My mom is one of those moms. You know the kind of moms I’m talking about. The ones that give the best everything-will-get-better hugs, make the best homemade apple pies, and always made sure to sneak that only slightly humiliating but secretly awesome note of pure love into your Care Bears lunch box every day in elementary school (and maybe sometimes high school…let’s not talk about it). So as you can tell she was a pretty great mom. Now, Mom, if you are reading this, don’t be too upset when you hear what I have to say next. Like I said there are very few things about my mom that I could complain about, but one of those things happens to be her taste in wall decorations.
I know what you are thinking, ‘She gave you life and raised you and you are going to complain about her interior design skills?’ But it’s different than you think. It’s not that my mom’s house wasn’t decorated, it was. Everything coordinated perfectly. Well, as perfectly as it could be coordinated with an unfortunate splattering of forest green carpeting that us kids use to pretend to study our world geography on because of the vast amount of Diet Coke and who-knows-what-else stains all over it. But I digress. The wall hangings. It was almost as if she was worried that we would be bored or forget that Jesus loved us, so in that way it was sweet and considerate, but in every other way it was just plain weird. While we had the typical, ethereal Jesus praying hands picture (if you grew up in a practicing Christian household you probably know what I mean) and some sign hanging above the doorway meant to set some sort of blessing upon whoever entered our house, but we also had a couple that now seem less typical. Yes, I could write a whole other blog post (and probably will) about the five stanza poem that hung in our bathroom at the perfect level for each of us to read as we relieved ourselves about taking time to pray as we go through our day (see what they did there?), but my real issue is with a small framed poem stitched on off-white fabric that hung above my parents’ bed.
I remember crawling into their bed when I was maybe seven or eight and reading this poem over and over again with both confusion and intrigue. The poem by Beth Stuckwisch went like this:
“Marriage takes three to be complete;
It’s not enough for two to meet.
They must be united in love
By love’s Creator, God above.
Then their love will be firm and strong;
Able to last when things go wrong,
Because they’ve felt God’s love and know
He’s always there, He’ll never go.
And they have both loved Him in kind
With all the heart and soul and mind
And in that love they’ve found the way
To love each other every day.
A marriage that follows God’s plan
Takes more than a woman and a man.
It needs a oneness that can be
Only from Christ-
Marriage takes three.”
Doesn’t sound too bad right? And, you know besides the heteronormativity and a slight hint to some sort of God-centered threesome, it really isn’t. It has a good message. Love God, love your spouse, be complete. But somehow this poem and some later events convinced me that I was NEVER going to get married.
Flash forward a few years to junior high: the confusing time when girls stop being convinced that every boy is infected with some disease affectionately known as “cooties” and start ‘dating.’ If you can even call junior high relationships that. Since this hormone crazed transition is a critical time for sex-ed training and abstinence talks, my church had to join the trend. A weekend event called “True Love Waits,” which I’m sure most of you have heard of, was planned that culminated in each teenager being asked to sign a promise that they will wait to have sex until they are married. I was less than excited. Not because I didn’t want to willingly sign away my sexual desires for my own eternal security, but because of the sickening speech we were presented with before the signing.
Two perfect-looking, well-dressed individuals waltzed happily up to the stage with smiles smacked on their faces. A man and a woman, a recently married couple from the church, stood in front of hundreds of confused and insecure teenagers to proclaim the everlasting joys and satisfaction that comes from waiting until marriage to have sex. I could buy it, sure, sex was a sacred and intimate act, why not save it for the right person? but my question was what drugs are these two on to make them so annoyingly happy. Obviously no drugs were involved, but to my skeptical teenage mind there was something not right with the public display in front of me. It’s not that I didn’t think they were in love and genuinely believed everything they were presenting, I think they were. The problem for me was that when I looked at the beautiful smiling wife and heard her slip in a giggly “Oh, honey tell them the story of…” every few sentences of their speech, it made me want to hurl.
As a 12 year old and probably at an even younger age, I knew that I would never be that wife. Since I was not new to this whole church thing, I had heard many similar couples stand up and give many similar speeches so I was not surprised by what they said. But that day was the day when all these images of perfect god-centered couple I had swirling around in my head violently and swiftly collided with the words of that poem stuck on constant repeat whenever the topic of marriage came up. When the slight panic disappeared and the chaos of the collision settled, what I was left with was a resolute conclusion: I was never going to get married.
I told myself I was never going to get married, not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t think I would be able to. My only conception of what married life was like was this odd poem that hinted at some supernatural threesome and this parade of couples that told stories about the happiness they found from praying together, starting faith sharing groups, and getting up early on weekends just to read the next chapter of the Bible together. Hence, I was convinced that I would never get married.
Married life sounded terrible! Praying freaks me out, it’s not that I don’t do it or believe that it has some impact in this world, but praying out loud carries too much pressure. It’s like a speech, (I hate speeches) but to the creator of the universe, so, you know, no big deal! Are you kidding me? That sounds like a daily anxiety attack to me. And I didn’t even get up in the morning to read the Bible on my own, why would I want to do that while having to interact with another person before the hour when I transition from a complaining morning monster to the delightful woman you all know and love? Sometimes I’d rather just read T.S. Eliot or F. Scott Fitzgerald by myself in my bed at a decent hour and call it a day. So my 12 year old self declared marriage, or the church’s secret plan to make a complacent robot army, a horrible option.
Now I know I’m making light of these very important aspects of a Christian life, but I want to make clear that I’m not trying to say you can’t experience God in your marriage through these activities. What I want to suggest is that the script that the church often uses to talk about marriage, love and sex is limited to a drama of perfect happy couples that do only the above outlined Christiany things. While this limitation in the script is not necessarily harmful, for me, it was another reason I often felt, and sometimes still feel, isolated from the church. I thought marriage could only look this way, which meant encouraging people to find a good white, virgin Christian man of a middle class background, similar religious upbringing and parental guidance as you, marry him and settle down to have the same safe life your parents lead. That message was terrifying for me!
I want to suggest that the script be opened and edited. Sure, marriage does work out better when you find unity and agreement around a higher being or similar values, but this whole “marriage takes three” thing is just confusing. In order to fix the confusion, the church decided that the only way God is present in a relationship is if you mention his name directly in conversations, pray to him together in the same tone and order, read this one inspired book, or hang out with other people that think these same things you do. That’s not fixing anything it’s just making a smaller box for this God we keep talking about.
Now, I’m engaged so I proved myself wrong, I guess, I am getting married. But being engaged brought back these fears and worries in me that all of a sudden I was gonna have to force myself to do things that don’t make me feel any more connected to God simply so I could point to that poem and say ‘Yup, that’s me!’ No, after trying to change myself and my fiancé into these Christian robots that I had always seen on church stages and realizing that I was right–this stuff made me miserable–I have realized having a relationship centered on God is so much more.
God is in our relationship when we argue and do unthinkable things to each other but then choose to forgive each other every day. God is there when our hearts are so broken that we can’t even bear to smile at each other. God is there when we have a conversation about racial equality over a home cooked meal and bottle of wine. We pray through encouraging each other and uttering words of hope, that love is alive and well in this dark, crazy world. God is there when we come together in community with people that look, think, act and believe different things than us. I don’t think God is asking us to take part in some bizarre threesome with the trinity. God simply asks us to be open to new ideas, people and interpretations, to consider the other side of every story and to invite each other into our messed up lives in hopes of finding some love and meaning in it all.
So, no, I don’t really hate my mom’s wall hanging that much it’s actually an important concept, but man am I glad it doesn’t mean I have to be a perfect robot wife.