`LOVE, honor, and obey'' -- these are the promises made in many traditional marriage vows. But there's another vow, perhaps seldom considered, that would do much to keep a marriage happy if it were faithfully kept. ``I promise to grow spiritually through all the days ahead.'' Isn't this the most important commitment we could possibly make? Of course, this process of spiritual growth is for all of us, married or not. It can help make every life progressive and happy. And it provides a sure foundation for any venture, marriage included.
It sometimes doesn't take long for husbands and wives to discover that each still had some growing to do when they exchanged vows! But wouldn't it be unusual for this not to be true? ``Let patience have her perfect work,'' we read in James, ``that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.''
If we're finding, though, that the same character flaws, the same petty disagreements continue to plague a marriage ten, twenty, thirty years after the wedding -- might not the fault lie in a mistaken idea of what man really is? When we make a firm commitment to spiritual growth, however, our improving perception of God and man gradually removes abrasive difficulties in a marriage.
Man, as God's creation, is the ``perfect work'' referred to in James. This man, our true identity, is wholly spiritual, created in the perfect image of God, who is infinite Spirit. Learning these spiritual lessons can make all the difference to individuals in any marriage, in any age. As we learn that we're not mortals in a flawed relationship, we begin to see that we're not condemned to repetition of the same mistakes and conflicts.
Because man is created in God's image and likeness, he is free, pure, innocent, loved, and uncondemned. And through spiritual growth, future years can and should bring only a brightening of these qualities, and the disappearance of the rough places that never were God's doing. But this growth is by no means automatic. It always requires effort. It is true that man as God creates him is pure and free from sin; yet each one of us must work to move forward in perceiving this fact. Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, writes in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, ``Mortals must gravitate Godward, their affections and aims grow spiritual, -- they must near the broader interpretations of being, and gain some proper sense of the infinite, -- in order that sin and mortality may be put off.''
That yearning for our affections and aims to grow spiritual is natural for man, for divine Spirit is his Father-Mother and the realm of Spirit is his true home. Though the demands of human existence can seem to dampen that yearning, it can never really be extinguished.
Giving priority to spiritual growth has helped me greatly in my own marriage. At one time I felt my spouse was my main source of affection, approval, support, self-worth -- you name it! As you might guess, friction developed, and I didn't always find in my spouse the response that I'd been seeking.
All this time, however, I continued to pray for myself and my marriage. Soon, it really registered that God is the true source of everything we really need. I stopped looking so intensely to my spouse for constant support. And I found that strengthening the bond I had with God as His child blessed and enriched everything else in my life, including our marriage.