Yesterday I read this article and today I read this article and they got me thinking about the state of my own marriage. Usually I agree with what Granderson has to say, but this time I had an immediate and vehemently negative reaction to his contention that the phrase 'till death do us part' is “just another fire and brimstone tactic absentmindedly handed down from generation to generation just to get people to stay in line.” Now, to be fair, I have no idea if the phrase has roots in the “fire and brimstone” tradition of using hell and damnation as a tactic to compel believers to make moral life choices. But even if it is in some way related, I absolutely did not mean those words in that way when I said them over 4 years ago. When I said “till death do us part” it was about the totality of experience, about a commitment beyond expiration dates and ‘rational’ expectations. “Till death do us part” was a promise laced with God’s grace – words that revealed the deeper mystery of how God can affect human relationship. Like Ms. Goldberg said in her article, I believe that the vows and ‘I do’s’ that you make at your wedding “launch the creation of an entity, a union, that exists apart from the daily ebb and flow of difficulties and joys” that marriage is an “absolute yes” without condition.
My beliefs about marriage stem from my beliefs about God, Christ and our lives as Disciples of Jesus. And even though my marriage is in an unbelievable tragic state, I’m committed to staying married. I’m staying married, to put it simply, because I’m a Christian. And from what I understand, part of being a Christian is that your whole life is a reflection of who God is and what God does for us through Christ. So, because God makes a covenant that lasts forever, because Christ’s death makes forgiveness for all sins possible, our lives – our relationships – our decisions, should reflect that truth. And in my case, that means that even though Cliff violated our covenant vows, I will keep them. It means that my love, my forgiveness, are not conditional – they are eternal and unconditional because God’s love is eternal and unconditional. And my ability to love, forgive, extend grace and keep covenant is not by my own power, but by the power the Holy Spirit enables me to have. I can love, forgive, remain faithful, and extend covenant grace because God has and still does. I suppose this may be the cross that Christ warned me that I would have to bear – and I choose to bear it.
This choice has consequences of course. My decision to stay will affect every other part of my life. My professional life could be potentially derailed for awhile – my hope and dream to serve a church as Senior Pastor put on hold until a congregation can be found that has an open heart to my life situation. Unless some miraculous intervention takes place, I will never have another child, will live a life of celibacy. Because Cliff will remain my husband, I will raise our son alone – juggling a job, Gareth’s needs, our future, all by myself. From the perspective of an outsider, I am making a terrible choice, and isolating, bizarre and naïve choice. I’m choosing to see this, though, with (what I hope) are Kingdom eyes. When I said “for better or for worse, till death do us part” I could never have known this would be what worse meant. But each day, I wake up, thank God for the grace that I continue to receive….
And then I turn around and give that grace to Cliff.
That’s the power of staying.