A few years ago, my husband Don and I helped honor an elderly couple who were celebrating 74 years of marriage. Betty and George were even living in their own home, with a little help, of course.
“What advice would you give to a young couple today planning to marry?” I asked, as we chatted in their living room.
“You just gotta go with God!” the wife boldly professed as her 95-year-old husband nodded his head in agreement. “You just gotta go with God,” she repeated, this time a little softer and slower.
There was no doubt in my mind, this couple had walked the journey that is life-long marriage, with all its ups and downs, its sicknesses and its health, and through what for richer and for poorer meant for them. They did it together, thanks be to God, with stories to tell, and a love that was strengthened time and time again!
Maybe you know a couple like them. Hopefully, you know many. They each will tell you that it isn’t easy, nothing as valuable as a life-long marriage, ever is. But it’s worth it. I happen to agree with Richard P. Johnson, Ph.D. when he says: “All the events in your marriage relationship offer lessons for life and for loving. The vocation of marriage is a lifelong course for learning how to love well…striving to make it so strong that the love we learn will last for a lifetime.”
In marriage, God calls us to love and make our life together based in faith. A married couple is called by God to love and literally lay down one’s life for the other, even when it’s difficult. Especially, when it’s difficult.
Suppose you just bought a new car. You pull up to the gas station to fill it up for the first time. And there’s the sticker “Unleaded Gas Only.” The car manufacturer put that sticker there for a reason. I’d be pretty stupid after putting a lot of time and money into this car, to think, “I don’t care what the car manufacturer says, I’m going to put E-85 in here because it’s cheaper.” If I did, I’d soon have some serious car troubles, wouldn’t I?
When it comes to marriage, we’re having some major car troubles, aren’t we? Folks are giving up on their marriage commitment because one or both are not satisfied, fulfilled or happy. They’ve been putting the wrong gas in their tanks and it’s not working.
The car manufacturer doesn’t put that sticker by the gas tank to limit our freedom. It’s not to keep us from having a good time. It’s there to help us make the right decisions so that our car will run the way it’s meant to run. If we can see how foolish it is not to trust the car manufacturer, then how much more foolish is it to not trust God with His plan for marriage?
I have come to realize that God created marriage, not to make me happy, but to make Don and I holy. As some would say, to get each other to heaven. We believe that we are literally called to help make each other saints and as Don often reminds himself, that’s not because he’s so difficult to live with that he’s making me a saint!
No, it’s our individual efforts to learn how to love that makes the difference. We are all made for relationships, that’s a given. It’s how we use our free will to choose and how we take responsibility for our own actions and behaviors that count the most. And that’s where the work of holiness lies. It’s a funny thing about holiness, and about loving, when we give up our selfish ways of doing things, and choose to do good for the other, happiness follows.
That’s what these lines from the Catechism of the Catholic Church are saying: “Two other sacraments, Holy Orders and Matrimony, are directed towards the salvation of others; if they contribute as well to personal salvation, it is through service to others that they do so.” (CCC 1534).
It’s not always easy. And we can’t exclude God as we try to navigate our own way through this relationship maze. Thanks for the reminder, Betty: “We just gotta go with God!”