No Perfect Soul Mate
By Betsy Hart
I wonder if we need to start experiencing marriage more like we experience life with our children.
That occurred to me as I read “You Never Marry the Right Person,” the provocative essay by pastor-theologian Timothy Keller. With his wife Kathy, he’s the author of “The Meaning of Marriage,” from which the recent piece in RelevantMagazine.com is excerpted. Keller writes:
“Today (in marriage) we are looking for someone who accepts us as we are and fulfills our desires, and this creates an unrealistic set of expectations that frustrates both the searchers and the searched for.”
Someone who totally accepts us. Totally fulfills us. For life. That’s too often how we define the “right person” in our current culture. While that often happens in the movies, it doesn’t in the real world. Hence the title of Keller’s piece.
But reality doesn’t change the fact that today we live in a “find your soul mate” society: Just consider the ever-popular romantic comedies, or how online dating sites like eHarmony and ChristianMingle are promoted.
It’s all about soul mates.
Yet, no matter what we think we are getting into on our wedding day, we don’t marry the person of our romantic fantasies. We get flawed sinners instead–just like us–because that’s all there is!
The good news is, he or she may be “right” for us, but in the sense of being someone who will share our joys but also challenge us and call us out of our selfishness in ways we never expected.
Now consider life with our children. We never get the ones we so looked forward to, either. Those perfect little always-delightful things who respond to us sweetly and love us perfectly into our old age. We get the children who present challenges, and difficulties, and outright sin to be dealt with in ways we never thought possible, but who give us joy and enrich us in ways we never conceived of, either. Not least of all because suddenly it’s not “all about me” anymore.
What always amazes me? When I imagined my perfect children, I never foresaw loving them as passionately and wholly as I love the real ones. I couldn’t have. That could only come with investing my life and emotions into the real thing.
And, by the way, we parents usually give more, do more for and love our kids more than what we will receive back from them. But what rightly oriented parent resents that? There is typically joy in such (often exhausting) giving. So, let’s pause for a moment and consider how just having that orientation toward our spouses might change our marriages.
Yes, there are broken parent-child relationships that are never mended. Tragically, some parents do leave their children. But in general, while I’ve never heard a parent of grown children say, “Wow, that was easy!,” I’ve often heard, “That was harder, more worthwhile, more meaningful, more heartbreaking, but with moments of more joy than I ever thought possible.”
Patiently bearing with each other, sometimes impatiently bearing with each other, with all of our flaws and imperfections brings my children and me to a depth of relationship I couldn’t have had with perfect kids. And they couldn’t have had with a perfect mom.
Sure, the metaphor only goes so far. For starters, outside of arranged marriages we get a lot more say in our choice of life partner than in our children. But imagine if we thought of our marriages with the same sense of purpose, self-sacrifice, commitment and openness to the unexpected that we typically do our relationships with our kids. We might then find a whole new–only this time real–kind of soul mate in a spouse.
About Betsy Hart
Betsy Hart is a nationally syndicated columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service. Her column on politics, culture and family issues, “From the Hart,” is distributed each week to hundreds of newspapers cross the country. It regularly appears in The Chicago Sun-Times, The Boston Herald, The Washington Times, and many other major papers.
Betsy’s first book, It Takes a Parent: How the Culture of Pushover Parenting is Hurting out Kids and What to do About It, was released in September, 2005, and was a top seller for its publisher, Putnam Books. It was endorsed by Bill Bennett, Laura Ingraham, Kate O’Beirne, and other leading public figures, and received tremendous media attention and praise. Echoing the acclaim, Sean Hannity told his audience when Betsy appeared on FOX’s “Hannity and Colmes” show to discuss It Takes a Parent, “I love this book!”
Betsy’s first eBook, From the Hart: Love, Loss, Marriage (And other Extreme Sports), a selection of some of her favorite columns, will be available in time for Valentine’s Day.
Betsy is divorced and raising her four school-aged children in the suburbs of Chicago.