The Christ-Centered Marriage
As I cruised the atheosphere this morning, I came across Possummomma’s 400th post (congratulations, Pmomma!). It includes a segment in which she discusses the effects of her acceptance of atheism on her marriage:
I know your husband is an agnostic-Catholic. How is that working in your home? Was he unhappy about your change in beliefs? If my girl friend came home and said she’d stopped believing in God, I don’t know if I would be happy with it.
Pdaddy took it well. We’d both voiced criticisms and doubts…I was just the first of the two of us to put time into researching those doubts. And, it didn’t change the basis for our relationship. I know some theist couples base their relationship on serving god or putting God first, but we were never like that. And, our children and friendship (between p-daddy and I) has always been the foundation of our marriage so atheism wasn’t a deal breaker.
That passage took me back nearly 30 years, to the time when the deacon and I were engaged and envisioning a lifetime together as faithful servants of God. In our conversations, we always affirmed that God/Jesus had to be our first love. He would be the hub of our marriage. It sounded ideal to two conservative evangelical Christians attending a Christian college. Even after we had married and were serving side-by-side as pastors and teachers, this was the ideal that we taught to many couples in our flocks.
The thing is, Jesus never actually participated in our marriage. Oh, sure, we prayed before making major decisions and we prayed for fellow believers who were experiencing difficult circumstances; we prayed before meals and in church; but we certainly didn’t pray before doing the routine things that married couples do every day: buying groceries, getting the car fixed, making love….
I think, for the deacon and me, our religious faith was primarily individual on one level, and social on another. We shared church-going and other religious experiences side-by-side, but we never felt Jesus sitting between us. Besides, it’s supposed to be a personal relationship with Jesus, right? Jesus and me, happy as can be. Which brings me to another point: I never really understood how I was supposed to relate to Jesus as my lover and confidante, yet make the commitments required to sustain a viable, thriving marriage with my husband (maybe polyamory isn’t my thing). And, to be honest, I never gave it much thought. The deacon is flesh and blood, here and now; he’s the one who stayed by my side through a miscarriage, the death of my father, the births of two children…. Jesus certainly wasn’t holding me in his arms or changing diapers. I never felt Jesus’ presence in my marriage and, to be honest, I never missed it. The deacon was all I ever needed.
Even though the deacon and I were sincere Christian believers, the reality is that our relationship has always been a lot more like Pmomma and Pdaddy’s. The deacon and I are friends, lovers, parents, children of our parents, and siblings among other things. Until a few months ago, Christianity was a feature in our lives, but it was not the center of our relationship (even though we probably would have told you it was). I honestly can’t tell you what it means to have a Christ-centered marriage, because I haven’t got a clue what one looks like. I suspect, however, that if either the deacon or I had taken the Christ-centered ideal more seriously than we did, my renunciation of Christianity would have been a major impediment to our continuance as a married couple. It wasn’t. To the contrary; my coming out ignited a new stage of openness and acceptance in our relationship. For the first time in our adult lives, neither of us fears that we won’t be able to live up to each other’s lofty religious ideals (if that was Jesus’ contribution, it hindered rather than enriched the relationship). Instead, since we now relate to each other entirely on an earthly plain, we are much more prepared to accept and work with each other’s imperfections and to appreciate and nurture our strengths. Our marriage is, and always has been (it’s only now that I can recognize it) founded on human connection rather than divine intervention.
Jesus will just have to find himself another bride – this one’s taken.
– the chaplain