Marriage, being the most intimate of friendships, depends on trust. The friendship between spouses weakens if anything stands in the way of trust and, in weakening trust, the bond of marriage suffers.
Each marriage is tried on the level of trust. Whether through past personal histories or present infidelities, illness or job loss, childlessness or the challenges of raising a large family, real marital love will entail suffering. Marriage, the sacrament of “one flesh,” allows this suffering to be shared, and it is this vulnerability that must be rooted in the bond of trust.
If we trust another enough to marry, then we must remain confident in that original trust as trials and weaknesses are shared. Only in this way does trust becomes the anchor for love, a sustaining force that grounds the heart even when love is tested or frail.
As in any human friendship, the sufferings of married life bring with them assaults on this sustaining trust. If trust is prior to love, then love is ruined when trust erodes. It is helpful, therefore, to look outside one’s marriage for examples of the kind of trust that has stood the test of time. Perhaps one’s family or closest friends provide that example.
Should all human appeals fail, then we must learn this trust interiorly, examining our relationship with God. The converse is also true: to examine if and how we trust God, it is necessary to look to examples of natural trust we share in those human relationships we cherish. After all, the Christian life is a share in God’s life.
A key component of the trust that precedes, founds and sustains marital love is forgiveness: that power to grant another freedom from past faults. Forgiveness is difficult since it is fundamentally not a human action, but a divine one, as Alexander Pope’s famous line reminds us. When we seek forgiveness from another it is because we know we have done wrong. When we seek forgiveness from God, we know he is faithful in his mercy.
It is in this capacity to understand God’s fidelity that we can look to those experiences of our own infidelity, and that we call sin with the hope of clemency. Here trust is unfettered by conditions. It is purified of partial hopes. It permits love to take deeper and deeper root. It is made full, and it is set free.
Every marriage is fundamentally an act of trust: trust in the bond of matrimony itself, in the work of grace that is offered sacramentally, in another’s love. This trust enables us to commend ourselves to a spouse in an unreserved way, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
The experience of being trusted ourselves should lead us to see that that trust is unmerited. We can do little if anything to earn the gift. Yes, our actions enable trust to develop; but real trust is an act of hope, grounded in our will, a choice that entails great risk because it offers great love. Hearts are broken only because the risk is so great.
God himself trusts in this way because he loves fully. He sent his Son into the world knowing mankind’s infidelity, faithlessness and divided hearts. Christ knew he would suffer and die, the full force of the betrayals to come. Still, God did not hold back the Incarnation.
We’re given to understand that the relationship between Christ and his Church is analogous to a man and wife (cf. Ephesians 5:25-31). Despite our infidelity and sin, he remains the faithful Bridegroom. Marriage is the fertile ground, then, for the seed of his love planted in the human heart. It sprouts and grows into the opportunity to mirror God’s goodness as we imitate his love.
The model for this imitation is the trust of the cross: that radical act of Christ’s fidelity that gained our redemption. It is at the foot of the cross that marital trust grows, as we cleave to him in our sinfulness and frailty, washed in his blood, all the while being saved from the misery of imperfect love, hearing that godly prayer for unity once more: “Holy Father keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are” (John 17:11).
Reprinted with permission from FathersForGood.org.