Marriage as Monasticism

You may or may not know that I considered monasticism in college. I was never more than half serious about becoming a monk, but I seriously considered traveling to Europe and spending a year in a monastery after graduation. Emily tells me she thinks I would have stayed permanently, which I consider a high compliment.

So what would convince someone flirting with monasticism to flirt with girls instead? Well, a beautiful pair of deep brown eyes had something to do with it. And perhaps any hope of becoming a monk was doomed from the start. Jessica then-Barber, at least, never took my monastic aspirations seriously (I believe her exact words were “you die a celibate man and I pay your tuition”). But a large part of the difference was my realization that, in the ways that really mattered, marriage would require a good deal more self-denial than monasticism. In some ways, I would like nothing more than to join an monastery and devote the rest of my life to fasting, prayer, and study – but believe it or not, that would be the easy way out. The self denial of marriage is much more difficult for me than the self-denial of monasticism because it involves living with people rather than retreating from people. And living with people on more than a relatively superficial level takes a lot of work. Monasticism involves something that comes fairly easy for me – solitude, while marriage involves what is hardest for me: openness, vulnerability, soul-sharing (to be fair the spiritual direction which would be a part of any monasticism ought to include these, but to a lesser extent).

Alexander Schmemann said (rough paraphrase from memory): “We may not all be called to be monks, but we are all saved to the extent that we measure up to the monastic ideal”1. That is, to the extent that we deny ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Jesus. Being married to Emily helps me to deny myself and take up my cross to a fuller extent than monasticism would allow. God sent me marriage rather than monasticism because marrige is my monasticism. This is one of those cases in which God gives you something better (but harder – and perhaps better because it is harder) than you would have chosen for yourself.

1Whenever you read an Eastern Orthodox writer like Schmemann, you need to keep in mind that when he says “saved” he means “saved from sin”, whereas the more common protestant meaning is “saved from hell”. So salvation from an Orthodox standpoint encompasses what protestants usually divide up into justification, sanctification, and glorification.