‘Marriage Story’ and being called to love like Christ amid the messiness of life

3 mins read
Dad and baby

Scott WardenYears ago, before being hired by OSV, I worked evenings on the copy desk at our local daily newspaper. Like all jobs, this one had its drawbacks and benefits, but one of the pluses was that it gave me the opportunity to stay at home with my oldest three kids before they started school. And while I don’t miss the sleepless nights and early mornings, there are times now that I wish I could have had that same opportunity with my youngest three.

Recently, though, because our babysitter was sick, I was able to spend a rare, quiet weekday with our 2-year-old, Gemma, and Norah, our 9-month-old, who has waged war on sleeping in her crib. She only sleeps while nursing or being held (or, as is her preference, both).

After I put Gemma down for her nap, I had a choice to make. I was surrounded by the messiness of life: toys scattered, laundry unfolded, dishes unwashed, Christmas decorations needing to be boxed and put away. Dinner was soon approaching, and I needed to catch up on work. And so I could let Norah cry it out in her crib so that I could clean, or I could snuggle her to sleep in the recliner.

The mess could wait, I thought.

As I was stuck underneath our 16-pound baby, unable to lift much of a finger, I took advantage by watching a movie that was not animated, set in space or featured superheroes — a rare treat.

With Norah sleeping soundly on my chest, I watched the 2020 Oscar-nominated film “Marriage Story,” directed by Noah Baumbach and starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson. It was tremendously acted, as the two leads portrayed a husband and wife whose life together had come to a crossroads. Driver plays Charlie, an up-and-coming director who pours his life (and his money) into his theater company. Johansson plays his wife, Nicole, an actress who feels that she’s sacrificed her career so that his can thrive. She gets an opportunity to star in a TV series that shoots in Los Angeles, and he, essentially, is married to his work in New York, and so they fumble their way through a messy divorce and bi-coastal living. Their 8-year-old son, of course, is caught in the middle of parents who are separated by much more than 3,000 miles of flyover country.

Throughout the movie, you get the sense that while neither wants to go through with the divorce, they can’t muster up the selflessness that it would take to stop it. It has become a snowball rolling downhill with too much momentum. It’s best just to get out of the way and let the snowball crash wherever it may.

But while the film portrays the reality of divorce, it doesn’t champion it. Far from it. Baumbach, who wrote the screenplay, doesn’t force a happy ending. He, too, leaves the mess.

Fast-forward a week or two, and my daughter again is sleeping soundly, this time in her car seat at the end of the pew, bundled up in a pink, fuzzy snowsuit. My wife and I are attending a friend’s wedding. One of the readings was from Colossians, and in his homily, the priest told the couple that in more than 30 years of witnessing marriages, no other couple had ever picked that verse. It seemed relevant.

“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. … Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:12, 16).

It’s not hard to see why this verse isn’t chosen often for a wedding liturgy, but perhaps it should be. Look at the language St. Paul uses: “humility,” “patience,” “bearing with one another, “forgiving one another” and “admonish one another.” The reality that Paul saw 2,000 years ago is still true today: We are not perfect people. We have our faults, and those faults affect the lives of those we love. But we are made to love like Christ, with “heartfelt compassion, kindness” and “with gratitude in your hearts.”

Marriage isn’t easy. Parenting isn’t easy. But we are called to persevere in love — despite the scattered toys and unfolded laundry and unwashed dishes. Despite the messiness of life.

Scott Warden is managing editor of Our Sunday Visitor.