On the 15th April, 1995, the Rev. Jan Croucher (my
wife) and I 'celebrated' the marriage of our daughter Amanda, to John
Southwell. The beautiful service at the Heathmont Baptist Church in Melbourne,
Victoria, began with Amanda's four cousins - sisters who are all brilliant
musicians - playing Bach's Air on the G String. After the vows, a homily.
Here's what I said:
It is a privilege and joy to summarize the 'wisdom of
the ages' (and of 35* years of marriage) about 'how to be happy though
married'. Last year I spent three months writing a book about marriage and
family, and read all the 'experts'...
I've delivered many of these homilies before, but only
once at the wedding of one of my children... John and Amanda, these thoughts
are a gift to you as you set out on one of life's greatest (and riskiest)
Actually, they're thoughts put together by both of us,
your parents, on a romantic outing to and from the opera Turandot last
Marriage, according to the experts, is about eight
However, if you marry to find happiness you're
marrying for the wrong reason. Happiness is where you find it, not where you
Happiness is serendipitous - a by-product of doing
other worthwhile things. As you set some big goals for your life together,
you'll look back from time to time and say of this occasion or that, 'Wasn't it
And by the way, your partner can't 'make you happy':
that's a decision you make for yourself. Indeed no other person on earth can
satisfy all your needs... Ultimately, as the Psalms and Proverbs reiterate
everywhere, 'Happy are those who fear the Lord.'
This is the basic idea in the Christian concept of
'grace'. I am loved by God before I change, before I 'deserve' to be loved.
This love-before-worth is to characterize our relationships as well. Indeed,
people grow and change more profoundly once they are accepted as they are.
So in marriage, don't impose a program of change on the
other: accept him or her as they are, and they'll be more likely to change
anyway. Every culture has a proverb which says something to the effect that
'the sun does not command the bud to become a flower, but simply provides a
climate of warmth so that the flower can become the beautiful creature it was
meant to be.'
The Bible text for us here is Romans 15:7: 'Accept one
another for the glory of God, as Christ has accepted you.'
In our culture we 'fall in love' then marry. Romance,
says Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled) is a genetic trick that nature
plays on us to hook us into marriage. Romance is to marriage as the colour of a
car is to the car: beautiful, but not necessarily functional to any significant
degree. True 'love' is a matter of the will: I _choose_ to love my partner.
Romance is emotional and sexual.
Now romance is important: every couple ought to do
romantic things together. Last Wednesday night Jan and I walked and talked
along the South Bank of the Yarra: it was a magical evening: the city lights
and the moon reflected on the water; the temperature was mild; we weren't in a
hurry to be anywhere else. Last week a woman said to me, 'He buys me flowers
and chocolates. I like that. But I'd rather do interesting or romantic things
with him...' The Song of Solomon is a celebration of romantic/sexual love...
In the words of Genesis and Jesus, we leave father and
mother and cling to our married partner. In the vows you composed you said
you are dedicating your life to the well-being of your mate. Later, you will
have some difficult priorities to sort out. Like, 'Who comes first - my partner
or my children?'
The classical Christian approach to this 'hierarchy of loving'
is: God first, spouse second, children third, everything else (church, job, others) follows. However, in a
well-integrated life, these loves do not compete: they enrich each
other, and are inter-related.
In the New Testament James invites us to ask for
wisdom, and God will give it to us. John, Amanda, you'll need lots of this
substance to survive a marriage. Males and females are not the same. Their
bodies, minds, emotions and logics are different! Gender-wise, and sexually,
they are different. Generally (but not invariably) women tend to have a more
finely-developed intuition; men tend to be linear-thinkers. Both are OK,
and complement one another: one is good for reading feelings, the other
for solving problems. Men need to work harder on figuring out the
agendas-behind-words. And I would encourage women to work harder at setting
Should you 'tell everything' to your partner? My
answer is 'Almost everything'. You may decide that something is hurtful
and will not be received or understood: sometimes you will choose not to 'link
your mouth with your mind': some things are best left unsaid.
You are allowed to enjoy your life: you will never
come out of it alive! Plan a day off together each week (the coming of
children will complicate those plans, however). Look forward to enjoyable and
interesting pursuits you both enjoy. But don't live for 'pleasure'. 'Play' is
for 're-creation' - to strengthen you to go back into life to work. But you do
not live to work: you work to live. Many men, and some women, are bigamous -married to their jobs as well as their partners. Then,
in mid-life, they have a 'crisis' - moving from significance to security,
whereas the other might be moving the other way. That's a time for seeking the
help of a counsellor.
The early Christian leader Paul had a brilliant
insight into husband/wife relationships when he exhorted husbands to love their
wives, and wives to respect their husbands. The worst fate for a
woman is to be raped and killed: self-respecting women feel awful when treated
The worst fate for a man is to be shamed before
significant others: men sometimes commit suicide if their shame is too great.
John and Amanda, if you give gifts of love and respect to each other, you're in
for a special marriage.
Two final words: the opera Turandot is
about love and death (the words in Italian are similar). All true loving is a
kind of dying: 'dying to self' as the Scripture puts it, so that one can please
And a thought from Richard Rohr, whose tapes you'll be
hearing on your honeymoon. (He's probably the best popularizer of classical
Christian spirituality in the English-speaking world: you'll enjoy him). He
quotes Meister Eckhart to the effect that all true spirituality is about subtraction whereas
our culture says your significance is measured by all the stuff - money,
material objects, degrees, status, power etc. - you add to
your life. Don't buy into this heresy.
Marriage is all about being two good forgivers. And
that's hard work. Notice the acronym we made from the initial letters of these
The Lord bless you each-and-both, and keep you in his
eternal love. Amen.
1. What is happiness? Why is it serendipitous?
2. Why is 'acceptance-before-worth' so difficult?
Someone prayed 'Lord, thank you that you love us before we change, as we
change, after we change, and whether we change or not' - and it was an 'aha'
experience for many at the Prayer Service. Why would that be?
3. Do you agree with Scott Peck's somewhat dismissive
idea about romance? What are the relative advantages of the Western
approach - falling in love then marrying - versus the traditional way: marrying
the person arranged by parents and tribe, then 'falling in love'? What are the
real differences between romantic love and realistic love? Share some ideas
about romantic things married couples can enjoy...
4. Talk about 'leaving and cleaving'. How can young
marrieds be better prepared for the exclusive, life-long commitment which a
good marriage requires? How can we learn to 'leave' the habits and bad modelling
about a marriage relationship many of us received during our childhood? (For
example: he comes from a family where mother rules, father is weak.
He therefore has serious trouble relating to the assertiveness of his
wife, and her expectations of him as a 'leader' in the marriage).
5. Are males and females different - in the way they
think, solve problems etc.? As the title of a book by Allan and Barbara Peace
puts it: Why won't men listen and why can't women read maps?
6. About half the Christian writers of
books-about-marriage say there should be no secrets at all between married
partners. The other half believe that occasionally something might more
appropriately be kept from the other for various reasons... What do you
7. Try this generalization: 'Males often seek
significance through their work, as they try to out-perform their peers. Women
mostly seek security rather than significance - and primarily through
relationships, and mothering. Then the mid-life crisis, when the situation is
often reversed. He comes to the point of asking "Is that all there
is?" and wants a relationship with his mate. But she has now made a
life of her own and seeks significance in other contexts.'
8. Why do men need the gift of respect so badly? And
why are women so fearful of being 'used'? How can 'the dance of marriage'
resolve these needs?