Marriage And The Meaning Of Life
By: Ted Harro
While we’re all for happy marriages, Gretchen and I are totally convinced that marriage is about more than living happily ever after. We believe that marriage is one of the greatest tools to help us become who we were created to be. And that really matters.
To understand why, we have to take a detour through the meaning of life, as drawn by someone with 4th grade artistic skills. And by saying that, I may be disrespecting 4th graders.
This Is Your Life
This is your life. This line represents all of the days and nights, months and years of your life.
At some point, you were born. At some point, you will die. In between there are good days and bad days and lots of just plain old days. These are just the facts of life.
Four Views On What Happens When You Die (this kind of matters)
Of course, it really matters what happens after the day you take your last earthly breath. If you’re an atheist, you believe that it’s lights out at that point.
According to the atheist story, your life is simply what happens between the day of your birth and the day of your death.
If you’re an agnostic, you shrug about what happens after death. But you mostly live like you’re an atheist. Just a slightly less aggressive atheist.
If you’re a Hindu or Bhuddist, you believe that the line bends back around and you go through life again, reincarnated as some other person or being.
If you’re a follower of Jesus – and you take what he says seriously – you put a very important marking on the end of the line.
You put an arrow there, because Jesus and his people have taught that there is a life that continues beyond the grave. Forever. Which is a very long time.
Why Forever Matters
It doesn’t take a math genius to know the implications of that tiny arrow. If I asked you which part of this line is longer, the part before your physical death or the part afterward, you would answer it correctly. You’d know that it’s the part of the line after your physical death because that part of the line goes on to infinity. Anyone thinking carefully would invest a lot of energy in something that’s going to last forever.
But if that’s true, why do almost all of us spend most of our time and energy focused on the part of the line before our physical death? That’s the part that we plan for, save for, worry about, and lament about. Maybe it’s because most of us have believed the stupid lie that we are fed daily in our culture, that we only live once, meaning that this life right now is all that really matters.
Don’t get me wrong. This life that we’re in does matter, quite a bit in fact. But the Jesus narrative on this earthly life frames it differently from what we’re taught every day. In the Jesus narrative, we have two different kinds of life. Yes, we have physical life that starts when we gasp our first breaths at birth.
But while we’re alive physically, we are born dead to God. C.S. Lewis said that at birth, we’re dead to God like a cat is dead to poetry. Go ahead and try reading Shakespeare or Maya Angelou or Bono to a cat. That cat may purr away, but the poetry is lost on him. (Dogs, by the way, would be totally captivated by poetry. But I digress.) In the same way, when we’re born physically, we’re dead to God.
At some point in the life of a Christian, she has an encounter with God that breathes spiritual life – the Jesus life – into her. This is the beginning of Life, Part I.
That life continues until she takes her last breath on this earth, at which point she begins Life, Part II. She is every bit as much alive as before – in fact, probably much more alive – even though she is no longer living on this earth.
What This Life Is About
If we agree that Life, Part II is much longer than Life, Part I – and because of that LIfe, Part II is probably more important for our focus – it’s fair to ask what we should make of Life, Part I. Is it just something to be endured or something that is so meaningless that it doesn’t even matter how we live?
I don’t think so.
Let me tell a story to illustrate. A few years ago, Gretchen and I went to visit some friends of ours who have a very nice winter home in southern Florida. We were visiting in March, so I packed mostly beach casual clothes. I knew it was possible we would go out to dinner or a show, so I brought a button-down shirt, a nice pair of blue jeans, and my dress shoes.
One morning, our host suggested that we have dinner that night at their yacht club. Just now, I had to google the word “yacht” to see how to spell it. I don’t do yacht clubs. But I was game. Our hostess mentioned a dress code at the yacht club. I casually said that I had a button down shirt and nice jeans. I saw her face cloud over.
“I don’t think they accept blue jeans at the club,” she said with some concern. A hasty phone call confirmed the fact. I was a little surprised since I work with senior executives in many companies where blue jeans are the norm.
Apparently, the yacht club said that I could attend dinner as long as I had black jeans. So, one very expensive pair of black jeans later, we were strolling into the yacht club for dinner. Though I was allowed into that club, I never really felt at home. I couldn’t help feeling like I wasn’t their type, like I wasn’t really ready to be part of their club. I’d need a bit more refining to feel at home in a yacht club.
I think it may be similar if I were to airdrop into heaven right now. I may be admitted, but I’m not sure I’d feel like I fit in. I have more refining to do. Maybe you do, too.
If I’m right, then every part of your Life, Part I – your work, your hobbies, and yes, your marriage – has deep meaning. It’s a laboratory for your soul.
This week, try looking at your marriage as a laboratory for your soul:
- Notice where you put your attention. How often do you think of your everyday life – your Life, Part I – as the most important thing? How often do you view it as preparation for Life, Part II? Don’t try to change your focus. Just notice and be honest with yourself.
- Take some ordinary part of your daily marriage – maybe something as simple as how you react when it’s time to do something mundane like walk the dog or wash another load of laundry. How could it help shape you more into the person you were created to be? Ask God to show you how He may want to partner with you in that today?