What is it that makes for a healthy, loving marriage? What is it that makes for a good life? As I look back on my own life—the years lived as a single woman, the years spent married—there's common theme to what I have found to bring true happiness and peace. Overall, it has had nothing to do with the circumstances I've been in, but everything to do with my relationship to God, with my willingness to grow closer to Him—to grow spiritually.
At the heart of relationships, especially marriage, is the idea of being one with someone, feeling connected, belonging. What I have learned is that the source of this oneness is in God, and that when we base our relationships on this fundamental, spiritual relation we have with Him, we not only discover that we are complete individuals, but we feel progressively connected to everyone around us, and to the world at large. Viewed in this way, my "marriage" actually began a long time before I met my husband.
Most significant, it started in a rocky, red-earthed village in Botswana, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer teaching English. I had been there nearly a year and was struggling with loneliness. One day, a man whom I'd met in training unexpectedly came for a visit. We shared two incredibly joyful days. And then he left. I almost wished he hadn't come because his absence left me with a feeling of extreme emptiness.
I prayed deeply for peace. My thoughts turned to a passage from Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy: "Happiness is spiritual, born of Truth and Love. It is unselfish; therefore it cannot exist alone, but requires all mankind to share it" (p. 57). I thought about the richness of my friend's visit. We had had a wonderful time together—cooking, talking, singing, running in the rain. But it had also been full of an expansive and generous love we felt for the people around us, especially my students. Suddenly I realized that this friendship was an avenue through which love came, but it was not the source of my love. Since happiness had a divine source, it was too big to be confined to one relationship—and it demanded to be shared. My fragile sense of myself began to fade and take on a more spiritual dimension. I began to see my connection to an infinite source of love, and that I had both a right and a need to share the abundance of my life and to be content and joyful about it. This discovery centered me; I began to challenge feelings of loneliness and more actively embrace everyone around me in the joy I was feeling.
About a year later I met a man who quickly became my best friend. Our relationship was easy, joyful, natural. I wanted, more than anything, the stability that marriage represented to me. He, however, did not. The more I pushed the idea and held on to him, the more he pulled away. It seemed as if everything in my life was falling apart—and I refused to let go. He broke up with me.
I was devastated. "What does it mean when it says in the Bible that You are my 'husband'?" I asked God, "Show me—I want to get this right. I want to feel a love that can't diminish or be shattered" (see Isa. 54:5). Suddenly I felt the urge to clean my apartment. It was as if God was prompting me directly. "Put some music on. Dance. Clean. Be who you are. Live. Love. I've got you." And as I did so, I actually felt embraced and held by God. That day I began to glimpse what I have found to be the bedrock of my life and marriage: the peace that comes from our unity—or weddedness—with God.
About three years down the road, I still hadn't met anyone I really wanted to be with, and I was trying not to look. Would I be alone forever? Again I battled with loneliness. One day during this time a good friend blew up at me and said she felt she could never depend on me. Around the same time I was also having a great deal of pain in my chest. My prayer led me to examine my thoughts of myself. I saw someone who was waiting to be completed. I saw someone who gave love tentatively. I saw someone who was living in fear. I saw someone who was waiting. ... All of a sudden I realized what I had been doing. I'd allowed myself to lose sight of the fact that God was my source of happiness and love.
I asked myself, "What does marriage represent to me? How would I act if I were married?" I made a list of all the qualities that I associated with a stable, loving partnership. It included trust, joy, tenderness, affection, peace, confidence. In contrast, my thoughts of myself had been far from trustful, joyous, tender, affectionate, peaceful, or confident. But as I prayed and listened for God to speak, I remembered that not one of those qualities that I had listed was dependent on any one person, place, or thing. They were, and are, God-given and therefore unlimited. They must be acknowledged, lived, shared. I began to see that nothing could keep me from experiencing the fullness of love right then.
In the chapter titled "Marriage," Science and Health told me that "spiritual development germinates not from seed sown in the soil of material hopes, but when these decay, Love propagates anew the higher joys of Spirit, which have no taint of earth. Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views of divine goodness and love" (p. 66). And I could see this was what I was experiencing. I realized that relationships were not for the purpose of filling a gap in my life—but about discovering the overflow of love I had at hand, and sharing it freely. This enabled me to act from the basis that I was a complete individual. And as I did, my friendships sweetened. The chest pains stopped. I felt as if I had a new lease on life. My prayer became to learn how to love more.
All during this time, I'd been corresponding with a man I'd met nearly two years before. We'd cultivated a rich friendship through our letters. At times we had talked about getting together for a visit—but I'd felt uncertain. Now things felt different, and he came for a visit. A week later I visited him. During this time we wrote each other a lot, sharing our fears, our hopes, our goals. It was clear that God was gently guiding us to be together. Within four months we were married. It was also clear to me that this man would be someone who would teach me how to love more.
I know that this marriage would not have worked for me had I not first gotten that solid conviction of my completeness. And my journey with this continues. I won't say that there aren't days when I struggle, or hope that my husband can make a problem go away for me. But what has been key for both of us is our relationship to God. As we grow spiritually by understanding our link to Him, our relationship with each other deepens. I've grown to love how the challenges we've faced bring us closer together. There is a grace in learning to love more fully—to love without strings attached. To love relentlessly. To love more expansively.
Married or not, you can trust God to companion you in just the right ways—to guide you through the rocky times, heal your heart.
Then you can't help being filled with the satisfaction that comes from knowing you are complete.
Joni Overton-Jung is a Christian Science practitioner and teacher.