Sunday, January 13, 2013

Commitment in Marriage

marriage commitment

“I promise to love you and comfort you, honour you and keep you, In sickness and in health; and forsaking all others, keep only Unto you so long as we both live”

For most people reading this article these words are familiar. They are part of the marriage vow that couples make during marriage. I am not sure if they still do so now but it was what I made when I got married about three decades ago.

According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, commitment is defined as an engagement that restricts freedom of action. In my own view, this definition is a most inadequate one to use in relation to marriage. I would rather use in this article, the same definition I used in my book “Enjoy Your Family”:
“We are best together, and achieve our greatest goals as a couple not as individuals. We therefore commit ourselves to the adventure of making the experiment work. Because I am unique, and my partner is unique, our marriage will also be unique. We should therefore commit ourselves to undertaking the adventures together and to following wherever it may lead.”

The most important decision of one’s life is whether or not to follow Jesus Christ. It is an eternal decision. The second most important decision is one’s choice of a marriage partner. It is a lifelong decision. If we recollect correctly, the vows of marriage traditionally end with the phrase “till death do us part”

In this post I want to look at commitment in more than one phase and under different circumstances. I want to consider it under the following sub headings:
  • Commitment during courtship and immediately after marriage
  • Commitment during the winter/hard times of marriage
  • Commitment, my personal experience

Commitment during courtship

When two young souls meet, they like what they see in each other and keep all their expectations based on the external assessment of one another. This is the situation throughout the courtship period. To some this proves to be an illusion at the end.

The story is told of a young man who was courting a young girl and had severally expressed his commitment to her until he wrote her this letter meant to show her how committed he is to their relationship:

“Darling, I love you, I can swim over an icy ocean to be with you, I can climb any mountain to come to you, I can fight any battle to possess you, I will see you on Sunday, if it does not rain”

That is commitment indeed!

The marriage day punctuates this fantasy as they without a word say to each other “I am choosing you because you are this way” which also means “You have to continue to be this way or I will be disappointed, hurt, scared or angry.” This is what psychologists call “inward expectations that are below the surface” Their Commitments to one another at this time is based on “For better” only because inwardly they wish it would continue to be as joyous as the courtship and honey moon. As long as the good times continue – you are paying the bills and I am doing the home keeping.  But life is not only plain field and hills but there are mountains and valleys. There is sunrise and bright days and there are also sunset and rainy days. The prayer of every marrying couple is that their marriage would be all blissful. Soon after the honey moon the pretenses begin to give way to realities and each member of the marriage couple begins to unpack their tightly guarded baggage and the surprises begin to unravel. The first thing they discover is that they married total strangers.

married to a stranger

Commitment during the harsh realities of marriage

Commitment after the couple has lived together for a couple of years can either be stronger or begin to fall apart. What were expectations are now realities.

How good is the wife as a home maker, as a cook, as a bed partner or as a companion? How good is the husband as a leader, as a caretaker, as a provider for the family needs? How reliable are the spouses? Have they really detached from their families? Is there any marital infidelity or extra-marital interest?  The answers to these questions for some couples determine their commitment to the experiment of living together as a couple.

Another big question is how soon shall we be parents? When shall we have our own child? When the answers are not forth coming for some, it becomes the beginning of withdrawal. Other external forces are now working at the root of their commitment. The important question now is, how do they overcome?

Their ability to overcome is now based on another question –“To what were they committed in the first place?” If they had at first looked at commitment not necessarily as commitment one to another as we are, but to the highest potentials we can achieve together, they now have something to look to. Their commitment should first be to God and what He wants them to be as a couple. If that was their base, they can now return to that base and adjust their expectations. God has goals for every marriage and has His eyes on the members of the family. God would not let a single hair fall to the ground without His permission; so His eyes would not overlook an institution which He set up Himself. Like we said at the beginning, every family is unique and the way God keeps it in focus is also unique. A family therefore would achieve God’s objective only as long as God is its reference point.

