We had only known each other six months. But on the shore of Lake Michigan, I asked Laura to marry me and she said “yes.” Without a hitch, the popular passion of engagement hit me immediately. We called everyone and relived each moment with all of our friends and family from start to finish. However, something else hit me almost as quickly. As much as I was absolutely taken by this woman, within a few days I felt my feelings sink. That’s right, on the other side of proposing I was feeling my feelings change.
I was shocked. I was terrified. I felt like God had let me down.
After all, I had prayed and fasted about proposing. I sought counsel. I talked with Laura about marriage. I did my homework. I was convinced.
I was in love.
Good Intentions, Bad Feelings
Yet regardless of my good intentions, when I finally took the step and asked her to marry me I had a frightening feeling I had made a mistake. My feelings were not feeling the same way. And to complicate my terror, it was clear she did not share my hesitations. By the time our phone calls to friends and family were finished, it seemed like most of the wedding was planned.
I think many share my story — particularly men. There is an emotion, or perhaps a lack of certain anticipated emotions, which welcomes many men on the other side of commitment. In many cases just the thought of committing to someone makes us feel hurried and overwhelmed.
It feels like we’re dying. Commitment feels like we are losing something. What we consider to be a part of our deepest self seems stolen away when we consider crossing the threshold of covenant. It is alarming. No one told us about this. After all, everyone assumes marriage will only add to our lives, not take something away. And so, I was unprepared. I had no idea what was happening to me.
However, years later, God has graciously given me more clarity.
Men love the chase. And something unexpected happens within a man’s heart after he captures what he has been chasing. There is fresh personal revelation once we gain what we have been longing for. Whether our desire is for a promotion or child or award or girlfriend or wife or vacation, achievement settles our latest iteration of tenacity and we immediately crave new adventure. This is quite natural.
In many contexts this rebound motivates us to mature and to avoid complacency. However, in romantic relationships the root of this desire — which all too often leads to regretful acts of infidelity — must be reframed around covenant. In other words, marriage is the new adventure.
As my feelings settled to the bottom of Lake Michigan, I now realize I was actually dying. Do you see? Commitment feels like death because it is death. In order to make a commitment we always lose something. We lose self as we have known it. When two people become one, it only happens through death. We must die to ourselves because we are being fashioned for and to and with each other. We are becoming new, together.
Therefore we must die to singleness because we are not single anymore. We must die to chasing love and find new fulfillment in growing in our understanding of love. It is a seismic shift — from the thrill of seeking to the joy of knowing. And like any death, it is very hard. It hurts. It is terrifying. It is unexpected. But in Christ, death is never the end of the story. Once we allow this loss to take full hold of our old orientation then (and only then) we come to life as a new person — a married person.
New Life Comes Through Death
This narrative is at the heart of the gospel. New life only comes through death. And so it is not surprising to find Scripture regularly explaining the purpose of the marital union as mirroring Jesus’s relationship with his people. After all, Jesus is the one who dies in the place of his people so that they can become new and fully alive. This power, pattern, and pathway is consistent not only in entering marriage but also in the cultivation of marriage. When married couples regularly put to death the old self and dated orientations, which used to mark us prior to making a covenant of marriage, then we will increasingly enjoy the fresh joy and adventure of a new life in marriage.
On the shore of Lake Michigan, I started dying. Committing to Laura as my wife killed me. And within the covenant of marriage I have found something new. My feelings were not feeling the same way, because I was changing. Now I can truly live within the covenant of marriage.