We have all seen a three-legged race before. Chances are we have even participated in one, considering it is such a popular game at community picnics and school events. It involves two participants running to complete a short race with the left leg of one runner strapped to the right leg of another runner. The aim is for the partners to run together without falling over, and beat the other contestants to the finish line. I once knew a couple who always won these three legged races. When I asked them the secret of their winning, they said, “Once you have made sure that your legs are tied comfortably together, all you need to do is put one hand around your partner, and use the two free hands to fly!” Well, they make it sound easy. If you have been in one of these races, you would know it is not easy as it sounds.
Marriage is one such three-legged race. At the outset, it would be good to remember that it is anything but easy. In a Christian marriage, when a man leaves his father and mother and joins his wife in matrimony, they become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). After this, they are expected to run every part of the race together. There is no provision for changing your partner in the middle of the race. Neither are you allowed to keep your partner away and run the race alone. It has to be done together. If at some point in the race, one partner stumbles, the other has to pick him/her up and continue the race.
Many young, Christian families today are struggling to keep their marriages going. And it is not just families who are struggling to make ends meet or lacking in the faith that are going through these troubles. Even financially stable marriages, professionally successful people who are active in church life and love the Lord (and each other) go through these problems at one time or the other in their marriage. It is true that young people are under enormous strain in today’s society. One way or the other, sometimes even without realizing it, they become part of the rat race. Every day becomes a minor battle to get through work successfully, attend to the needs of children, fulfil social obligations, stay in contact with extended friends and family, and if any time remains after all this, make our marriages work. Whether one partner in a marriage is working or both are working (or even if both are not), the moment we forget that all the other things that we do are part of our three-legged race, that they have to be done while being with the one the Lord has tied us with, the race begins to suffer.
It becomes very painful and tiring for one partner if the other is determined to run his/her race on his/her own terms and leaves the partner to keep up if s/he can. The lagging partners then spend all of their time and strength trying to keep up with the running partner (which is not what God has meant for us to do in marriage) leaving no time or will to actually be a help mate and support (which is what God has meant for us to do in marriage). While doing this they are drained, physically, mentally and spiritually, while at the same time compromising their own place in the race that the Lord has kept for them. Now, the ‘running’ partners may say that they are only doing what is expected of them – running families, making careers, doing charity, building the church and its ministry – all necessary and noble activities. (Sometimes, both partners are ‘running’, although in different directions, wondering why the husband or the wife is not keeping up). Is this not what is expected from us? To succeed? Be victorious Christians? Be socially active? To provide for our families? By the time they realize that something is wrong and look back, the partner has either fallen by the wayside or is left too far behind to be reached. This does not always imply a physical distance. A married couple may come to this stage even while living in the same house and while bringing up children together. Added to this is the idea of ‘personal space’. Every individual needs some personal space to grow. We only need to be careful that this space does not extend so much that the bond with which we are tied breaks. There cannot be a victory for one partner in a three-legged race if their God-given partner falls by the wayside or is unable to grow up to the spiritual potential that God requires of him/her. If we win, we win together. If one loses, the other is out of the race too.
We could have won with such a lifestyle where we ran our own race on our own terms, if we were in a race where people ran alone. But since we have signed up for a three legged race, we have to run together. If done correctly, like the winning couple I introduced at the beginning, it can be a glorious journey. Like flying, soaring through the air together. No other institution on earth has such power and comfort as the institution of marriage. It is the basis for building healthy families, and families are the basic units of the Church and of nations. Young, successful Christians today need to stop and consider – whether they are running their race with the partner God has meant for them, whether they are helping each other along in the race, or pulling each other back. Or is one partner looking on helplessly and trying to catch up while the other runs. As families we need to spend time in prayer and evaluate whether we are yoked together in love. Are we on the way to winning our three-legged race?