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Life’s most intimate relationships are opportunities for spiritual deepening. The sacramental nature of marriage, for example, depends less upon the liturgical rites that initiate it, than it does on a couple’s ability to nurture spiritual growth in one another.

So, a marriage devoid of that concern is likely to offer something well less than is possible and, worse yet, runs the risk of actually undermining the spiritual development of the men and women involved. For that reason, what might seem trivial or domestic in its nature actually has spiritual implications.

Take, for example, the way in which the roles of men and women are often shaped by the divine right of helplessness invoked by some men and women.

Countless relationships and several books on marital bliss make it clear that more than a few marriages are shaped by the assumption that men are exempted from, if not constitutionally incapable of shouldering a wide array of responsibilities: domestic chores, child-rearing, the active shaping of home life, and on-going responsibility for nurturing romance are a few of the wide-ranging categories that come to mind.

The net result is that, more often than not, women are burdened with taking the initiative along a wide-range of activities. The excuses given for this helplessness range from debatable assumptions about the differences in gender to the rather more aggressive claims to being the one who “makes more money.” Conversely, some women invoke the divine right of helplessness with regard to money, leaving their husbands to dictate financial decisions.

There are, of course, variations on this theme; and it is probably less common among younger generations — although it finds new permutations with each change in generation as well.

The net result is that both partners are robbed of opportunities for spiritual growth. Women saddled with the responsibility for things at home labor under both the number of tasks involved and no small amount of anger and bitterness over being treated like indentured slaves. Men assume the role of little boys evincing a strange mix of entitlement and dependence that robs them of deepening their own spiritual lives.
Conversations about rights and gender equity obscure the spiritual losses, stressing instead the legal nature of the relationship between men and women. But for people who understand themselves as children of God, something far deeper is at stake.

Marriage is a relationship that mirrors our relationship with God and it is meant to nurture it.

Neither the claim to a divine right of helplessness, nor the counter-claim to equality quite succeeds in acknowledging what is at stake, nor what is lost when the sacramental nature of the vows no longer make a claim on the lives of both husbands and wives.

Marriage partners who know this do not need to invoke their rights — they know what a gift they have been given.

One Response to “The divine right of helplessness”

  1. Martha says:

    So glad you and N. are able to experience and witness to the spiritual nature of real marriage – not just the legal contract!

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