Thankfully there are still plenty of people who realize that the traditional definition of the family is not only workable, but vital, and that in any case the answer to our problems does not lie in redefining it, but in returning to the simple teachings of Christ, who said, “Love God,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Yet the question of the two-parent family is a painful one for many. According to current statistics, about half of the married readers of this book will have experienced (or will one day experience) divorce. All the more, it is necessary to witness to the possibility of lasting, loving marriages—not in a judgmental way, but in the sense of taking a new look at God’s will for each of us. Even if our generation has suffered tremendous anguish over our parents’ marriages and our own, we must have hope and faith that wounds can be healed, sins forgiven, and God’s plan for marriage reclaimed—for the sake of ourselves and our children, and for the sake of the whole world.
In his “Wedding Sermon from Prison,” Bonhoeffer says:
Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance...In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility toward the world and mankind...Marriage is more than something personal...
Welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God…In a word, live together in the forgiveness of your sins, for without it no human fellowship, least of all a marriage, can survive. Don’t insist on your rights, don’t blame each other, don’t judge or condemn each other, don’t find fault with each other, but accept each other as you are, and forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.
When a couple founds a family on this basis, marriage (and parenthood) will be a joy, and light and strength will go out from their home into many others.
For a marriage to endure, God must lead the man and woman to each other, and they must want him to hold them together. They must also desire his order in their marriage, the husband serving his wife as spiritual head of the family, and his wife serving him in return as his helpmate. Such a relationship is possible only if Christ himself leads them both.
If a husband is to lead his wife aright, which means leading her to God, he must respect and love her, not rule over her in a domineering or assertive way. He must allow himself to be guided by the Holy Spirit and remember that true leadership means service. The apostle Peter warns us that unless we consider and honor our wives, our prayers may be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7). Likewise, a woman should love and respect her husband.
Prayer is crucial in keeping a marriage healthy. Husband and wife should pray together daily—for their children, for each other, and for those around them. Given the hectic pace of so many marriages today, it may be helpful to set aside regular times for prayer: every morning before breakfast, for instance, and every night before going to sleep. Of course, one can pray at other times during the day, too, wherever one happens to be. Being busy, or tired, is not an excuse when it comes to prayer. How many of us spend time reading the paper every evening but have no time for our spouse or for God?
Because of the emotional ups and downs that affect even the most stable relationship at times, both partners must continually seek Christ. His love reaches far beyond the bounds of fickle human love. Naturally we cannot only seek him; we must really obey him: “Every one who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who has built his house upon the rock” (Mt. 7:24).
When things are going well, obedience is easy. But what about hard times? Every person, every parent, has a cross to carry in life: sickness, loss of a spouse or child; the inability to have children; a broken relationship with one’s partner, parents, relatives, or friends. But if, like Simon of Cyrene (Lk. 23:26), we are willing to accept our cross and carry it for the sake of Christ, he will give us the courage we need to come through every difficult situation.