Sacrifice and Marriage

*The following article was written prior to my marriage with Emma. For the sake of capturing what it felt like to be an engaged man in that period of waiting, I’ve kept it in it’s original writing.

As I prepare for my own marriage to Emma (only 200 days away now!), I am anxiously trying my best to learn more about what marriage means. Through Googling, saving articles, and witnessing two marriages of my friends, I have come to realize that marriage isn’t all about love. Well actually, it is, but not the kind of love that makes it onto TV, or the love that is talked about in songs danced to at the reception. In my research and more importantly in my prayer, I’ve come to realize that what makes a marriage is sacrifice.

This came as a surprise to me simply because of my upbringing. My parents, who I love dearly had been married for 25 years before their marriage ended in divorce. Looking through the pieces of this marriage, I’ve seen opportunities lost and the sacrifices spurned that are the fuel that marriage so beautifully burns. My parent’s marriage wasn’t always the way it seemed in the last few years. I can remember very early on the sacrifices my father would make, working long hours, picking up side jobs, changing careers so that his children would have a good life. In many ways I was blind to these sacrifices as many children are, and ungratefully took these for granted. My mother too made sacrifices a plenty in denying herself for the sake of her children. But what I came to realize was the loss of sacrifice for each other. As time went on, and the kids grew older, scores were kept more accurately and opportunities for sacrifice were ignored. There’s one constant in marriage and that’s sacrifice.

Stubbornly, I have fallen into this same trap. In my own relationship with Emma as we prepare for marriage, I find it harder and harder to give without counting. It’s easier to point out the many things I’m doing for her when an opportunity for sacrifice comes my way, than to willingly and joyfully accept however meager the cross before me may be without praise or recognition of my actions. I’ve seen the damage that an aversion to sacrifice causes. In many ways, this is a learned behavior, like all of our virtues and vices. I never before understood the parable of the ‘Unjust Steward,’ a story in which a servant who is in charge of managing his master’s wealth is dismissed from his duties. Not sure of what he can do and afraid of all other work, he decides he will go to his master’s debtors and reduce what they owe. Returning to his master, he is commended for his shrewdness. “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones” (Lk 16: 10). Jesus uses this story to demonstrate for us that essentially, our habits build on each other. If we ignore small sacrifices, how can we expect to welcome the larger?

As I prepare for marriage to Emma, I’m becoming more and more aware of the need to welcome sacrifices, both big and small. The cross assures us that struggles and hardships are almost a given in the Christian life. Society tells us to flee from these, yet Christ calls us to lift up our crosses and follow him. An old homily that was read in Christian marriages summarizes the need for sacrifice beautifully: “And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.” When we truly live out our identity as Beloved Sons of God the Father, it’s easier to love as the true model of Beloved Sonship did: Jesus Christ.

The cross is this ultimate expression of love. Anyone who has gazed upon a crucifix or has watched Mel Gibson’s The Passion knows full well the agony that Christ went through. How can that image be beautiful, how can it be joyful? Love.
Even though what I have been exposed to in my immediate family has been a neglect of this call to sacrifice, I have seen throughout history the imperative that is sacrifice in marriage. Even though it is “difficult and irksome” love softens the pain. And through time, perfect love given only by the grace of God brings about the joy that is found in marriage.


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