In Defense of “Marriage is Work”

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Simcha Fisher responded to my article.

Simcha Fisher.

I was thrilled to hear that I’d gotten the attention of Mrs. Fisher and that she had not only read my piece, but had decided that it was good enough – or bad enough – to merit a response on her part.

After reading her response and the responses of others in the comments, I reread my original post and decided that a couple of things needed to happen on my end.

I need to rectify, clarify, and apologize for a couple of things, in the hope that the meaning and intention of my words might not be forever lost in the web of the internet.

First, I must admit, that when I wrote my article I did so with the humble intention of sharing a reflection I had. I never once meant it to be a prideful suggestion that I and my fiancé are perfect. Yet, rereading it, I can see where a certain amount of hubris came across. I was – and am – definitely mortified at the idea that the vast world wide web read my piece with any ere of pride or conceit. I ask your apology if it came off that way, and I thank you, wonderful readers, commenters, Simcha Fisher, for bringing to light the idea that I may have come off as prideful of my own abilities and those of my soon-to-be husband.

Thank you.

However, with the suggested – though wholly unintended – hubris aside, I have to address an issue which has arisen from my previous post. Most, if not all, of the critiques were in the form of “you can’t know that your husband will never cheat.”

My mom tells a story of a conversation she once had with my uncle as my sister and I were approaching our teenage and high school years. My uncle, meaning well, and having gone through this before my mom, told my mom to expect that my sister and I would somehow become involved in drinking, drugs, or promiscuity. It would happen. It just does. That’s what happens in the teenage years. My mother responded that her daughters would never have those issues.

My uncle replied that my mom could not know that, she didn’t know what trials we would face in the future, and that she ought to be prepared. She could hope that wouldn’t be our problem, but she couldn’t know it. My mother disagreed. She knew her daughters. She knew how they’d been raised. She knew our relationship and our family and she knew that those problems were not coming our way.

Oh, doubtless other problems would come our way, and they did. But not those problems. We struggled with depression, loneliness, anger, disobedience, and disrespect. But my sister and I never became entangled in the web of promiscuity, drinking, and drugs which my uncle seemed to believe were so unavoidable for teenagers. My mom knew that ahead of time and she knew it in the deepest recesses of her soul where reason doesn’t touch, but isn’t needed. And she was right.

Likewise, I have no doubt that my husband and I will have plenty of problems. We will hurt one another, abuse one another, sin against one another, and of this I have no doubt. We will face trials, we won’t like each other very much at times, we won’t always get along, and occasionally I will flat out wish he lived in a different state. I understand this. We’ve already let each other down, hurt, and sinned against one another too many times to count. How many confessions have I gone to and cried over the hurt I’ve inflicted on him and in his life?

Of course one cannot know the future, in the sense of having 100 percent certainty. I suppose there is even some infinitesimal chance that the sun will not rise tomorrow, and it is certainly much more dicey to predict human behavior.  However, sometimes there are things that people can know, in the sense of having tremendous confidence in others. We express such confidence when we say, for example, “I would trust him with my life.” People can know things about their life, spouse, children, careers, friends, and family without a crystal ball. Sometimes people know themselves, they know their family, and they know God well enough to trust in complete confidence when something is or is not coming their way. Sometimes Christ can plant firmly in our souls knowledge or understanding of the character of another person that can give you such confidence.  Is it naïve for me to have this faith – this knowledge – in my future husband? No. Naïve to share it in the way that I did? Yes. That is probably knowledge that is better left between God, my husband, and me and should only come up when someone prompts it or asks. My apologies that I was rash in sharing it, but I am not rash in believing it.

I would like to address the original purpose of my article, which I fear was lost. My original purpose was to share a reflection and a deeper understanding I came to, which was prompted by my co-workers’ conversation. I wanted to grapple with and disprove the cultural notion that marriage is a sort of lottery. As Catholics, we believe that marriage is a sacrament. If it is a sacrament, then there must be some sort of promise or guarantee in it, for Christ makes promises to the world through the sacraments and we know that our God always keeps His promises. We also know that marriage is a vocation, one of three ways that people are meant to make it to Heaven. This means that humans can be called to it as a lifestyle in a unique way.

My point in bringing up the idea that marriage is an institution of work and prayer was the idea that it is in the exercise of these two faculties that we attain the promise of Christ in the sacrament. If God calls you to marriage, then He will not abandon you in your effort to live a joy-filled, love-filled, faith-filled marriage. This is what He wants for you. Thus, if we ascribe to the teachings of the Church, if we practice the sacrament and allow the grace of it to permeate our lives, then we can rest in confidence that God will not abandon us in our undertaking. That is what I meant when I said that we have a “faith that can make these promises.” The love of spouses was gifted to them by God at their baptism, and when acted out faithfully and continually, it is meant to bring a fullness of Christ’s love into the world. It was instilled at baptism, and man has a duty to nurture this love every day so that it can reflect Christ’s love fully.

