Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the time of the Christian year known as Lent. Lent has traditionally been a period of self-examination and confession leading up to the Holy Week and culminating in the observance of the pivotal events of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
For many Christians, Lent has become the forty days during which they abstain from something, often returning to that which they’ve given up once the forty days are completed.
If you observe Lent, or if you don’t, I want to urge you to make this season a time for self-examination rather than only a period of temporary denial. Consider what lasting changes God might be inviting you to make in your life.
I recently finished reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise. It’s essentially the story of a young man, Amory Blaine, trying to find his place in the world. Near the end of the book, in a casual conversation with two men he’s just met, Amory coins a new phrase. Immediately he likes the phrase and begins to expound on its meaning. Fitzgerald thus proposes the concept of the “spiritually married man.”
While it might initially seem that Fitzgerald is attacking the institution of marriage, I don’t think that’s his point at all. It’s something deeper. Here’s how he describes the spiritually married versus the spiritually unmarried person:
“When life gets hold of a brainy man of fair education,” began Amory slowly, “that is, when he marries he becomes, nine times out of ten, a conservative as far as existing social conditions are concerned. He may be unselfish, kind-hearted, even just in his own way, but his first job is to provide and to hold fast. His wife shoos him on, from ten thousand a year to twenty thousand a year, on and on, in an enclosed treadmill that hasn’t any windows. He’s done! Life’s got him! He’s no help! He’s a spiritually married man.”
Amory paused and decided that it wasn’t such a bad phrase.
“Some men,” he continued, “escape the grip. Maybe their wives have no social ambitions; maybe they’ve hit a sentence or two in a ‘dangerous book’ that pleased them; maybe they started on the treadmill as I did and were knocked off. Anyway, they’re the congressmen you can’t bribe, the Presidents who aren’t politicians, the writers, speakers, scientists, statesmen who aren’t just popular grab-bags for a half-dozen women and children.”
“He’s the natural radical?”
“Yes,” said Amory. “He may vary from the disillusioned critic like old Thornton Hancock, all the way to Trotsky. Now this spiritually unmarried man hasn’t direct power, for unfortunately the spiritually married man, as a by-product of his money chase, has garnered in the great newspaper, the popular magazine, the influential weekly–so that Mrs. Newspaper, Mrs. Magazine, Mrs. Weekly can have a better limousine than those oil people across the street or those cement people ’round the corner.”
“It makes wealthy men the keepers of the world’s intellectual conscience and, of course, a man who has money under one set of social institutions quite naturally can’t risk his family’s happiness by letting the clamor for another appear in his newspaper.”
“But it appears,” said the big man.
“Where?–in the discredited mediums. Rotten cheap-papered weeklies.”
“All right–go on.”
“Well, my first point is that through a mixture of conditions of which the family is the first, there are these two sorts of brains. One sort takes human nature as it finds it, uses its timidity, its weakness, and its strength for its own ends. Opposed is the man who, being spiritually unmarried, continually seeks for new systems that will control or counteract human nature. His problem is harder. It is not life that’s complicated, it’s the struggle to guide and control life. That is his struggle. He is a part of progress–the spiritually married man is not.”
Now I’m quite sure that I diverge from Fitzgerald in theology, philosophy, morality, politics, and many other ways. And I’m confident that I have a much higher view of marriage than he does. But I think he was onto something with this concept of a spiritually married man.
Do you see the point that he is making? Many men (and women) are so thoroughly tied into and dependent upon the current system—whether it be economics, culture, occupation, denominational politics, or whatever—for their way of life, that they are powerless to raise a voice of opposition, to be a catalyst for change and progress. They make themselves voluntary slaves to a higher power; they can’t imagine losing the benefits of the system. And in order to retain those benefits, they have just as much potential to become the oppressor as to be the oppressed. They are “spiritually married” men and women—married not to a spouse, but to a way of life.
Then there are others—rarer human beings—who are able to imagine a life apart from and different than the status quo. They are able to imagine, for example, an economy that doesn’t crush and destroy, a community that cultivates virtue. They are able to recognize the sinister principalities and powers for what they are; and they are able to see the invisible kingdom of God ready to burst forth in the world. And they would prefer to see the kingdom come on earth than to receive all the potential benefits of the status quo. Spiritually they are free.
Now here is a Lent-worthy question: In what ways are you committed to or dependent upon a system or power other than Jesus and the power of his resurrection? What unholy “marriages” have you made and for what benefits?
Freedom from labor.
To what extent are you spiritually free? And from which unholy commitments would you like to see God free you in the coming year?
I think a person could spend 40 days or more thinking on these things.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
—Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)
 Fitzgerald, F.Scott (Francis Scott) (1997-02-01). This Side of Paradise (pp. 263-264). Public Domain Books. Kindle Edition.