Driving home one evening from work, I noted an older couple strolling along side by side in the twilight. They were not holding hands, content with each other’s presence. And this image gave rise to the question: how does the bond between husband and wife survive through the years?
After all, every other bond I’ve known has disintegrated or been altered in some way, no matter how dear to me. Indeed, it is this way for us all: a child does not, indeed cannot, live under her parents’ roof forever; she must fly lest her wings atrophy. She must leave them, as she must leave her siblings. Cousins move away and begin their own families. Friends come and go as surely as do the seasons.
How, then, does the marital bond not follow the same ebb and flow that seems to be natural in every other relationship? Indeed, many a couple would say it does ebb, considering the abundance of divorces—but there is nothing natural about divorce. Consider the difference between a child saying goodbye to her parents and a wife saying goodbye to her husband: the former bears good fruit, for the child is leaving to find something (herself, her calling), whereas the latter bears rotten fruit, for husband and wife are broken by the sense of having lost something of their very selves. After all, how can two selves made one become two again?
It would seem, then, that it is unnatural for husband and wife to separate. And if so, marriage must somehow be designed to withstand the changeabilities of the seasons. Marriage is an incredibly daring choice, this surrender of oneself to another, and thus the material that binds a man and a woman must also be incredible: grace.
Grace is something outside ourselves, something greater than our own strength. It is a divine gift from Love Himself to perfect our imperfect love, to carry us when we cannot carry ourselves. Such is what husband and wife must remember when the water rises and threatens to sweep out the bridge between them. They are privileged to a grace that no other relationship is given, a grace that will hold them fast to each other when otherwise two people would easily pull apart or drift away. By this grace, whatever damage that may be incurred through the years can be healed, again and again, leaving a couple stronger than when they first fell in love, like a reinforced bridge or the new, thick skin over a wound. Grace provides the ability to forgive when otherwise you might simply turn away, the ability to continue on the same path no matter the shadows ahead (veering from the path will certainly lead to brambles and more brambles). A couple’s joy, present even amid the suffering of doubt or anger or pain, is this: if they keep to the path together, they will taste the fruit of fidelity found along the way.
If the above is not true, if I am naive, why should any young couple take hope in the joy they share if it is inevitable to fade with time or even to die completely? If marriage is not designed to last, every young couple should be scorned for their naïveté, for the folly of what can only be deemed infatuation. Love lasts; infatuation does not.
But if we believe in love (meaning self-gift), we must believe in marriage by grace—a bond fused and sustained by God—for love cannot survive without grace. Rather, it may survive, but thrive? Only with grace will a man and a woman know what it truly means to be one and taste the ripened sweetness of their fidelity.