By Mary Abrahamson
In talking to an older mom awhile back, discussing the trend among young people to delay marriage, my friend said, “Why by the cow when you can get the milk for free?”
I understood, of course, her metaphor. She was expressing that with extra-marital sexual activity dominating our cultural norm, there was no compelling impetus for a young person to assume the commitment and responsibilities that come with marriage. This line of thought appeals to our sinful condition. And to our humanity, in a sense.
We are biologically inclined to want to engage in sexual behaviors. This is a natural and good thing, in its proper place.
And we are also sinfully inclined to avoid responsibility and to think only of ourselves and our own pleasures. This is not a good thing.
Marriage provides a safe place in which to engage in the natural sexual behaviors and to indulge our sexual desires. Within that safe place sexual activity is a wonderful blessing, a uniting of two souls in a powerful physical way. Within the safe place of marriage, children begotten in this powerful union are born into a physical and emotional haven, a sanctuary composed of mom and dad and perhaps siblings.
When the cultural norm allows for such sexual activity to take place outside the confines of marriage, when the beauty and wholesome thing that God intended, has become a mere physical recreation, what is to compel a young person to marry?
The cow and milk metaphor I started my article with made me uncomfortable. At first I thought it was a reflection of the era in which I grew up. Women’s lib was on the way out, to be replaced by its later cousin, feminism. I can’t help but to have absorbed some of its influences. And so I wondered, “Was I uncomfortable with the metaphor because it equated a woman with a cow, to be used and handled by the farmer?”
This wasn’t a big thing on my brain. But I did tend to shy away from repeating the quip, because of some underlying discomfort. I shared it with my daughter awhile back, but then felt bad afterwards. She thought it was a hoot, but it did not sit right with me.
I found myself this morning in a half sleep. The kind of half sleep that comes when a teen-aged daughter’s alarm is going off in a distant part of the house for twenty minutes. That feeble attempt at a few extra minutes of sleep before my clock joins in the beeping cacophony.
While in this half sleep, as so often happens, I was struck with a BIG THOUGHT. After I finally got up, I could not easily remember the big thought. I dug around in the jumble of early morning short term memory, and finally recalled the question, “Why buy the cow?” But it took a few minutes of further digging and poking, prodding and stirring, before I could remember the BIG THOUGHT.
I finally got it, though. If the only benefit of marriage is seen as sexual pleasure, there is perhaps little to tempt a secular man or even a man of Christian tradition into the commitment and responsibility of marriage.
First let me acknowledge that there are still teens and young adults who do understand the importance of chastity and marriage. They don’t need it further pounded in. They may slip up, as sinners do. And they can confess this sin to God and He stands ready to forgive.
Perhaps we have to change the conversation. For a young person who considers sexuality outside of marriage a given, … old news, … not even up for debate, … for a young person raised with such values, we are not going to change his or her mind by saying, “It’s wrong to have sex outside of marriage.” Those living within this norm of sexual behavior either don’t believe it or they don’t care.
They are not going to be convinced by further exhortations toward chastity. What hit me this morning in my fog of half sleep, is that perhaps instead, we ought to spend some of our conversation defending marriage as something worth having.
And this is at the crux of my discomfort with the cow metaphor.
A wife is not simply a cow to be used by the farmer. A husband is not simply someone who uses the wife.
A wife is not simply producing a marketable commodity. A husband is not a vendor.
A wife is not offering a mere consumable product. A husband is more than a consumer of the wife’s goods.
But those quick truths do not give the positives. What is good about marriage? The many blessings of a strongly united home with an unwavering commitment are not easily quantifiable.
Here’s a beginning:
Companionship, support, comfort, trust, intimacy, intellectual challenge and/or the free interchange of ideas, humor, joy, stability, encouragement, accountability, forgiveness, love, understanding…
These all seem obvious. But they are worth talking about in more detail. How are these things, when within marriage different from these same blessings in other relationships? Why is marriage a more fertile soil to for these blessings to grow? What if they do not grow? Does that mean marriage is not worth it?
If I put myself in the shoes of someone who sees little or no value in marriage, these are some of the things I would challenge someone to answer.
I am going to contemplate this, and explore ways to commend marriage to the younger generation. I encourage you to do the same.