Jacqueline Gardner just pressed a piece entitled “Hold My Breath: Unoriginal Thoughts on Singleness”. It is a worth-while read on a topic that has been on my mind recently.

This past weekend I went to go visit a friend and her younger (single) sister asked, “How do you like being married?” My enthusiastic response was “Oh, marriage is wonderful!”

As the visit progressed she told us about how she (as an 18 year old) is quitting college and going to marry a very young enlisted man who is still in training and is being relocated every six months or so. Her parents and family are not thrilled. All of a sudden, I felt so guilty for saying “Marriage is wonderful!” It was a misleading statement to make to this poor girl.

Marriage is about a relationship. It isn’t a propositional idea. “Marriage = wonderful” is a bogus equation. It would have been true for me to say that “being married to my husband is wonderful” because ultimately, that is what makes it wonderful: the person you are married to. The relationship is wonderful. Not the propositional, abstract idea of “marriage”.

John Zizioulas is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who has developed a theology of personhood rooted in the idea that full humanity is achieved only as person participates (koinonia) in the Trinitarian life of God. Just as God defines Himself relationally (as three person in eternal, relational community), human beings are most fully actualized when living in relationship. It was Descarte’s idea that ‘I think, therefore I am’ that produced a culture saturated with individualized, independent existential thinking. In Descarte’s proposition, our being is divorced from relationship. Zizioulas attempts to move beyond Catesian self-centeredness by presupposing that the self is a gift, given by love: ‘I am loved, therefore I am’. He writes, “Being is a gift of the Other, and it is this very gift that constitutes love; if love does not grant or cause a unique identity, it is not true love; it is self-love, a sort of narcissism in disguise.”

I am loved, therefore I am. As both unmarried and married persons, our being, existence, and unique identity is established by the fact that we are loved. Being loved graces us with a matchless identity. And as both unmarried and married persons participating in the life and love of God, we are being filled up and completed.

Too many girls have heard “marriage” talked about as an abstraction and something to pursue for its own sake. Marriage, however, is just as unfulfilling as singleness if it is just another state-of-being.

Fulfillment is found in RELATIONSHIP, and singles have JUST AS MUCH access to relationship as marrieds do. Sometimes they have more access. Or perhaps I ought to say, they have different access.

Does this make any sense??

I looked at the young girl across the room from me and part of me wanted to scream, “I’m sorry!! I take that back!! Marriage is wonderful because relationships are wonderful! Marriage is wonderful for ME, because I’m married to Jacob Quick, and he is a sacrificial servant, not the kind of guy who will chase after his own aspirations and leave me in the dust. Marriage is wonderful because I’m a mature person who has taken years to develop my mind and a network of friends. Marriage is wonderful because both of us participate in relationships with the Lord.”

And the other part of me wondered, what if I had turned around and asked her, ‘How do you like being single?’ What would she have said? Because if being relational as a single person is not fulfilling for her, then being relational as a married person probably won’t be either.

So I am calling a personal moratorium on irresponsible descriptions of marriage. Too many girls are listening to the jargon that “marriage is wonderful” and what they hear is “marriage is the magic wand that makes life fulfilling”. That’s why I loved Jacqueline’s article. She was trying to say to these poor misled girls, “Ummm, start living NOW. Relationships are for NOW.”

John Zizioulas goes on to say that “The beloved one is unique because he or she is the beloved of someone, his or her beloved one. This is the only identity that makes him or her unique; it is a relational identity (cf. Mt. 3:17 and parallels; Jn. 1:18: ‘beloved; and ‘unique’ combined with the possessive ‘my’). Beings exist as particular, therefore, only as gifts of the Other, who grants them an identity by establishing a unique relation with them.” Be the beloved one. Accept the gift of your personhood from the Lord, and give the gift of your distinctive love to those around you… to those who are already here. Don’t wait for the elusive “married” state-of-being to be a real person.

Disclaimer (what post would be complete without a disclaimer?): please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I do believe that marriage relationships are amazing… it’s just that the word to highlight is RELATIONSHIPS. Not marriage. I feel like Christians have got it backwards. And the way in which we have gotten it backwards has left singles in the dust and has produced a lot of disappointed married people (who really thought they were getting something other than another relationship to sacrifice themselves in).

What are your thoughts? Do you think that we have divorced the idea of marriage from relationship by talking about it abstractly? What can we do to cultivate the identity of single and married people through relationship?

“My prayer for us this year is simply that we find frustration in the taking,

contentment in the receiving, and supreme satisfaction in the giving.”

~Jacqueline Gardner

~Annie Bolger Quick, editor