The Perfect Marriage Isn’t
The following sermon was written for the wedding of my daughter and her husband. She requested that I give a sermon based on Dr. Suess’s I Had Trouble in Getting to Sola Solew and Shel Silverstein’s The Missing Piece Meets the Big O. Those are both copyrighted to the respective authors and their publishers. The sermon is my own. The authors quoted are, of course, not responsible for any misconstruals on my part. Both books are highly recommended.
The Perfect Marriage Isn’t
It was just sitting there, “waiting for someone to come along and take it someplace.” “It” was just a missing piece, or so It thought. It believed It was that part missing from Someone Else’s existence, rendering that “Someone Else” broken and incomplete and empty. Hopefully, that Someone would come along – soon – and “take It someplace”, i.e., suddenly and marvelously bestow upon It – the Missing Piece – a Life, an existence and a meaning beyond just sitting there.
So begins, in these few words, the little parable by Shel Silverstein found in “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O”. In these few words, he catches a lot of the quirkiness in our notions about ourselves and about relationships. Like we aren’t complete without someone else. And that there is someone who is meant for us, to fill the void and emptiness in our lives. These are a lovely, romantic notions that seem all too plausible. But these notions can have a deadly catch.
Certainly a significant part of who we are is who we are in relationships. We define ourselves by our relationships with the people around us, the people in our world. We define ourselves as so-and-so’s brother or sister, mom or dad, and, momentarily, Betsie’s husband or Mike’s wife. At family reunions you will meet relatives, and for a time you will be, almost entirely, Mike’s wife or Betsie’s husband. The relationship you are entering into will be a very, very large part of who you are and how you define yourselves.
We define ourselves by our relationships to others. This is not a bad thing; it is quite appropriate depending on the social context. A significant part of our self-definition has to do with our relationships to other people.
But it is telling if we do a little experiment in which we momentarily stop defining ourselves by our relationships. Try saying “I am ….” without using the standard, so-and-so’s such-and-such. Don’t say “I am her mother or his sister or wife or husband or child, etc. When we do that little experiment, who are we? There are some who cannot do even that little mental exercise without feeling a great deal of anxiety, such a part of us are the relationships we have with those around us.
It is only right that relationships are a large, large part of who we are. But if we cannot define ourselves – even momentarily – apart from our relationships, the question becomes, are we just someone else’s missing piece? Are we just looking for that person who is the missing part of ourselves, hoping that they will make us whole and complete? That they will make right all of our problems and fill our emptiness and essentially do for us what we cannot or will not do for ourselves?
Going to that family reunion and saying, “I am Betsie’s husband” or “I am Mike’s wife” is very, very different from having no self-definition, no sense of ourselves apart from being someone’e missing piece, having no identity outside that relationship. This is what Silverstein is hinting at: we are not really a whole person, we are not really living life fully and experiencing it fully – even our intimate relationships – if we are unable to be complete and whole in ourselves.
The Missing Piece finally finds one it fits with perfectly. At least until the Missing Piece begins to grow. Then Its partner leaves It and goes on alone, looking for a missing piece that won’t change and grow. We know, or perhaps have been in, relationships where one partner or the other changed. “You changed” becomes an accusation. One partner feels threatened, Silverstein suggests, because the relationship was based not on two self-confident individuals, comfortable and complete in themselves, but two who were invested in and dependent on “the fit”. If their sense of themselves, or their patterns of relating, or what they want in a relationship changes, then they may no longer match, and the relationship falters.
When the Missing Piece meets the Big O, one who is confident and complete in itself, the Missing Piece has trouble relating to it at all. The Big O is not missing a piece. There is no place for the Missing Piece to fit in. Like those of us who cannot define ourselves without reference to others, the Missing Piece cannot conceive of someone like the Big O that is complete and whole without needing someone else to fill a void. The Big O tells the Missing Piece that It needs to learn to be independent, maybe let a few corners get knocked off. But in so doing, It can discover the richness and the beauty and the fullness of life.
Many enter relationships looking for someone who will take care of them, fill a void in themselves, deal with all their problems, make their problems go away. But when the problems are in ourselves, a partner cannot make such problems go away. We must learn to deal with them. Dr. Seuss’ delightful “I had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew” is about this aspect of life. A basic foundation for being able to live life is to be able to deal with problems.
Without the flexibility and determination to meet problems head on, we can develop one of several unhealthy patterns. There is avoidance, always looking for the perfect place, that perfect sitution where we will never have any problems. Or finding someone who will take care of all our problems for us. When we expect a relationship to be that place where all problems go away, we are creating the dilemma that Silverstein has suggested.
“I had trouble in getting to Solla Sollew, on the banks of the beautiful river Wa-hoo, where they never have troubles, at least very few. When the young chap gets to Solla Sollew, he discovers that the town does have very few troubles. In fact, they only have one. A critter has taken up its place in the lock of the only door into town. It’s bad luck to kill this particular creature, no one can get in or out, and the town’s gone to pot.
When we invest our relationships with the job of taking away all of our problems – of being that perfect place where nothing ever goes wrong and no one ever changes – then, like Solla Sollew, there is, indeed, just one little problem. Nobody can get into the place. Rather than invest so much energy finding a place of perfection where we cannot live anyway, why not simply go out and meet our troubles, make sure our troubles get trouble from us? Why not take responsibility for meeting life head on. Maybe, like the Missing Piece discovered, a few rough edges will get knocked off, but we will be far more in charge of our own lives.
And far more able to actually have a real relationship with another. Not one in which we supply what is missing in someone else’s existence – or they supply what is missing in ours. But rather one with whom we can journey together, side by side.
So Betsie, Mike, we want you to know that you are surrounded by folks today who love you. You are surrounded by folks who have heard your selection of these two books as the readings at your wedding and who realize what these readings mean. You are surrounded by folks who are breathing a sigh of relief and in their minds are saying “Whew!” and thinking that, if those two really realize the message of these two simple stories, then, by golly, they just may have a chance!
Because, while there is no such thing as a perfect marriage, the closest we can come is to realize our own imperfections, and accept those imperfections. And being honest with ourself, yet accepting our own imperfections, we are better able to accept the imperfections of our partner. Not expecting our partner to make everything perfect, or to solve all our problems, but to be a travelling companion as we both face head on the various challenges and problems of life.
You are surrounded by people who love you and who wish for you the best: a travelling companion with whom you can travel through life, with whom you can accept your own and one another’s imperfections, with whom can actively face lifes little – and not so little – problems. You don’t need to find the missing piece or the City of Solla Sollew, because you know that you have everything you need wherever you are. You know that you have been loved and that that is enough. And knowing that you have been loved, you have love to share.
Mike & Betsie, we, your community of family and loved ones are here to join with you in celebrating this day when you acknowledge and affirm that relationship.
(c) 2003 Ron L. Clayton