This week, my Facebook stream was commandeered by an army of red equal signs.
At first, I didn’t know what that meant because I’ve always been a little socially awkward, even social media awkward, and I was oblivious. Was the entire nation suddenly becoming more interested in math?
Thankfully, before I had the chance to make a fool of myself, some other clueless person asked and the secret came tumbling out. That equal sign stood for marriage equality.
I had no intention of stepping in to the marriage equality debate on Facebook or anywhere else where meanings can be misconstrued and misapplied, where allegiances divide friendships and shut down communication before it even starts.
But I stopped when I saw the words marriage equality coupled with that great big equal sign because I realized something that might make the culture cringe, and it really has very little to do with the current debate and much more to do with my own heart and my own home.
I realized I don’t want an equal marriage.
Before my husband was my husband, back when we were just two kids talking marriage on a park bench in the forest of Chicago, we asked ourselves this question: Can we be better together than apart? Because we were both self-centered enough to know that equal wasn’t worth it. We wanted to know that together, we’d be more than the sum of our parts.
We wanted a marriage that was exponential, not equal.
Of course, we could have just taken our two equal selves and done some simple addition. After all, 1+1=2, and two is already better than one, right?
An equal marriage might work that way. But I didn’t want an equal marriage.
I wanted a marriage in which 1+1=1, and then somehow equals 3 or 4, or in our case, 7. That kind of math meant sacrifice, a dying to self, a setting aside of rights. It meant elevating the needs of the other above my own. That kind of math requires submission—mine and his.
If I had stuck to simple addition, I would not be the mother of five children. If I had stuck to simple addition, I would not have dropped out of school to help my husband finish two graduate degrees. He would not have taken the kids on vacation without me because I needed a break from everyone more than I needed a break with everyone. He would not have put a PhD program on the way back burner because he knew I couldn’t do it again, not yet.
We have both subtracted a lot out of lives and God has multiplied the remnants into something more than I could have imagined. But it wouldn’t have happened if we were both more interested in being equal than submissive.
Submission isn’t a popular word these days because being submissive means you have to consider someone else as better than yourself. You have to put someone else’s needs above your own and some days, that goes against every fiber of our being because deep down inside, we’re much less concerned about sacrifice than we are about rights. Our rights. Marriage rights.
That term—marriage rights—makes my heart a little sick every time I hear it, and it has nothing to do with homosexuality or Christianity or being gay or being straight or being something in between. It has to do with what I believe marriage is, not who it is for.
The term “marriage rights” cuts at my heart because I believe that when we reduce marriage to nothing more than a battle of rights, we’ve already lost. The beauty and reality of marriage is that it is a place to die, not a place to elevate rights. It is a place to subtract self and will and equality and all that other stuff that is in our nature but is not in our God and love someone more than ourselves.
That is sacrifice. Submission. Tough stuff.
It is tough because self is the hardest thing to die and the hardest thing to make submit, especially if there’s another self in the room. Self will proclaim, “He’s no better than me!” and “I have the right to be happy!” and while that kind of talk is normal and perhaps even logical, it is not biblical, and it does nothing to make a marriage that multiplies because self-talk constantly reduces the multipliers to 1.
Any number times one always equals itself, nothing more.
I do not want to struggle through marriage for nothing more than what I went in with. I do not want an equal marriage. I want an exponential marriage.
So while the debate over marriage rights rages on, I am battling to keep marriage equality out of my own home. It is hard because I am selfish. But I am choosing to keep my focus on the math that matters, the subtraction and division that will build up my husband, my children, and myself into more than just the sum of our parts.
I am choosing to have a marriage that multiplies.