As a single person, the marriage grass often looks so lush and green and inviting. If I can find a The One who’s willing to put up with me “til death do us part,” then all of my problems will be solved, and we’ll live happily ever after, right?

But then I get a phone call from a married friend, in whose wedding I was a bridesmaid six months ago, exclaiming, “Marriage is hard!” and I am quickly reminded that marriage is not my, or anyone’s, savior. She had sent her husband off to the grocery store with a list of what they needed for the week just to get him out of the house, and she needed someone to vent to while he was gone. She told me about how he complained the whole time he was helping her move things into her new classroom. How his clothes never make it into the laundry basket. How some days she just does not want to deal with him. We talked about how no one really talks about this side of marriage, where this person you’ve committed your life to does not in fact complete you but actually makes your life more complicated.

As Chad Bird discusses in Upside-Down Spirituality, despite what the world tells us, we will indeed fail to find our soulmate. Instead, we’ll be united in marriage to another sinner, and God, in the mysteries of his grace and mercy, will use that messy union (or really any relationship, especially that between parent and child) to point us back to him as we die to our own needs and desires and are resurrected, made new in him.

In Paul’s well-known and oft-quoted reflection on love, 1 Corinthians 13, there’s a stark implied flipside that one rarely hears mentioned. But without it, we miss the entire point of the chapter. The apostle writes, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs,” and so forth (1 Cor. 13:4-7 NIV). Lovely, poetic words, right? Almost hymn-like in tone. But why is love patient? Because it often endures the beloved behaving stupidly and selfishly. Why is love kind? Because it suffers through unkindness and meanness from the one loved. Why does it not boast? Because love often weathers humiliation from the very one to whom its heart is devoted. Why does it keep no record of wrongs? Because if it did, there would be little time for anything but score-keeping and sin-tallying. This chapter on love is also the quintessential chapter on humanity’s lovelessness. Paul is saying that when we love, we always love those who, sooner or later, will act unworthy of the devotion we give them.

That’s why love is not something we fall into; it’s a rough and rocky hill we commit ourselves to climb. Or, to change the metaphor, love is a story we decide to write together with another person. There will be paragraphs penned in the calligraphy of pure ecstasy, but there will also be chapters scribbled in pain…But because it is the account of two sinners sharing the same bed, bank account, and bathroom counter, the narrative will become terribly messy and convoluted at times. That’s the way stories unfold. Unpredictable. Boring. Beautiful. Ugly. Riveting. We’ll find all of this and more when we commit to writing a story with another person to whom we say, “I love you.” […]

If we get our marital advice from Netflix, Nashville, the self-help section of the bookstore, or just about anywhere else in our society (including many churches), we’ll spend our single years in hot pursuit of Mr. or Ms. Right. As Alain de Botton writes, we’ll operate on the “founding Romantic idea upon which the Western understanding of marriage has been based the last 250 years: that a perfect being exists who can meet all our needs and satisfy our every yearning.” That person is meant for us and we for them. Our stories are written in the stars. This ideal individual is our one-and-only, the yin to our yang.

We’ll discover this soulmate on the same day we spot the Loch Ness Monster while riding on a unicorn a few strides behind Sasquatch. They all belong to the same mythology. As Robert F. Capon reminds us, “The only candidates available for matrimony are, every last one of them, sinners. As sinners, they are in a fair way to wreck themselves and anyone else who gets within arm’s length of them.”…Now to those whose image of love and marriage is Disney-fied, all this probably comes across as maddeningly pessimistic, but I would argue that it’s just plain ol’ reality. Neither cheerful nor depressing—just the way things are in a fallen, fractured world populated by people who are also fallen and fractured. A successful marriage, therefore, will be one in which God is hard at work on two egocentric sinners to help them fail at achieving their own wills that they might learn to serve the needs of another…Marriage is a gift, but like many of God’s gifts, it comes wrapped in a cross. It’s the round hole our square-shaped hearts are hammered into. It manhandles us out of our little self-bubbles of ego-pleasing and into the sticky and needy life of a fellow sinner. We and our spouses are exposed to a life that doesn’t revolve around us. There we die a little. We live a little. And we learn, by the teaching of the Spirit, that love and self-sacrifice are virtually synonymous. (127-28, 132-35)

When God Makes All Things Nude: Gospel Hope for Marriage When It’s Not All Princess Bride – Charlotte Getz from Mockingbird on Vimeo.