I am thinking today of faithful love. Last week, I spent a bit of time in a high school classroom, talking with teens about sexual integrity and various things related to it.
One of our last classes together, we talked about “safe sex” vs. “safest sex”. What made it safest? Was it enough just to know each other well (since we talked about the importance of building a friendship over time)? Did they just have to “truly love each other” (since we’d talked about love vs. infatuation)? Was it safest if neither partner had an STD and thought they could handle a possible pregnancy (or used “protection”)?
No, I told them. What made it safest was commitment. Marriage. Lifelong covenant. But why, I asked? What do people commit to in marriage that makes it different from every other relationship? What makes it the safest place to live together, have sex, raise children, do life?
They didn’t know. “Well, what do people say in their vows?” I asked. “Something about sickness and health?” they said. But they didn’t really know, let alone what any of it meant. “How many of you have been to a wedding?” I asked them. Less than half the hands in the room went up.
They’ve never even been to a wedding. The weddings they have attended were clearly not about the vows. They don’t have a picture for how marriage is supposed to be established. The word “covenant” means nothing to them.
How in the world are they supposed to do this thing called marriage?
Because it’s not just that they’re not going to weddings. How many couples do they know who have been married 20+ years? Not many, if any at all. They’ve never gotten to see faithful love. The majority of these teens have parents who never married or are divorced. Many of them don’t know their dads.
So we talked. I told them what people say in marriage vows. I told them stories and tried to paint a picture for them of what it could be like. We talked about how if this is what marriage is, it really is the safest place for sex. They nodded their heads and said it made sense.
But it never feels like enough. How can I, in a few short hours, undo their entire life experience?
I’m planting seeds, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to do that. For some of them, this is the first time they’ve heard that they could live differently, that they are worth making good choices for, that they could have that happily-ever-after future they dream of. At the end, lots of them commit to waiting for marriage.
So it’s not wasted time. But, oh, what a dearth of marriage this culture has. It’s a gaping hole in the lives of these teens, not to grow up watching faithful love, but instead witnessing divorce and abuse and abandonment and selfishness and lust.
My married friends, never forget the responsibility you carry. It matters how you live out your marriage and keep your vows. And my single friends, never forget the responsibility you carry. It matters how you live before marriage and how you go about entering marriage.
For hope is not lost. Standing out as lights in the darkness are those who choose faithful love.
I think of some of the couples I’m privileged to go to church with, and I close my eyes and smile at the faithful love on display. After 60 years of marriage and untold hardships in that time, to still walk in holding hands? Or when dementia has taken almost everything from him, after half a century of marriage, to hear how she serves him selflessly, daily, and faithfully, and know of the tender love he still shows her in the moments when he remembers? How about to see the kind of things my pastor and his family face in ministry, and observe how his wife speaks well of him and how he prioritizes her?
I think of my own parents, approaching 30 years of marriage. I’ve been there for most of it, watched them grow through the years and choose each other with faithful love through the changing seasons. It’s an immeasurable blessing. I think of my grandparents, married for over 5 decades, still serving alongside one another. It’s a rich legacy that I take for granted far too easily.
It’s not just the long-married folks. I think of sweet friends whose hands are full with 3 babies in as many years, and the way they serve one another unselfishly even though I doubt they ever sleep. I think of newly pregnant friends who are finding ways to support their husbands, even as their husbands care for them and pick up the slack at home when their wife literally cannot get out of bed. I think of friends whose journeys have held infertility or adoption or loss, and the way faithful love has pressed on and held fast to one another, when circumstances could so easily have torn them apart.
Faithful love is a beautiful thing. This telling of the story of Christ and the church is no light matter.
Singleness, too, plays its own part in the story. For does not the bride of Christ wait for the coming marriage supper of the Lamb, and choose faithful love to Him even while we wait?
I think of my single friends who are choosing faithful love towards their Savior and by extension, to those around them. The friend whose integrity went so far to avoid even the appearance of evil, that I realized after months of working closely together that we had never touched, even accidentally. The friend who, though he would love to be a dad, invests in the lives of teen guys in his church, going to their games, having the hard conversations, being the father figure they never had. The friend who takes the time to get to know his girlfriend and woo her gently, even though he would happily move the relationship along faster.
The friend who serves overseas on the mission field, investing her every day to grow the kingdom of God in a very intentional way. The friend who loves her church and prays faithfully for people and is always there for you, no matter what the need or how inconvenient it might be. The friend who serves young moms in her life and blesses her family and is industrious wherever she applies herself.
There are many facets to all of this, of course. Married or single, we are first and foremost to be faithful in love to our Savior, and all of us are called to be faithful in love to His church and to serving the people around us. I am still convinced that sexual integrity is a key piece, regardless of marital status.
But, oh, friends, faithful love matters. Marriage matters. Our culture desperately needs it. The next generation has a void that will not be filled unless we do our part.
We who are part of the bride of Christ would do well to take this seriously. It is not accidental that in specific church instructions, like in Ephesians and Colossians, marriage instructions take such priority. We of all people should do marriage right – because we know that it is a mystery that refers to Christ and the church.
Marriage is not about us. But it does require us to do our part. Married or not-yet-married. So please, take up the gauntlet. Choose faithful love.
By the way, I am talking to myself on this, too. There are always more ways to choose faithful love. I can always grow in love for Christ and love for others. Today, I am single, and that carries its own responsibilities, but I must also prepare for the possibility that God will call me to marriage, and how I go about that will matter. For better or worse, I have been given a large circle of influence, especially with teens, and that weighs on me. I’m probably going to invite them all to my wedding – but of course influence goes far beyond that.
It’s not a light calling. But it is a worthwhile one. Let us press on in love, for He has first loved us.