Not by Sight
By Amy Elisa Keith
God wouldn't call me a liar if I said I'm a regular, third-pew Christian. Eight a.m. Sunday worship has been a fixture in my life since I was in my mother's womb, and one scripture I can quote is the command to "walk by faith, and not by sight." Second Corinthians 5:7 is one of those verses that every minister, including mine, has used to describe our Christian walk with God here on this earth. Believe in God's plan, trust in his Word and stand firmly on his promises. But recently, this verse has taken on a new meaning for me.
I guess I am what you would call a BAP: a Black American Princess. Yes, I am proud to be the progeny of two physician parents, four health care professional grandparents, and a slew of talented, smart, compassionate, and wild family members. I skinned my knees and kissed boys in fancy cars on the streets of Ladera Heights in Los Angeles. Art gallery openings as well as doubles matches at Harvard Park peppered my formative years. So, of course I would be on track to find a loving husband, raise a family, and be right there—all four of us—on the third pew at Crenshaw Church of Christ every Sunday. Eight a.m., that's right.
One small hitch—I've never actually seen that done myself. Nope, I don’t really know what one family unit consisting of a father, mother plus two children looks like? You see, while I had a wonderful upbringing filled with amazing experiences and loving people, my parents divorced when I was 4 years old. Like many African-American 20somethings, I was raised by a single mother and a single grandmother. While my father was very much in my life and in my sister's life, he lived 3,000 miles away.
Before flashes of stereotypical deadbeat dads and independent, neck-rolling mothers pop into your head, know that mine were neither of those things. Both remarried beautiful people and I had the benefit of having four parents and over a dozen grandparents. How, you ask? Well, that large number of grandparents also has its roots in divorce and remarriage. Unfortunately, successful marriage is not one of our "blessings." Harsh, yes, but honest.
As I approach 30, I find myself in a truly energizing and loving relationship with a black man who challenges me and makes me smile from the inside out. Unlike anyone else, this man is able to make me forget my plans, toss out my sense of competitiveness, and just live in the moment. When we tailgate at football games, he gives me his last hot wing, and he knows the punch lines to Martin Lawrence's "You So Crazy" just like I do. His decisions are always well thought out, and he can be frugal even when he's splurging on a gift from Saks for me.
He has even sat beside me on the third pew at church. And oh, did he look right at home.
As we discuss the future and our thoughts about marriage, that familiar passage of scripture comes back to me: "walk by faith, and not by sight." Sure, marriage is a walk of faith with another person. But what I cannot stop wondering about is the "not by sight" portion.
Never having seen a successful marriage go the distance, I question whether or not I can actually do it. My idea of marriage is the ultimate partnership of love and respect. Someone to travel through life with and to share memories with. I want that "we're celebrating 65 years of marriage" type of relationship. The "where you lead, I follow" kind of bond. That "grandbaby and great-grandbaby" type of love. The real "till death do us part" commitment. Pause. Am I even capable of such an endeavor?
Stanford University didn't have a course on love and marriage. Trust me, I would have majored and minored in it. My Type A personality says, "Of course you can do this! Just focus." But deep down inside is where the doubt and confusion sit—in the pit of my stomach. Is long-lasting marriage still possible these days? Am I too independent to have a husband? Do I simply want to be married because The New York Times says that I can't? Do I just long for the shallow appearance of a family of four on the church pew? Am I just striving for another goal on my life's to-do list?
"For we walk by faith, and not by sight."
It's no surprise that I'm not alone in my questioning. According to Pew Research Center (http://pewresearch.org/pubs/2147/marriage-newly-weds-record-low), barely half of Americans over the age of 18 are married. All across America, the population of people who should be getting married right now are choosing not to. Black, white, Asian or otherwise, we're holding off because of school, career, or (my favorite) "until I get my six figures," as one male friend put it.
Or we're just too darn scared. A study by Cornell University and the University of Central Oklahoma found that young couples are avoiding marriage because they fear the prospect of divorce. http://healthland.time.com/2011/12/22/is-fear-of-divorce-keeping-people-from-getting-married/
In today's age—when relationship statuses are posted on Facebook before they're mysteriously deleted and former lovers are unfriended—the successes and failures in our personal lives are on display. So I don't blame myself for being a little gun shy. After all, this year I've seen more than a few friends change their statuses from engaged to married to "it's complicated," followed by complete profile extermination.
On a larger scale, the fear of failure is palpable among my cohort of accomplished peers. The stakes are high. Creating and maintaining a successful marriage isn't like closing a multimillion-dollar banking deal or penning an international best-seller. It's not just about one person, their determination, and endless all-nighters. No PowerPoint presentation or impressive Web-based graphics will dress up a marriage to make it shine more brightly than it actually does. It's you and one other person, and all the unexpected happenings of life. Personally, divorce would feel like a gut-wrenching failure of epic proportions. Not only would my dreams be deferred, but also, I would feel like all the naysayers and family jinxes would be validated. For the Type A'ers like me, it's our worst nightmare: marriage is beyond our control.
"Beyond my control"—sounds like another one of my minister's pulpit sayings. You know, when he's right on your proverbial street and talking about all your hang-ups. In spite of the fear, the nagging doubt, and my family history of divorce, I have to relinquish control in order to "walk by faith, and not by sight." Sure, I haven't seen it, but I have faith that I will sit in that pew one day with my husband and my children, on the good days and the bad. Easier said than done, yes, but I'll simply take this journey step by step.