One of the greatest things about working with young Christian couples is I can draw on a rich history of marriage as a sacred spiritual calling. Marriage is more than an agreement or contract; it’s a covenant, a vocation, and a means by which human beings image the very God who created them.
It concerns me some Christians have lost this sense of vocation in regards to marriage. In many of the Christian couples I’ve counseled this sense of discerning a vocation seems to have been absent in their preparation for this sacred institution.
There are a number of options Christians have for living their lives in service to God. Some are called to the mission field, some to ordination, and many to be married. What does it mean to have a vocation for marriage?
Romantic visions of two people happily spending their lives together often get pushed aside the first time couples have to negotiate where they will spend Christmas and how to spend their extra money.
If marriage isn’t about being with someone and having the time of your life, what’s it about? It’s about joyous sacrifice. I know, it doesn’t sound like anything anyone would want, but it’s the essential element creating a vocation from what’s too often seen as a negotiable partnership.
To really live up to the vocational demands of marriage requires suffering. To suffer with someone is to make yourself vulnerable to their pain and struggles. when one partner is ill the other suffers as well. If one partner needs time away the other needs to patiently bear a sense of isolation. Individual needs have to come second to the primary needs of the marriage. Sometimes one partner needs to carry the burden of two so the marriage can thrive. It’s indeed a selfless vocation.
Joyous sacrifice in marriage requires both partners to spend a great deal of time in discernment. Marriage gives witness to the Christian virtues of selflessness and sacrifice with a joyful heart. Children will leave, youth will vanish, possessions come and go, and ultimately the very thing couples become vanishes as one partner must selflessly allow the other to go home to be with God.
Marriage is about joyfully letting go one’s own wishes so the creative power of God can make something new of what’s left.
This sounds like such a harsh and difficult vocation, but joy is evident in the selfless love found in marriage. Why? Because the grace God provides is more powerful than the sacrifices the couple is asked to make. Without the grace of God no one wants this life, just as no one would want to be a minister charged with a large church and more work than any one person can handle. No one wants to think about giving up their needs for the needs of someone else.
I urge many young couples to think about the implications of their vocational choice to be married. Marriage is both infinitely pleasing and exceptionally sacrificial. Couples must be open to the grace required to love each other when it seems impossible. It might mean giving up careers for the benefit of family, to be prepared to be alone when you really want company, and to be open to the love and grace flowing from these sacrifices that can only be appreciated when viewed through the eyes of God.
Marriage is a profound gift and an admirable vocation deserving the serious discernment any vocation requires. When well discerned, couples encounter the transforming power this sacred institution provides and come to know God more deeply in the gracious sacrifices they offer one another.
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