I emphasized the importance of a return to God every day. I understand that people are weak and sinful creatures, but I here failed in communicating this understanding. I tried in my last paragraph when I referenced Pope John Paul II. The idea that we must return to God the gift of love He gave us was meant to be taken as a daily undertaking. The promises of marriage can only be met and fulfilled when we daily turn to God in our weakness and ask for His strength and grace. Christ knows how to nourish your heart better than you do, and if He placed into your heart a love that was meant solely for your spouse, then if you daily return your heart to Him, you will grow closer to your spouse because God will be hands-on nurturing the love you two share.

Finally, it is here that my reflection was prompted by my co-workers’ conversation. Their dialogue honestly made me sad, and I mourned for them that they cannot know the joy that is a faith-filled marriage based in The One who created the world. They do not have this experience with faith, nor do they have the idea of returning their hearts to Christ. Consequently, their marriages were based in the world and not in The One greater and stronger than them who could carry them through the rough times and nurture their love when they didn’t know how to. This honestly burdened me for several days before I wrote my article, and my article was meant, finally, to be a response of praise and thanksgiving to our Lord who gave me this faith, this love, this knowledge. My article was meant to be a challenge to Catholics to embrace the promise Christ gives us in the sacrament of marriage, and to respond whole-heartedly to the calling He has given you and the love He has instilled in you.

Emma King

Emma King

Emma graduated cum laude from Hillsdale College in May, 2013 with a BA in Philosophy. She is happily married to a wonderful man and lives in Michigan.

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6 thoughts on “In Defense of “Marriage is Work””

  1. Avatar
    The Veil of Chastity

    Even after 11+ years of marriage, I feel the same way about my husband. If a steadfast Sacramental life in Christ gains us no grace to live out our vocation of marriage faithfully, then what is it for? Of course people can choose wrong. But, it is not inevitable that infidelity will happen. Based on the level of maturity and
    graciousness you have displayed throughout all this, I am inclined to trust that you and your fiancé will be more than fine. God bless you both, Cindy

  2. Avatar

    Cindy –

    Thank you for your kind comments, both here and on my personal blog. I do appreciate your support and encouragement!! May God bless you!

  3. Avatar

    Emma, your original post’s message, and this clarification, that who you marry and what they will do in marriage is not just a random lottery came through clearly. That secular attitude is sad but is also understandable for people who have no faith in God, for whom marriage is just a breakable contract, who do not avail themselves of the grace needed to be a good spouse.

  4. Avatar

    (I posted this on Catholic Stand also with 2 or 3 paragraphs above it, but I also wanted to pose this question here..really eager to read responses)

    Stepping away from the fray though, I really want to ask you (and others who may understand this better than I do) to flesh out and elaborate on something you said above:

    “As Catholics, we believe that marriage is a sacrament. If it is a sacrament, then there must be some sort of promise or guarantee in it, for Christ makes promises to the world through the sacraments and we know that our God always keeps His promises.”

    What is the PROMISE or GUARANTEE of Sacramental marriage? I’m really not trying to play a game of “gotcha” by asking a question then telling you that you are wrong…I’m sincere and openly admitting some ignorance on my part.

    Is it a promise/guarantee of what we expect to get (which is how I perceive your expectation) or a promise /guarantee of what we promise that we will give (regardless of future circumstances) and if that is the case, what can we count on in return?

    The word “guarantee” sticks in my ears because during an especially difficult era of our marriage, my husband said “You are asking for a guarantee and life doesn’t give guarantees”. I responded that the closest thing on earth to a “guarantee” was a marriage vow and he had already given it so why was he angry with me for wanting it to still be real and true?

    Please know that my question above is not rhetorical or meant to prove a point, its a real question and I hope you and others will venture real answers.

    1. Avatar
      Laura J. Ricketts

      The guarantee or promise is that the sacrament of marriage is an outward sign to the world of the love Christ has for His Church, the Bride. Beyond that though, there is no guarantee. One cannot know that one’s marriage will be full of joy. One cannot know if one’s marriage will be decidedly happy. Why? Because Christ’s love for the Church was sacrificial. Sometimes our marriages reflect the beauty and joy and happiness of the Resurrection. Sometimes they reflect the passion and death- the sacrificing of one’s self. Sometimes they reflect the very real instance of the Church not returning Christ’s complete self giving. Which will your marriage reflect? You might not know when you’re first married. Maybe you will show the world Christ’s love for the church by loving your spouse through a terminal illness. Maybe you will show the world Christ’s forgiving love by continuing to respect and love your spouse through infidelity. Maybe you will reflect the joyousness of Christ’s love being returned to Him by the church. The Guarentee is that He will never abandon you. He will pour His love into you so you can love your spouse, no matter what. That way you are living out the Sacrament of marriage.

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