There are two things I can compare commitment in marriage with – God’s “love in Christ” for the saved and “The believer’s faith in God”. I hope these two comparisons would help me illustrate the points I want to emphasize in this latter part of this article.

I believe that the comparisons are apt because both Marriage and the Love of God for the saved are choosing processes and involve clinging together. They are both trust relationships and both are eternal and begin in God and end in God too.

Marriage is like God's love in Christ

The Bible says nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ. In Romans 8: 31 – 39, the Bible summarized the power of God’s love for the saved in the following words

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” 

Marriage like God’s love for the saved, is indissoluble no matter what the courts or man say: “What God has put together, let no man, let no court, let no problems or traditions, put asunder” That is the final warning in the final sentence in marriage vow.

Marriage is like a believer's faith in God

The other comparison is that of the believer’s faith in God. The Bible says our faith in God is more precious than gold and should therefore, like gold be tested with fire to know its genuineness. Raw gold is not a precious ornament to anyone so also is an untested faith. The Bible puts this fact this way:

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it be tested by fire, may be found to praise, honour and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith – the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:6 – 9) 

There are many other passages that link genuineness of love and faith with trials and tribulations. The story of Job, the Hebrews example in Hebrews 12:11 all show that in the end, the trial is not to destroy the object of the trial but to bring out its preciousness. I believe very much that commitment in marriage is often tested by God Himself in order to build a family in which He dwells and which He uses to His glory. He cannot use a family for the building of other families except He tests the foundation and genuineness of their commitment one to the other.

Commitment: My personal experience

Before we got married over thirty years ago we agreed on a few things. Our love was not a case of love at first sight. Before I met my wife I had been used as a “spare tire” by a number of would be “drivers”, so when I finally met this one after being in the same Church, worshiping in the same room, and serving in the same Youth fellowship for six and half years, I was a little wary. However we agreed to love one another. In the plans towards the marriage we discussed a number of things including what we would do in the event of say,  no child, how many children we would want and how we would manage if economy fails or the death of one of us early in the marriage. These discussions were not written but in the hearts and memory.

The first major test of this “unwritten agreement” came in the first fifteen months of our marriage when our first child died at birth due to negligence and mishandling by the doctors and nurses; and for the next nine months there was no sign of another pregnancy coming. We started talking about adoption of children should this prove that my wife cannot bear children any more. Thanks to God for He had His own plans and kept us faithful. In the next four years we had four children.

The second test came in 1987 when I had a business deal that went sour. My business partner took me to court and prayed the court to give him permission to sell all I had to recover his money. I had no job and no money. For the next three years my wife was the bread winner. She paid the children’s school fees, paid the house rent and took care of all our home expenses. All these she did without a word of complaint and no one outside our home including her mother and siblings knew how we lived and survived. Her commitment to make our cross-cultural and cross-linguistic experiment work was unquestionable and total.

The third and probably the major test of this test of commitment on our parts came when in 2006, I retired from my employment and nine days after,  my wife had stroke which paralyzed one half of her body. She became incapable of performing her responsibilities as a wife or as a mother. God has thus far given us the peace that passes understanding and has brought us closer by this event. We have discovered how genuine our love for one another is and how together we are better equipped to achieve God’s ideal for us than going it alone. I guess it is now that I have discovered who I married in the first place.

Now how do I reluctantly end this article, I really have not said all I wanted to say.  Let me use the following words from Paul

“Husbands love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh ; but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church … ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’” (Ephesians 5:25 – 32)

 Or as another translation put it: “Husbands, do yourself a favour, love your wives.”  and the words from Peter,

“Husbands, likewise dwell with them with understanding, giving honour to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.” (1 Peter 3:7)

The greatest privilege in life is to have a family in which the husband and wife are committed to making their marriage work and fulfill God’s plan for it. It begins with each one of them committing their lives to God and to God’s ideals for their family. I pray that that would be your portion in Jesus Christ.

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