You Can’t Change Him…But He Can Grow

You Can’t Change Him…But He Can Grow October 6, 2015

My wife and I went and saw a production of Guys and Dolls this past weekend, and got to hear Miss Adelaide sing,

At Wanamaker’s and Saks and Klein’s
A lesson I’ve been taught
You can’t get alterations on a dress you haven’t bought 

For those coming late to the story, the show concerns Miss Adelaide, a dancer at the Hot Box night club, and Miss Sarah Brown, captain of the Save A Soul Mission, who have both fallen in love with the wrong kind of guy.  Miss Adelaide has been engaged for fourteen years to Nathan Detroit, operator of an illegal crap game; and dewy-eyed idealistic Sarah falls for Sky Masterson, a high-flying gambler who woos her to win a bet.  Neither man behaves the way his lady wants him to; and finally Adelaide and Sarah decide to

Marry the man today
Rather than sigh in sorrow
Marry the man today
And change his ways tomorrow.

It’s funny in context, and flies completely in the face of today’s conventional wisdom: “You can’t change him.”  Women today are cautioned not to marry expecting to change their men; it doesn’t work.

Not a pit bull
Not a pit bull

And for once, surprisingly, conventional wisdom has the right end of the stick.  We are who we are.  To put it into figurative terms: If you want a retriever, don’t bring home a pit bull.  You can’t make an oak tree produce apples.  And if you befriend a rattlesnake you should lay in a supply of antivenin.

But on the other hand…saplings grow into majestic oaks.  Puppies grow into mature dogs.   It takes time; it takes two to five years before an apple tree bears fruit.  But it happens.  Men (and women!) are supposed to mature as well.  The difference is that trees and dogs have no choice about growing to maturity, given decent conditions.  Men and women have no choice but to grow bigger, but no one can force them to grow up.

Any society has its own notions about what constitutes acceptable “grown up” behavior, but the Church goes much further: to grow up, to attain the full stature of humanity, is to grow into Christ’s image: the glory of God is man fully alive, said St. Irenaeus.

It takes time.  It takes work.  It takes the will to grow.  And it takes grace.

And that’s one of the things sacramental marriage is for.

Marriage is intended to be a school of charity: a situation that leads us to grow as Christ wants us to grow.  It isn’t easy; it isn’t meant to be easy.  It takes work, and forbearance, and forgiveness, and a willingness to grow.  Mind you, it’s also a natural thing, a thing we men and women seek for its own sake despite its difficulties.

So yes: don’t seek to marry a clearly unsuitable partner; you won’t change him (or her), and it will only end in tears, or worse.  But do marry someone who clearly isn’t finished yet…and plan to grow up together.

photo credit: Again… via photopin (license)

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