I had nothing to give. The past few months had brought a significant cross into my life that had been difficult to bear. I knew what it felt like to be on top of the world, being able to give and give and give and never run out of steam. I knew what “my best” looked like, and how much I was able to produce when I was at my best. In this moment, however, I was not at my best. This troubled me, therefore, because how could I give 100% while carrying this burden?
When I brought this up to Father, his answer rocked me and has remained with me ever since. He smiled kindly, turned to my fiance, David, and questioned him instead of me. David explained to Father that by carrying this cross with me, it had strengthened our relationship even more and solidified our love in a greater way. From his point of view, I was giving 100% of myself because I was giving to God and to him everything I had, even if it wasn’t what I deemed my “personal best”. Father turned back to me and said, “Exactly”.
The lesson I learned that day is that the 100-100 principle does not require us to be the greatest we’ve ever been in every moment of every day. Rather, it calls us to give 100% of ourselves, of everything we have and everything we are in each moment.
Sometimes this will mean that we are super-spouse who has everything together and can’t seem to run out of patience and love. Other times, this will mean being willing to allow our spouse to be our Simon of Cyrene, to bear our heavy crosses with us. In both scenarios, my friends, we are able to give 100% of ourselves with the grace of God.
This is precisely how the 100-100 principle works in the reality of life and love. The Lord, in His goodness and wisdom and through the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, offers the spouses guidance through the ebb and flow of life. He presents each spouse with the ability to support and encourage the other, and to be supported and encouraged in return.
“Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him…to bear one another’s burdens…and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love” (CCC 1642).
Therefore, may we never cease to turn to Jesus for this grace, the grace that allows us to give of ourselves entirely and completely, whether we are at our best or our worst. In this way, our marriages will bear the sweetest fruit of sanctity and fidelity, no matter what storms come our way.