One day I will look my future husband in the face and say it: “Please don’t accept me as I am.” I turned 30 before I decided that I would do this — a decision that Timothy Keller helped me make.
In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Keller dissects, in part, the prevalent urge to resist relationships with people who won’t accept us as we are, whose involvement with us could disrupt the habits we established before we met.
The quest then is for a spouse who doesn’t just choose and love you as you are, but whose relationship with you doesn’t change you.
Which makes little sense for us who are Catholic, because we believe that marriage, like all vocations, should change us — we’re supposed to be holier at the end than we were at the beginning, because of grace and each other. We’re supposed to be committed to each other’s sainthood, not to maintenance of each other’s status quo.
But how often we search for significant others whose company demands nothing, who verbalize no negative observations of us, who voice no unmet needs, whose association to us produces no conflict. It is a search for somebody who will adapt wholly to our modus operandi — a man or woman who, though inserted into somebody else’s routine, neither alters nor interrupts it.
But would we be doing relationships right if they didn’t disrupt our lives? Are we being honest with ourselves, about ourselves, when we say that relationships shouldn’t disrupt us?
As if “as I am” is how I should be forever — as if “current me” is as healthy and loving and holy as I can get.
Is it? Is “as you are” today, in every way, actually how you should be forever?
Heck no. Our Church doesn’t teach it about us. I don’t believe it about me. You (hopefully) don’t believe it about you. And Keller doesn’t believe it either.
“…in your heart of hearts, you know that you are not perfect, that there are plenty of things about you that need to be changed, and that anyone who gets to know you up close and personal will want to change them,” he wrote.
And that’s painful, he added, so we aren’t often up for it. But consider Keller’s important point:
“How different seeking a marriage would be if … we were to view marriage as a vehicle for spouses helping each other become their glorious future selves…
What if … you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation?
What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into (a) new self that God is creating?”
We would welcome a relationship’s disruption.
And we would expect to change as a result of it. This is not about asking somebody to change so that you can choose to date or marry him or her, nor about choosing people whose values don’t align with yours because you believe that you can change them. It’s about allowing ourselves to be changed for the better — as we should be — because we wisely chose each other.
We would welcome a relationship’s discomfort.
And we would adjust as needed, because of each other, despite adjustment’s discomfort. If we seek a significant other whose interactions with us demand no adjustment or discomfort, we do not love, we use. We do not seek somebody who loves us, but we seek an enabler — a human shield who stands between us and the consequences of our behavior, which robs us of opportunities for growth and sanctification. (“…you weren’t made for comfort. You were made for greatness.” -Pope Benedict XVI)
And we would recognize that the disruptions and discomfort are worth it.
We would embrace that a beloved’s company demands something of us, rather than search forever for someone whose company doesn’t. We would admit that a search for a spouse whose presence won’t challenge us to transcend our status quo is to marriage what contraception is to sex: an impediment to a critical part of its purpose.
“Within this Christian vision of marriage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at another person and get a glimpse of what God is creating, and to say, ‘I see who God is making you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to partner with you and God in the journey you are taking to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your magnificence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!'”
Which nobody will get to say to us someday if we don’t first say this to each other: