Radical commitment, and nothing less, makes a marriage thrive

I want to buy some credibility with my "I’m not religious!" religious readers. Sometimes I like to retell a religious story and then apply it to a broader but still important human matter. So, hang with me here. I don’t have a religious agenda.

In the Christian Gospel, there is told a brief exchange that Jesus has with three people. The chapter heading in my Bible titles it, "The cost of discipleship." Each of these three people begins the conversation with an expressed desire to be one of Jesus’ followers. And to each, Jesus responds with the cost entailed in such a commitment.

Whenever I read this, I think of people who have made or are considering making marital vows. I think of people who have dared to consider a lifelong commitment to growing love and fidelity with another human being in the bonds of life partnership.

The first guy says to Jesus, "I will follow you!" And Jesus fires back, "He who puts his hand on the plow and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God."

Well, of course. Either decide to plow the field or decide not to plow the field. But if you decide to plow the field, then put your hand on the plow and keep your eyes forward. Pay attention. If you say "giddyup" to the mule, and then keep eyeballing over your shoulder, fantasizing and wondering about fields you might or should have plowed instead, the mule is going to get the idea that plowing is not very important. You won’t be plowing straight lines. The mule might even get a mind of its own and wander over to someone else’s field, making the owner of that field very unhappy. You’ll also likely get some very critical questions from the co-owner of your field – the field you made a commitment to plow.

Marriage calls for an unequivocal, radical commitment. It’s normal over the course of 40 to 50 years of marriage to occasionally indulge the fantasy of what might have happened had you not made this commitment. What might have happened if you made the commitment to someone else. But the fact is, you made this commitment. Not that one. So, hand on the plow. Eyes forward. You are in charge of the mule, not the mule in charge of you.

So, decide. Unequivocally. Radically. With your whole heart.

The next guy says to Jesus, "I will follow you." And Jesus says, cryptically, "Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head."

Well, of course. Radical commitments require the regular sacrifice of belonging. If I say I belong "here," then by definition, I will not belong to other places and people the way I once might have belonged. If I belong "here," then there will be some places and people to whom I cannot ever belong again. Radical commitment demands that we "rewire" belonging.

If we make a marriage commitment, then we cannot belong to our jobs the same way. We cannot belong to our mother and father the same way. Nor to our friends. To make someone primary in your life means other relationships will now have different orbits in the constellation of our attention and energy.

I say this often, especially to blended families. Divorced parents meet and fall in love. But they often underestimate, make naive assumptions about or even try to dodge the work of rewiring children into the new union. But if you want your new union to be the success that your first marriage was not, then there is no alternative to having the rigorous conversations with the new mate and with your children about the new constellation of belongingness.

The last guy says to Jesus, "I will follow you, but first let me bury my father." And Jesus says: "Let the dead bury the dead. You follow me now." Ouch.

Jesus might sound insensitive, but his point is well-taken. There are and will always be reasons to put off radical commitment. Commitment requires us to recognize the illusion of our hesitation. We keep telling ourselves, "When circumstances X, Y and Z are resolved, then I will make a commitment." But all great marriages sojourn in a land of constantly changing circumstances and problems to solve. Make the commitment. Decide. Then turn together – as We – to face and do battle with those swirling, ever-changing circumstances.

We don’t say, "If/when (the problems/circumstances), then my marriage. …" We say, "Given that I’m married, then, what shall We do about the problems and the circumstances."

Only a radical commitment is a radical commitment.

Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of "Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing" (Stephens Press). His columns also appear on Sundays in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 227-4165 or skalas@reviewjournal.com.

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