Language helps form our thoughts. It shapes how we look at the world. Language can be life-altering.
Last month, I shared my word for 2020 — family — and a vision I had at the top of the year to bring a beautiful message about marriage in particular forward in my ruminations here.
Through prayer and pondering how to dive in, I’ve been thinking of one lovely word in particular; that of irreplaceability.
The words to a very old song, “Embraceable You,” sung here by Ella Fitzgerald, come to mind:
Embrace me, my sweet embraceable you– from the song “Embraceable You”
Embrace me, you irreplaceable you
What if we began thinking about marriage in these terms: as a union in which we have, in anticipation of welcoming the gift of children, made ourselves irreplaceable to each other?
Do we think of marriage this way? If not, why not? And how would things change if we did?
Drawing on wisdom from the Marriage Reality Movement, which I briefly introduced last month, let me share a bit about this idea of irreplaceability and its importance from the director, Mrs. Kari Curtin.
Curtin says that how we describe marriage matters, and the best way to do this is through the eyes of a child. Marriage isn’t “about the children,” she says, but “about the fundamental human rights of children to be born and to be in a unique relationship united with their mother and father.”
This unique relationship, she explains, happens when a man and a woman take on the responsibility to freely choose to make themselves irreplaceable to each other before opening themselves up to the possibility of receiving the gift of a child.
Let those words sink in just a moment before moving on. They are important. Certainly, it won’t take long to realize this is not the way we are, in general, approaching marriage in our society right now.
Consider that when we do, something beautiful happens — something that benefits the child and blesses the entire family. When we approach marriage with the child and this idea of irreplaceability in mind at the outset, according to Curtin, these realities follow: The child is irreplaceable to the mother and father. The mother and father are irreplaceable to the child. And from the child’s eyes (Luke 10:21) the child knows Mom and Dad are irreplaceable to each other.
“The child, looking at his or her parents, sees the reality of the one-flesh, irreplaceable union, even if Mom and Dad aren’t seeing themselves that way,” she says.
It doesn’t take much to envision what the world might look like if we were to approach marriage with this child’s-eye perspective of irreplaceability. Can you imagine the security children would feel? Can you imagine the security spouses would feel?
Some of us have memories of childhood in which we thought our parents’ union might be too fragile to hold. In some cases, there was a breach. My own parents struggled through the dysfunction of alcoholism, which has affected generations in our family. There were times I worried they would divorce, and I remember feeling sick to my stomach at the thought of it. It was incomprehensible to me as a younger child. I sensed, somehow, that if this were to happen, the world as I knew it would be forever split in two different directions.
My parents made it through those hard times, and on my father’s deathbed, I witnessed and felt deeply the reality of irreplaceability. And it was good; very good. I am grateful.
But I’m not smug about this, because I know what could have happened, and what has happened to many people I know, and what is threatening so many families as I type these words right now. And I’m concerned about our future, but not feeling hopeless by any means.
There is hope, but it needs to begin with the way we speak of things like marriage. By and large, as a society we are not talking about marriage, nor looking at it, through the eyes of children but through the eyes of adults. We are not talking about nor viewing marriage as something in which the spouses — and any children who come from their union — have formed an irreplaceable bond with each other in anticipation of the gift of children.
I realize that for some, this is a new way of articulating the reality of marriage, and yet I hope many will see the beauty, truth and goodness in this word “irreplaceability” and children’s human rights. Certainly, if God were to “define” marriage — though marriage is a reality that simply is and not definable — the word “irreplaceability” would be part of it.
God sees you and me as irreplaceable. And I think he wants us to see each other that way, too. Perhaps we can pray about this one word and how we can use it to describe marriage. We might start by thinking about what our family members mean to us, and then conveying that irreplaceability we know to be part of marriage reality to our culture that has forgotten.
Dear Lord, thank you for seeing me as a unique, unrepeatable child of yours who is wholly irreplaceable to you. Please help me begin to realize how important this word is, to have it in mind when approaching my family members and others, and to convey it in everyday discussions with your help.
Q4U: What does the word “irreplaceable” mean to you?