[Editor’s note: There are a number of blogs coming up about marriage and weddings. They were all written before the proposal. God clearly knew what He was doing.] A couple of months ago Deacon Greg of “The Deacon’s Bench” blogged advice that a man who had just gone through a divorce after 16 years of marriage wishes he would have had. For the most part, the list is fairly sound. However, there was one piece of advice that didn’t sit quite right:
“It’s not your job to change or fix her… your job is to love her as she is with no expectation of her ever changing. And if she changes, love what she becomes, whether it’s what you wanted or not.”
I think he is only half right. It isn’t our job to change our significant other/spouse, but it is tasked to us to help them get to Heaven (read: be a saint). The definition of a saint is someone who is in Heaven, whether they’ve been officially canonized by the Church or not. It is our job to love our spouse unconditionally, but it isn’t our job to simply accept the things that make them less than holy people. When you are in a relationship with someone or married to them, you should strive to leave them better than you found them. That doesn’t mean that you pat them on the back and tell them everything is a-okay when they sin over and over again and continually turn away from God. As one of my friends from college would say, it isn’t about blowing sunshine up people’s butts. When someone is in need of charitable correction and being guided back to holiness and we fail to help them, we do them, ourselves, and God a disservice. When we love someone, we hope that they will change…into a saint, into a holier person. There is a difference between hopes and expectations – hopes rest on God and His will, where expectations rest on our desires and what we feel we deserve, above and beyond God’s goodness. When the line between hope and expectation is made clearer we understand that we don’t expect our significant other to change, but we certainly hope for it.
When it comes to the business of loving what he/she becomes whether it is what you want or not, I don’t think that is quite right either. Again, of course we are called to love unconditionally, but if we truly have that person’s best interests at heart, if we desire nothing more than Heaven for them, then it naturally follows that what we desire for them is sainthood. Look at the way God loves us: unconditionally. However, just because He loves us unconditionally doesn’t mean that He is content to leave us where we are at without challenging us to grow closer to Him. In fact, He loves us too much to leave us where we are, He loves us so much that He wants to be united with us. Married love, then, should be the same. Married love is among the most consistent metaphors used throughout Scripture to capture what God’s love for us is like. He loves us too much to leave us where we are, and therefore we are called to love our spouses too much to leave them where they are. We are invited to challenge them to holiness, to encourage them and move them closer to God’s heart.
Love unconditionally, but don’t allow that love to become a fluffy excuse for not occasionally ruffling each other’s less-than-holy feathers. Love isn’t about unconditionally accepting others, it is about loving the good God placed in them and drawing that good to the surface with each exchange we have, each word we speak, and each breath we breathe.