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A Christian Voice In A Changing Culture

Raising Kids Requires the Grace of Marriage

The most rewarding and difficult task Annette and I have undertaken is raising children.

Without each other’s support, and the unique grace God gives to man and woman who yield to each other in the heartache of parenting, we might not have made it. And had we not, our kids would have lost the witness that in spite of their extremes, love prevails.

One cannot grasp this until (s)he lives it. I recall family photos when my siblings and I were teen-agers. My brother and I put my parents through hell. Just as heaven came to earth in Jesus, hell visits the families of renegade teens. We kids sneered into the photograph, while my mother smiled wanly, her eyes dark and wearied by the hard season of parenting Dad and she were enduring together.

Still, I did not grasp the cost of parenting until Annette and I faced one hard fact–our kids were very capable of blowing off ‘family values’ for a ride in the fast lane. We recall waited in agony, and in vain, for the teen son in the early morning hours: drug-induced chaos, the smashed up car, weird friends (raised by wolves?), the sincere kid who became completely implausible, suspicions that went nowhere, the discernment that came true, the truth that kids must work out their lives outside your control while still under your watchful, tearful eye.

Perhaps here more than in any other task, Annette and I found one another. Instead of blaming or shaming the other for the misery at hand, we have found solace in our love. We somehow strengthened each other in our mutual helplessness. We have a rock; our commitment forged in difference and in fire. When the kids rock our world, we share a united front that serves as a kind of fortress against the unpredictability of raising children.

Kids need that steadfastness. As they travel the breadth of extremities, they need to know their parents don’t, and that two await them in love and with boundaries that help them face the limits they are imposing on themselves.

Maybe that is what the Catholics mean when they speak of marriage as a sacrament. A sacrament is a means of grace. Through marriage, God gives grace to the one man and one woman who dare to bring kids into this chaotic world.

That world gives no guarantee that earnest parents will produce seamless kids. In the uncertainty and pain of parenting, the Creator consoles and empowers His ‘co-creators’. We give grace to one another. God honors that offering of grace and enhances it as we seek to love well the fruit of our lovemaking.

Honor marriage for the good of all, especially kids. Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Father, we thank you for the grace You give parents as they stand together in the hard task of raising children. Unify and empower them; let kids be the first fruit of that grace.”

How Jesus Restores Marriage

Marriage matters. The quality of care between spouses matters. Generations to come are impacted by that quality, or the lack thereof. To paraphrase John Paul II, how husband and wife care for each other impacts the dignity and destiny of those they influence.

Especially their children. Kids are those most impacted and least heard in battles surrounding marriage. Jesus loves kids. He hates it when they are stumbled by broken, selfish parents. So He acts to restore marriage for the good of all: restoring first the parents, who can then offer themselves well to their children.

Jesus loves His image in humanity. He reiterates the power of marriage as male and female in Matt. 19: 4-6 when He decries the effort of any created thing to separate the two whom God has joined as one.

Paul takes this a step further when he describes Jesus as the true image of God in humanity. (Col. 1:15) The Apostle claims that Jesus created all living things, and can redeem what was lost or broken through His sacrifice on the cross. (vs.16-20)

So Jesus is the embodiment of God’s image, and the Creator of that image in us. That gives Him awareness of who we truly are (who He made us to be), how we have fallen, and what needs to happen so that we can be restored to His will for our humanity. That has significance for our covenants.

Jesus indwells marriage through His Spirit when we invoke His name and power. It is as if we are saying: “Jesus, You who are God’s true image, indwell this expression of Your image. Make it what You will. You authored it: sustain and redeem it. Renew it daily as we as one look to You–the One true image from whom this ‘image’ draws its meaning.”

Jesus is the faithful covenant-keeper. He so hates the dividing of one-flesh that He fights for the quality of that unity. He does battle on behalf of marriage: first in His dying, second in His risen life. He is mighty in Spirit to raise us up to love the other when our hearts are weak and divided. He grants us grace to love beyond what we are capable of.

He wants our children to have a legacy of love. So He is at once tender and fiery toward us in our faithlessness. He burns with both mercy and judgment toward wayward spouses. For His name’s sake. And for the sake of children that will bear the mark of infidelity unless their parents submit to the Creator and Restorer of that marriage.

Jesus declares with mercy and might on behalf of children: “Let marriage be honored by all, and let the marriage bed be kept pure!” (Heb. 13:4) Vote YES on Proposition 8.

“Jesus. We honor You as the true image of God in humanity. We look to You as the Source of our care for the other, and our Restorer where we have failed to love this other well. Open our eyes to the impact of our marriage upon children. Lord have mercy.”

Otherness and Sacrifice

Opposites are designed to attract; many can attest to the powerful pull of the other’s appeal that initially drew him/her into the marital relationship.

But chemistry alone cannot sustain the covenant. In truth, the precise differences that intrigued us in the other also expose, provoke and annoy us. Mike Mason writes: “It is a shock for a couple to discover how quickly romantic love is exhausted, how little they really know and understand one another, how deeply estranged it is possible to become from the person you thought you were closest to…”

Gender duality, that quality of ‘ otherness ’ essential to marriage, requires more than physical and emotional desire to create a whole marriage.

Marriage requires a willingness to value the other because (s)he is worthy of it. The late great pope, John Paul II wrote exquisitely on the need for marital love to possess a backbone of sacrificial love. He understood well the power of both sensuality and sentimentality in human relating. And he knew that unless these powerful human drives were subordinated to a higher love accorded the spouse then the marriage would be doomed.

He writes in Love and Responsibility: “Marriage is put to the test when the sensual and emotional reactions themselves grow weaker…nothing then remains but the value of the person. Then the inner truth about the love of those concerned comes to light. If their love is a true gift of the self, it will not only survive in these dry times but will grow deeper and sink deeper roots.”

My generation was the first to discard our marriages when they did not work for us any more. We had plenty of time and money to explore rarified expressions of sensuality and romance. Our films and music and therapies catered to our consumerism but rarely encouraged any notion of sacrifice.

We refused the one true thing: valuing people more than the sensual and sentimental ‘rush’ they provide us. In contrast to our consumer-driven approach to marriage, in which the main reason to remain together seems to be what one is still ‘getting’, cultivating the discipline of giving is paramount.

I am challenged and humbled by my parents’ marriage. Just shy of 60 years together, the two 80-‘somethings’ quietly manifest a quality of love that shames me in its beauty. Sentimentality and sensuality have evolved into sacrifice. My mother serves my father, the weaker, tirelessly. He gives her what he can, out of a love and gratitude too deep for words. Their offering to each other is gold for all who know them.

I write this entry in their home, the home of my youth. I have the privilege to witness the otherwise unseen gestures of service, one to another.

And I know that beneath all my brokenness and selfishness rests a foundation laid for me through the sacrificial love of my parents for each other.

My parents’ marriage is a living witness of what Mason describes as “the single most wholehearted step most people will ever take towards a fulfillment of Jesus’ command to love one’s neighbor as oneself.”

Honor marriage for the good of all. Vote Yes on Proposition 8.

“Father, we ask for the grace to give more than we get in our marriages, to cultivate a heart of sacrifice for the other. Subordinate our consumer-driven quest for heightened sensuality or emotions. Temper our love for the other with the sacrifice that manifests the truth of our love for him or her. Manifest to others Your sacrificial love through our marriages.”

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