Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conditional Vows?

W here! I first want to encourage you to go back and read the post before my last one. M wrote a FANTASTIC post about being "Bibically-qualified" for marriage and for some reason it got posted before my "wednesday psych lesson" even though she wrote it after. If you haven't already, please check it out! It's one of my favorites that she's written.

Back to the topic at hand. Conditional vows. I've been thinking about this a bit recently, as T and I just attended our 5th wedding of the summer this past weekend. As such, I have been inundated with vows. One of the best things about going to a wedding as a married couple is that you are reminded of exactly how you felt and exactly what you promised to God and to your own spouse when you got married.

Most of you probably know what the promises love and cherish one another regardless of circumstance (in sickness and health, in plenty or want, for better or worse). T and I added some additional promises:

I take you to be my wife/husband, my partner in life, and my one true love. I will cherish our friendship and love you today, tomorrow, and forever. I will trust you and honor you, I will laugh with you and cry with you. I will love you faithfully through the best and the worst, through the difficult and the easy. What may come I will always be there. As I have given you my hand to hold so I give you my life to keep-- so help me God.

The vows are pretty clear. I will be faithful. I will trust you. I will value our friendship. I will always be your wife.

The underlying commitment, then, is my promise to T that NOTHING will ever prevent me from following through in these ways. This is unconditional commitment, and this is what is intended for marriage.

This all seems pretty straight forward until I start thinking about the "exit ramps" that our society has created for leaving marriage. Examples include:
-A cheating spouse
-An abusive spouse
-An addicted spouse
-A spouse who leaves you first
-A spouse who has broken his or her vows

Given any of these circumstances, it is not only acceptable but often encouraged that a person leave a marriage. And when I look at this list, I completely understand. There is no part of me that would ever want a person facing an abusive or addicted spouse to stick around in a dangerous situation.

But what this means is that our vows ARE conditional. What we are committing to is not, "I promise these things regardless of circumstance," but rather "I promise these things for as long as you follow through with your end of the deal."

And this is dangerous thinking. We can see in our society how these "exit ramps" created for extreme cases are exploited to justify divorces that result out of diverging passions, irreconcilable differences, and the assumption that something better must be out there.

I know that I have only been married for two months, and that marriage is complex and challenging in a way that I cannot yet understand. But, I have been married long enough to know that if I hold up my vows only as long as T does, we are screwed from the start. We are sinful people who are bound to make mistakes along the way. Hopefully they'll be minor (maybe an infraction in honoring each other rather than a slip-up in faithfulness, for example), but I simply cannot assume that if T makes a mistake, it gives me permission to do the same.  Our commitment must be SO unconditional that we commit to each other even if we break the vows themselves.

I don't really have an answer to this weighty topic. My thoughts range from, "Where do we draw the line?" to "How do we protect those who need it without undermining the gravity of a marriage commitment?" and "How would you even continue to love someone unconditionally if they have not done the same for you?"

I think the most promising answer comes from looking to the Lord and the example that He has set forth in Christ-- a gift of grace (received freely even though we did and do not deserve it) with a promise that we can NEVER do ANYTHING that will make the Lord stop loving us.

This is why we strive to love our spouses like Christ loved the church-- so that we can say, with the power of perfect grace residing in us, that there is NOTHING that our spouse can EVER do that will prevent us from loving them. And this means that we love them even if they do not love us, and we keep our vows even if they do not hold up their own, because this is the example that the Lord has set.

So, how do we reconcile this fact with the reality of abuse of and infidelity? How do we keep ourselves from adopting an "I'm in if you're in" attitude toward marriage? What do you think?

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