Reframing the Basis of Marriage with Gary Thomas

Reframing the Basis of Marriage with Gary Thomas January 12, 2013

(I was asked to read and reflect on Gary Thomas’ new book, “The Sacred Search: What if it’s not about who you marry but why?” Following are my thoughts.)

My parents got divorced when I was in high school. There are lots of things I could point to that lead to the end of their 22-year relationship: financial stressors; evolving but divergent life goals; simply growing apart amid time’s persistent march. But I’ve always felt like the elephant in the room was that my dad was not a churchy guy and my mom was. In fact, the worse their marriage got, the more time she spent at church. The more time she spent at church, the more bitter and jealous he got; the more bitter and jealous he got, the worse their relationship became.

For years, I blamed religion for breaking up my family. But in fact, they were set up for failure from the beginning in some ways. Such is the basis of Gary Thomas’ argument laid out in his new book, “The Sacred Search.” I’ll admit that I was hesitant to dive into this one, namely because I’m familiar with Thomas, his theology and the circles in which he tends to run. Names like Focus on the Family and Ed Young are prominent endorsers of his work. But just because we see God and the world quite differently doesn’t mean he lacks wisdom relevant for my life and those of my readers. So I pushed ahead.

I hit a few bumps early on, especially when Thomas emphasized the importance of a married couple staying together at all costs. After all, the Bible says so! But in reality, forcing two people who are toxic together to remain in covenant simply because of a religious mandate seems a great disservice to the human condition, or put another way, the kind of joy a liberating love to which God calls us.

Fortunately, this was simply a preamble to Thomas’ more pertinent points, many of which I agreed strongly.

Thomas spends most of the book focusing on why we choose a mate, and encouraging us to spend more time and energy answering this question for ourselves rather than worrying so much about who we’ll end up with. He rightly dispels such harmful romantic myths like the notion of a “soul mate,” with quips like, “If you believe there’s only right person for you, and that person happens to be a selfish loser, what else are you supposed to do?”

Back up the hormone truck and get your head straight about what matters in making a lifelong commitment to another person (my words, not his).

Much of Thomas’ advice is good, solid common sense that, if dispensed and wrestled with during premarital counseling sessions, might save many couples years of grief down the road. Basically, his assertion is that we have to know what God is calling us to in the grander picture of our lives, and once we feel we know that, then we have a stronger foundation upon which to build a marriage.

When my wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, does premarital counseling for couples, she sets many of them on their heels with her first question.

“Tell me why you think you belong to your partner,” she says, “without saying it’s because you love them.” It’s pretty amazing how many people have no real answer to this question. But Thomas, like Amy, believe that understanding why we make a sacred covenant of marriage is morei important than with whom you ultimately make that covenant.

Now, if we could hold this up as a mantle to affirm that it’s more important to focus on how we love rather than who we love (including same-sex relationships), I think Gary Thomas and I might be able to make some remarkable waves together in the Christian world.

As it is, I appreciate his emphasis on healthy discernment in the context of marriage, even if we are still worlds apart on what a so-called “Biblical marriage” might look like.

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