A friend of mine recently asked: “What graces are promised in sacramental marriage? Is the guarantee and promise something that we give or something we expect to get?”
The answer is: The grace to do the work of marriage is promised to a baptized man and woman who unite in matrimony. What they do with that grace is another story, a wily story that goes by the name of free will. Christian marriage does not guarantee a diamond-gleaming fairy tale. It guarantees that God is faithful to set the glass of living water on your counter, as much as you will ever need. But for that water to permeate your entire being, you have to drink it.
On good days, you may toast your glorious union, rich in love and happiness—and you may have many good days. On other days, demons may tempt and insecurity and resentment may fester, and one day the wife may decide not to swallow the water, but instead to raise her hand high, toss her hair back, and show off her tall glass of goodness. Some days demons may oppress and anger and jealousy may slither in through the cracks and the husband may smash his glass against the wall because he’s had enough. Despair may blow in and even though God in his infinite mercy keeps setting more full glasses on the counter, for years they may go undrunk.
Alone and broken, the wife may one day reach again for her glass. She may only cling to it, unable to bring it to her grieving lips. She may take her husband’s glass to him, and she may stand there the rest of her life, one arm outstretched offering water to his back and the other hand pouring water into her soul as she gulps to sustain herself. One day the husband may turn around and see her, or one day she may give up. One day they may drink together anew, and having returned day after day to drink what they need, in abject humility before God, on their final day the husband may caress her head as she receives her last sip.
Is it possible for a wife to come know her husband so well that she trusts him to drink? I think so, but that trust can only be known within the consecrated union. I even think it’s possible for one to love the other so much that he or she suffers for the beloved and never gives up hope because God is faithful. Therein lies a transcendence beyond days and glasses on counters. Therein lies a crystal peace beyond fairy tales. Therein lies the mystery of authentic fidelity.
Follow up essay, “What’s the Glass of Water and How Do I Drink It?“