I am doing math in my head on a Sunday morning. The water beats hot against my back and I lean against the shower wall. I’ve been praying. My prayers are laundry lists and messy rooms and “Please God, thank yous” and things to pray for my husband these days. A father-friend asks me last week, “Have you been praying?” Nate asks me Friday as we drive through D.C. traffic for four hours, “Have you been praying?” I want to scream at them, “Yes! Yes I have been praying. The problem is I don’t know what I’m praying for.” Have you ever felt like a shell of yourself?
I was quick to call it depression before and it is a form of it at least. The kind of depression that happens when you crush a caterpillar or smash a fly or squeeze a balloon until it pops, pressing your foot or your fingers or your hands deep into whatever it is you want to kill. That kind of depression. I think of Paul, “We are pressed but not crushed,” and I wonder at the freedom to say that with confidence—they both feel the same in the process, it’s just the end that’s different.
Maybe compressed is a better word. That which makes cider or wine or those flattened pennies with the whole Declaration of Independence on them. Compressed and coming out a whole different thing.
. . .
I’m the child of divorce and am married to a man who was divorced so I did not come into marriage with illusions of perfection. I knew it would be work. I knew there would be dark days and delightful ones. I knew there would be death involved and it wouldn’t always be pretty—not the Austenian sort at least, where all the foibles and fractures of humanity are embraced and loved and kept as endearing. Real life is not like that. A real marriage is not like that.
I came into marriage believing it takes two whole people to make it work, and I still believe this is true. But that belief has to die the moment you say “I do,” and I did not know that. I thought, having worked so hard in my singleness to be a whole person, I would get to keep that whole person in marriage. I liked the whole person I was. I liked the time I had. I liked my financial flexibility. I liked my independence. I liked my autonomy. I liked my friends. I liked my personality. I liked me. I worked hard to be independent, secure, faithful, well-liked, a friend to many, thought-full, deep, and more. I liked that person. And I liked the person my husband was, a minister to many hurting men, faithful friend, financially secure, a home-owner, well-regarded in the city gates. Someone who stayed up with me way past our self-imposed curfew because we had so much to say. I liked us. Two whole people, come to one another in wholeness.
. . .
I used to believe that “the two shall become one flesh” was some sort of sneaky illusion to sex (wink, wink), that sex would seal the deal. A wedding itself wasn’t enough and a marriage license helped, but sex, two bodies becoming as close as humanly possible—this was when one flesh happened. I was wrong.
Marriage is not one + one = two
It isn’t even one + one = one
Marriage is (one – one) + (one – one) = one
The math doesn’t work like it’s supposed to, or like a friend said, “I have always loved math. There are rules, and if you follow the rules you can always solve the problem (even though it can take some creativity). Marriage doesn’t always seem so straightforward…”
Marriage, I am learning, is less about becoming more of who you are, or all of who you are, or your truest self, and more about becoming less of who you are. And that hurts.
It is the trendy thing in many circles today to abandon marriage when it gets too hard or when you feel like you’re drowning or when you don’t recognize the face you see in the mirror. I have been looking in the mirror for a year now, trying to find the self I used to be and she’s gone. I cannot find her. She was full in a way I am depressed. She was in bloom in a way I am compressed. She was deep in the way I am shallow. She was whole in a way I am not. She was becoming more and I am becoming less.
. . .
I tell someone yesterday, “Sanctification in singleness is hard. It is in marriage too. But they’re different kinds of sanctification. Pursuing wholeness in singleness is sanctifying. And pursuing togetherness in marriage is sanctifying. Neither one is more or less difficult or rewarding. Both hard. Both good.” It’s because they’re so different though, this is what makes marriage sanctifying for those who worked hard to be whole in their singleness, to not feel the need to legitimize their presence by the presence of a spouse, to not feel unseen or unheard in the Church.
. . .
There is no advice in this post, I have none to give. But maybe some encouragement for the newly married among us? When you look in the mirror and the vestiges of your singleness are gone, when financial flexibility feels far away, when late nights or early mornings or free schedules seem like a thing of history, when comparing calendars feels challenging, when your single friends are traipsing over Europe or crying over heartbreak or dreaming of what they want to do with their lives, when you touch that face in the mirror and try to remember what she felt like a year or two years ago: turn away, you will not find her there, and the harder you look, the less you will see.
You will need a new mirror and one before which you only stand with your new spouse, your one flesh. You are no longer two, but one. You are less whole today than you have ever been before and your spouse is not your completion any more today than the hope of them was a few years ago. What does that man or woman beside you need to flourish in the kingdom and church? Where do they need to see God more wholly or to love Him more deeply? What depressions are made in his body by yours? In which ways does her presence compress you into something wholly different than before? You are being taken from, yes, and you are giving away. You are becoming less and will never again become more of who you are. But you are also becoming one, together, with the one God has given you.
The math doesn’t add up: become less until you become one, but this is kingdom math, see: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30