on marriage and entitlement

Posted: September 23, 2015 in Uncategorized

I mentioned a time or two ago that I’ve been spending some serious time talking with a young couple who are about to be married.  I don’t think I mentioned that I will be the officiant for the wedding.  This will be my first time acting as a wedding officiant (and, for the record, I’m not aiming to do this on a regular basis – I would generally say “no” to such a request, but this one happened to be all the right elements coming together, and I was thrilled to say “yes.”)

We’re working our way through a premarital counseling book and I’m desperately praying, searching, seeking God, filled with the acute awareness that what’s being put together here is holy, sacred, and meant to be a forever mystical union.  I desperately don’t want to get this wrong, which positions me well, in that it keeps me terrified of operating without the power of the Holy Spirit.

We’re hitting all the highlights, but there is no good spot in the book for a message that burns in my heart – something I’ve observed over and over again across the years.  Something that bears being said, both to those preparing for marriage, and to those who are already married, whether for a few weeks or for many decades.  I finally decided tonight that the best route is just to write it out here, so I can share it with them, but also with anyone else who is open to hear it.

It starts with this simple but brutal message:  You are not ENTITLED to this happiness.  

You are not.  I think the feeling of entitlement can happen in ANY relationship, but where I tend to most consistently notice it is among those who found each other early in life.  High school sweethearts, college romances.  Folks who found “the one” and locked the deal well before even their mid-twenties.

It comes so easily, when it comes that way.  You were too young to even care about such things, and then – voila! – there was The One and you just naturally moved into it, as if it had been waiting there for you all along.

That can make you feel like you have a RIGHT to have a partner, to be in a permanent relationship, and to have it go the way you’d like it to go.  Like, OF COURSE – isn’t that the way it’s SUPPOSED to be?  You might not even be able to articulate that feeling, but it can lurk there inside of you.  This is the logical next step of my life.

The thing is, it isn’t.

Just because it came to you, doesn’t mean you had a right to it all along.

Some others will have to wait years – decades, even – for it to happen for them.  In those years, they may be forced to look at themselves questioningly.  Is there something inherently broken or unlovable about me?  Has God chosen me for the “gift of singleness?”  Have I been alone so long that I now have been rendered unsuitable for sharing life with another?  Is this just NEVER going to happen for me?  Many of those folks will have had to wrestle repeatedly for peace and serenity amidst the struggle with pining and waiting and wondering and perhaps trying to jump the gun.

You have no special right to get it easier than those folks.

Some others will just never find someone.  Some will understand it earlier and make peace with it; others will struggle to the end, though some will flat-out enjoy being on their own.

You have no inherent right to have what they don’t have.  You really don’t.

My words here aren’t meant to slam you or imply you shouldn’t enjoy the relationship.  Rather, they are to remind you to hold what you’ve been given like the priceless gift that it is.

When you think you have a right to this happiness, it’s easy to stomp on your partner – to talk to them in insolent tones when it doesn’t go your way, to be filled with expectations and impatience and opinions and passive aggressive tendencies.  It’s easy to become not such a great spouse, when you think you’re entitled to what you’ve been given.

On the other hand, when you’ve waited decades and never been sure the gift was ever going to come…it’s a little clearer, perhaps, the need to hold it reverently.  To speak kindly and gently, both to and about your spouse.  To extend grace and mercy.  To be quick to understand that your opinions aren’t necessarily facts, and that giving generously to your spouse will pretty much always pay a better dividend than being an ass until you get your way.

So, dear friends who are young and about to grab onto the gift…and dear friends who already did, and are a few years into the journey…and dear friends who were married a whole lifetime ago in the springtime of your years…I beg you:  remember that you are not entitled to this gift that is your spouse.

Love them reverently.

Default to respect.

Give generously to them.

Check yourself, when your assumptions and opinions bring out your sharp edges.

Consider that fighting for your own way is not really fighting for the marriage, most of the time.

You’re not entitled to this happiness.  Honor the gift well.

You’re never going to regret honoring a gift well.

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