Messy Marvelous Marriages
Good God, what a lot of trouble there is in marriage! Adam has made a mess of our nature. Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in the course of their nine hundred years. Eve would say, “You ate the apple,” and Adam would retort, “You gave it to me.” —Martin Luther (as quoted by Roland Bainton in "Here I Stand")
By Jennifer Woodruff Tait, Managing Editor, Christian History magazine
When I was in college, I was sure I would soon find “the one” to marry. I dated several people seriously, but it never worked out. College came and went, as did seminary, as did library school (my mother kept asking me “are you ever going to do anything else besides go to school?”)
Then I went to Duke to get my Ph.D. I was taking a class on Luther from David C. Steinmetz of blessed memory, whose profiles of lesser-known reformers have formed a part of each of our recent Reformation issues of Christian History. The last day of class, Dr. Steinmetz played a guest lecture (on a cassette tape, believe it or not, because this was the year 2000). A young man who was not normally a student in the class came to hear the lecture. I saw him sitting in the far corner. He looked about 16 (he was actually 26) and was absolutely the dictionary picture of a geek: polyester pants, pocket protector, encyclopedic words whenever he opened his mouth. How ridiculous, I thought.
Marriage does not guarantee bliss but is a school for character.
This past August I celebrated being married to the guy with the polyester pants for 13 years. He can tell you the story of how he thought I was incredibly unfriendly when he and I were first properly introduced about 8 months later (by the senior editor of this magazine, Chris Armstrong, no less, proving that even then I had Christian History in my future!); how it took 8 months after that, hanging out with a group of grad school friends, before we became friends ourselves; how we were friends for more months yet before we ever thought of being more than friends. Years later, when we had groups of students (from the small Christian college where Edwin taught) over to our house for board games and sweet treats, we would tell the story of how our meeting had emphatically not been love at first sight, and how being friends with your spouse is actually a pretty good way to be married.
That was, and remains, an important message in a culture which, in both its Christian and secular incarnations, is invested in the idea that you will find the one perfect person and once you do everything will always be perfect. The fact is, everything is not and has not been perfect. There have been a couple articles going around Facebook lately making that point: “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person” and “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give.” And a book by friends of Edwin’s, Are You Waiting for “The One”?: Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage, is well worth reading on this point. So, it turns out, is Luther.
Martin and Katie Luther did not marry because they were madly in love and thought each other was “the one.” They had practical, logistical reasons for getting together. If Table Talk and other sources are a reliable guide, they had many conflicts and arguments. (Surely a bit of Martin Luther’s own experience is getting read back into Adam and Eve here.) But they deeply respected each other. They managed a household together. They raised children. (Of one child Martin supposedly said “Child, what have you done that I should love you? You have disturbed the whole household with your bawling!”) They traded quips and letters. They talked over their days and lives together. When he died, she was devastated. They had a profoundly Christian marriage. I hope mine can continue to be the same.
Ada Calhoun says at the end of “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give” (in which her husband ends up paying for the same plane tickets twice—in fact, almost three times), “Epic failure is part of being human, and it’s definitely part of being married. It’s part of what being alive means, occasionally screwing up in expensive ways. And that’s part of what marriage means, sometimes hating this other person but staying together because you promised you would. And then, days or weeks later, waking up and loving him again, loving him still.”
I think Luther and Katie would have understood.
Jennifer Woodruff Tait is Managing Editor of Christian History magazine.
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