“We are very conscious of ourselves, and very conscious of how different we are from our spouses. Before God, we are all misfits in marriage.”

In 1956, famed playwright Arthur Miller married movie star Marilyn Monroe and began writing a screenplay for her to star in. He called it “The Misfits.” It was about modern cowboys who were trying to survive on the outskirts of American culture. When the movie was filmed four years later, the title was more appropriate for their marriage, which was very publicly disintegrating during the course of filming.

As we approach Cornerstone’s conference on marriage, it seems to me that “Misfits” is an apt word for many marriages. We have dinner with friends and later wonder how those two ever thought of getting together. Yet we can be surprised by how well they get along, or saddened by how unhappy one or both of them seems to be in the marriage. We might even lay awake nights and worry that “misfits” describes us.

For those of us who have seen “misfit” marriages, our own approach to marriage can be flanked by large signs saying “Caution! Potholes ahead!”

I have certainly known marriages of convenience, as well as marriages barely held together ‘for the sake of the kids’. I can tell you of marriages that occurred out of a fit of bad judgment. My own parents confessed that they married on a whim (happily, as it turned out). Knowing their backgrounds prior to that sudden “Yeah! Let’s find a judge!” moment would have strongly suggested they were “misfits.” But their daily lives reminded me of the quote from the Song of Solomon where the woman refers to the man as the one “...whom my soul loves.”

Jacobson and Jacobson write, “There is no substitute for real relationships that grow over time.” Many of us wouldn’t know because we haven’t sustained a deep relationship over more than a few months.

When we marry, the length of time is set in the ceremony. We vow, “until we are parted by death.” Many would prefer it read, “Until I realize that you’re not a good fit for me.” The story in Genesis of the creation of the first man and woman, and of God’s officiating at their wedding, assumes the marriage is their new permanent state. They are God’s creative rejoining of a person taken apart. That should suggest something of their closeness and permanency.

This is so radically different from how we understand both what we bring to marriage and what we get, that it can be hard to relate to. Genesis gives no indication that the relationship needed healing or change before it would work. There was no opportunity for infidelity (with whom??). There was no self-consciousness to be dealt with, nor trust issues.

But we are fallen. We do have trust issues. We have dissatisfactions with each other. We do need healing—lots of it. We are very conscious of ourselves, and very conscious of how different we are from our spouses. Before God, we are all misfits in marriage.

This is one reason why the apostle Paul writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Unlike the Genesis 2 couple, we need changing. We need healing. We need to “be transformed.”

We live with a cultural bias that marriage is a potential snake-pit of trouble, and requires an exit strategy for protection. We hear stories of horrible abuse, unfaithfulness, abandonment and more. When such things actually happen, abandoning the marriage may be the only sensible thing to do. Much more often, struggles in the marriage push one or both partners to anticipate it will only get worse, thinking the above issues are right around the corner so we’d better get out now.

Perhaps it’s true....or perhaps we can declare ourselves “Misfits” and determine to work on it, knowing that we are people who, through sin, are far more self-focused than is healthy, and in need of some serious effort put into “renewing my mind”, plus a large dollop of time, to make this relationship begin to work. Maybe we can just say we are misfits learning to fit.

Romans 12 is about Christian living in every area of life, including marriage. In verse 9 of the same chapter, for instance, he writes, “Let love be genuine.” In verse 10 he adds, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” In verse 12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” These exhortations apply to husbands about their wives, and wives about their husbands as much as to anyone else I know who serves the risen Savior.

Very often I have to remind myself that God’s word is meant to be read that it might be applied. Too many college classes where I simply absorbed, analyzed, and forgot information, left me with bad habits. I bring those bad habits to books that are meant to be absorbed, analyzed and lived out. In Romans 12, God is speaking to me about how to be transformed by the renewing of my mind so that I can choose to live changed...even changed in the way I'm married.

When I first read the story of “The Misfits,” I was not a believer. My response was shock and sadness. Arthur Miller was a brilliant playwright whose deep insights into human life created such moments as Willy Loman in “Death of a Salesman,” screaming out, “I had all the wrong dreams!” Marilyn Monroe was known for being exquisitely funny and sexy at the same time. Sadly, those attributes obscured the fact that she was also very smart. If they couldn't make marriage work, who could? How ironic that they themselves stole the meaning of the title away from the movie by their tragic incompatibility. Now, as a Christian, I look at those strange goings on in the Nevada desert in the summer and fall of 1960 and see that “Misfits” isn’t limited to the un-famous and non-brilliant, but to all who understand that we are inherently sinful and in need of transformation by our creator...and never more than when we marry.

Jim Leonard

Jim serves Cornerstone through pastoral care and by overseeing internal ministries and administration.

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