“Marriage is hard.” I don’t quite know when it happened, but at some point, that became a movement. I’ve never been married, but from what I understand, it is, in fact, hard. The problem is that marriage is apparently so hard, and the “marriage is hard” movement so strong, that marriage now seems too hard. Tucked underneath the political frenzy over same-sex marriage is the reality that marriage itself isn’t as popular as it once was. I don’t need to list statistics to convince you of that.
I’ve written here before about the Humanum Colloquium, held last fall in Rome. Humanum was a gathering of experts from a variety of world religions and Christian traditions, along with philosophy, to argue in favor of marriage between one man and one woman in a complementary, lifelong, life-giving union. Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks spoke about seven critical moments in the development of marriage and the family. His speech is riveting; I loved it, and I wrote a response here at Austin CNM. But it wasn’t until recent weeks that I watched the series of six short films produced by Humanum, and once again, I was blown away.
I recommend them all, but my favorite was Part 4, “A Hidden Sweetness: The Power of Marriage Amid Hardship.”
You see, saying that marriage is hard doesn’t exactly encourage people to do it. It’s an attitude that makes marriage sound like a terrible chore that we have to bear as a burden for the propagation of the species and protection of the weak. That sounds Puritanical to me. 1 That does not sound like something I want to voluntarily take on. That’s the message the world has been hearing. Marriage is hard, but if same-sex couples want to take on that challenge, “let them get married and divorced like the rest of us.” 2 In this film, Humanum presents a better way, a truth anchored in the relationship of husband and wife across cultures, languages, and religions.
Rev. Eugene Rivers, a Pentecostal minister, says, “Black America is in the midst of a profound crisis of moral and cultural authority… because a vision of what family should be has been lost.” We unfortunately have decades of data now that show the importance of fathers in the business of raising successful adults, adults who recognize and sustain morality and culture. A father doesn’t have a child in a vacuum. He needs the mother, too, and they should be a family.
In a Boston suburb, Bruce and Delicia Hopkins parent a blended family and become stand-in parents to other children because each fulfills the role missing for the other’s children. The neighborhood children “know what they’re supposed to be”: the fruit of the love between a husband and wife. When they seek out family, they find it in a marriage.
In Nigeria, Chidi and Ifeyinwa Awagu highlight the purpose of marital challenges. “Marriage thrives when the two come together through hardship. … It is a project. … You work through it to get to the sweetness inside.” The struggle is real, but it’s not all there is, and you’re not meant to take it on alone. Relationships forged through strife are resilient. They don’t continue in the difficulty, though. They fight through to get to the joy on the other side. You don’t make friends in wartime so that you can start another war. You work together so that you can share peaceful times in the end. When couples form a family with their children, explains Theresa Okafor, “Sorrow is shared, and joy is multiplied.”
In Mexico, Crisping and Maria Rodriguez share that learning to love each other has helped them love their children even though they have little material wealth. Their children are not always with them, but they love them more than any thing. People live in your heart. Stuff is just stuff. People don’t need stuff as much as they need people. Families are supposed to stick together.
The Humanum videos aren’t just a bunch of pro-marriage talking heads, though. Throughout the film, artist Jason Talbot spray-paints a blank swath across a wall covered with graffiti tags and replaces the ugly marks of violence with a hopeful image. Slowly, we see that it becomes a man, a woman, and their child. He tells his story of becoming a father and how much it has changed him and enriched his relationship with his wife. Even if the meeting of man and woman is like banging two rocks together, “A battery has a positive and a negative charge. Mother and father balance each other, and that’s why that’s the only way you can make life.” Where humans meet, there will always be the potential for hatred. Yet when husband and wife come together, there can be new life.
The paradox of Christianity is the cross. From undeserved sacrifice comes redemption. From death comes eternal life. Why shouldn’t marriage reflect that same paradox? Under the bitter surface lies “a hidden sweetness.” I encourage you to watch all six Humanum films. They feature interviews with Catholic philosopher Dr. Peter Kreeft, scenes from a pro-marriage protest in France, and a peek into the hopeful work of young people in Grupo Sólido in South America. This is not just an American issue. It’s not just a Christian issue. It’s a matter of life. We must promote marriage, and I’d like it if we could stop saying “marriage is hard.”