I should probably be embarrassed to admit this, but since junior high or before, I’ve been one of those girls who had “The List;” yes, that list, which details everything I want in a mate, sometimes down to Prince Charming’s eye color and the first letter of his last name (green and “B”, respectively. Actually, I would settle for anything closer to the front of the alphabet than “W”).
The list has undergone a multitude of changes over the years; physical description became a post-script. I dropped some of the Christian lingo I was just putting on there to appease God and trick Him into bringing me said man. You know, the usual.
I’m not sure when “The List” dropped off my radar screen entirely. . .I’m guessing sometime during my first two years of undergrad, when I realized that all the guys in my life, while wonderful people, were a) more like brothers and b) dating my friends. Besides, it got somewhat exhausting to update my list every time a cute guy walked across my radar screen. . .”I want him tall and dark and quiet. . .No! Wait! Blonde! And exuberant!. . .Actually, that’s kind of annoying, but now that I see it, I think I’ve always secretly wanted a redhead. . .”
However, since Pepto-vomit-strewn aisles of grocery stories have been warning me for the past several weeks that Valentine’s Day is approaching, “The List” has cropped up in my mind, and I’m thankful to report that as my concept of marriage has shifted, so has my concept of the elusive Ideal Man.
Having never been in love, or even been interested in any guy beyond a pretty surface level understanding of him (I suffered a minor identity crisis in Human Growth and Development last summer when I discovered that most 12-year-olds in the United States have more interesting and varied romantic histories than myself) my development of such a list might be an exercise in futility, anyway; I honestly have no idea what type of guy would be a good fit. (While I don’t plan to hang my marital commitment on something as ambiguous as “compatibility,” there’s definitely something to be said for choosing a personality that is a natural fit with my own. Why make something as hard as marriage more work than it has to be?)
Anyway, despite the fact that The Era of “The List” has long since passed in my life, I have spent the past several months nurturing one significant conviction–I will only marry a man whose ideas regarding the purpose of marriage transcend love of me and commitment to our relationship. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to get married for such reasons as sex, companionship, sex, kids, sex, etc. Those are all legitimate desires that (if kept within the bounds of self-control, and not turned into idols in their own rights) can be healthfully expressed in marriage.
But I think any view of marriage that focuses on just “the two of us” is anemic, incomplete. The significance of marriage goes well beyond the simple declaration that “it is not good for man to be alone.” Dan Allender puts words to my vague impressions in his book “The Intimate Mystery,” where he writes, “Marriage is the human relationship that most reveals the being, character and purpose of God. This key relationship is designed to make known who God is and how he relates to his world.”
The fact that that Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ is hardly coincidental; marriage is intended to be a potent personification of God’s love for the Church.*
This thought may not be particularly original to any person who has been immersed in Christendom for any amount of time; but why would this be of such importance that it would make up the sole item on “The List?” How can this piece of theology stake out a piece of practical territory in the daily grind of dishes and kids and bills and laundry? How might casting the marriage relationship as a star in a play of cosmic importance change the lives of two people who are having as much trouble in their relationship as would be expected when two sinners decide to spend inordinate amounts of time together?
As a single person, I can only postulate. But my hypothesis is that this understanding of marriage could be a fundamental game-changer; it may imbue each daily interaction between a husband and wife with significance. It gives each partner extra motivation to prioritize the marriage relationship–not based on the allure of each partner or even merely because “Well, I committed to do this, so I should,” but because this relationship is a living metaphor of something far beyond the individuals or the couple. With this knowledge, marital partners are freed to focus guiltlessly on their relationship; they can turn down commitments that overzealous bosses/churches/in-laws attempt to force on them because taking the time to play with and enjoy the company of their spouse is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
That’s why my list consists of that one item. I want my possible future husband to enter our marriage with the understanding that we are mandated to prioritize it, that our interactions will be heavy with symbolism, and that our poor-but-hopefully-improving attempts to love each other well are not to be contingent on how we feel about each other or even merely the fact that we’ve decided to commit to one another, but are a rich charge and opportunity we have been given to demonstrate the love between Christ and His Church to a world that desperately craves such committed, counter-conditional love.
*In the interest of not setting myself up against some of the greats of theology, let me humbly refer you to the book I referred to above or the writings of John Piper at this web address if you have more interest in studying the concept of marriage through a theological lens. They say some good stuff; and I bet they read it in the original Greek, too, so you’ll know it’s legit. This girl only does the English, and usually the looked-down-upon-in-theologically-scholastic-circles NIV, at that.