There is no bigger commitment in our earthly life than marriage. And that terrified Aziz Ansari.
The biggest punchline being when Aziz stated: “[People] are getting married to people they’ve known for a year and a half…a year and a half? I mean, I’ve had sweaters for a year and a half and was like what the *bleep* was I doing with this sweater?!”
Aziz comically captures the common fear people have of commitment. Even in my own life, I often can spend more time looking for a show or movie on Netflix than actually committing to watching a whole program. Whether in marriage, a career choice or to a church, our reluctance to commit can be seen all throughout all walks of life. Why is it that we fear commitment so much?
Our fear of losing freedom
The reason why Aziz fears marriage and I spend more time browsing for shows than watching one on Netflix can be pinned to this: the belief in our culture that freedom is the most important good in our life. Tim Keller writes, “Today as a culture we believe freedom is the highest good…Freedom has come to be defined as the absence of any limitations or constraints on us. By this definition, the fewer boundaries we have on our choices and actions, the freer we feel ourselves to be.” Our culture has made us believe that to be truly happy and to be truly free, we must rid ourselves of all constraints and commitments to ensure we find our “true” selves. You see this even in Disney movies like “Frozen,” in which the climatic song literally tells viewers to, “let it go!” to find true happiness.
We also compound this notion of freedom, now more than ever, with a consumer mentality. When I first discovered my love of sushi, I would always go to an All-You-Can-Eat restaurant. You could order exactly what you wanted, eat as much as you desired, and you never eat what you didn’t. You get to order exactly to your comfort level. I only liked salmon and I loved just being able to eat only salmon.
Now, this might be fine for food, but we often adopt this mentality for our life choices. When finding a church or career path, we want it to fit exactly to our needs and desires. And the temptation is when you don’t like where you are, you can always find a better church or career choice. As we live in fear of commitment what happens is we begin to become people of FOMO or fear of missing out. We can never fully enjoy what we are committing to because there are so many other choices that you are constantly comparing to your situation. We become easily dissatisfied and will back out the moment a better choice is offered. In essence, our freedom and consumerism paralyze us when making any decision. But when we want to keep all the doors open you’ll never find yourself walking through any of them. Whether finding a church, staying in a relationship, or trying to find a career choice, we are left stranded.
Covenant over comfort
Covenant is a weird word for this time. It conveys archaic feelings of suppression and seems too “Biblical” to be pertinent for real life. As Christians, we often forget that we are not only a people of freedom and grace, but also a people of covenant. Moses explains to Israel: “You are standing here in order to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God, a covenant the Lord is making with you this day and sealing with an oath to confirm you today as His people.” (Deut. 29:12-13). This agreement represents a relationship that is both extremely intimate and also extremely binding. This covenant allows Israel in relation to God to become “His people” but when they seal an oath to confirm it.
Yet this seems to be at opposition with what our culture tells us. How can we find intimacy and joy in such a cold and legal relationship? Isn't happiness found in how free we can become? But this covenant offers more than just oppression, it offers true freedom and joy.
David Brooks, a columnist for The New York Times, put it well: “Our inner nature is formed by that kind of covenant in which the good of the relationship takes place and precedence over the good of the individual. Life doesn’t come from how well you keep your options open but how well you close them off and realize a higher freedom.” What Brooks is writing is what Moses was trying to convey to Israel. When we begin to commit to things greater than ourselves and our comfort, we are able to find intimacy and joy. It is only when we say yes to God and no to our sinful nature that we are able to truly live our lives the way it was designed.
Committing to freedom
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Japan a couple of times. And as Paul’s eyes were opened on the road to Damascus, my eyes to sushi were opened on the road to Tokyo. I was elated to finally try real sushi but I wanted to do it on my terms - only salmon and none of that weird stuff. I was able to find a small hole-in-the-wall joint, and as I walked in I was met with silence and blank stares from the staff. I was ushered into a small seat on the side and I patiently waited for a menu of some sort. No menu came, but instead I was served surprisingly small dishes of fish. Perplexed, I looked around and some English-speaking customers politely informed me this was an omakase restaurant. Omakase is a type of sushi restaurant in which you leave it completely up to the chef what you eat. Basically, it was my worst nightmare. I tried to somehow make an exit but my shame kept me in my seat. But as I ate with angst and contempt, I became surprised with how good tuna tasted. Plate by plate, I began to realize there were so many types of fish that I had been too fearful to commit to before that I actually realized were delicious. Finally, at the end, I was served fatty tuna (otoro) and was literally crying tears of joy.
I had been too fearful to commit something outside my comfort zone. But when I overcame my fear and trusted a chef with skills greater than what my comfort allowed, I realized there were so many more flavors I was not aware of. In a weird way that stoic sushi chef and I made a bond of trust in that moment - we established a covenant. That trust meant I had to close the door of only eating salmon, but I was finally able to go through doors that I would have never entertained in my comfort mentality. There was a higher freedom in commitment.
I totally understand the skepticism Aziz has on marriage, even as someone who is married. There are moments in our covenant when both of us have questions of, “What did we get ourselves into?” Having to now live your life intertwined with another’s schedule, requests, and desires now clashing with yours - to be honest it’s a struggle at times. Yet because we are committed in a covenant that doesn’t allow us to leave on the whim of our discomforts we are able to experience a deeper intimacy in our relationship than before.
Yes, our fights can be frequent and annoying but the forgiveness and reconciliation we both experience afterwards can’t be found anywhere else. Because we commit to stay together no matter what we’re feeling, I often see more of my faults and work to fix them. More than realizing I had made the wrong choice like choosing a wrong sweater, my marriage has made me realize that possibly I could have more holes than that old sweater.
I no longer am afraid of having made the wrong choice, unlike Aziz, who feared overcommitting to something as simple as a bad sweater. My marriage has made me realize that I myself have flaws and I might actually be that ugly sweater. But God through his covenant with me has committed to me and loves me for who I am. Therefore I am unafraid and can choose to be free. Whether to the church, a career, or relationships, I believe we must learn to overcome our fears and become people of covenant over comfort.
Eugene Park is a College Pastor at Gospel Life Mission Church in Anaheim, CA. He is a graduate of UC Riverside and is currently pursuing his M. Div. from Talbot School of Theology. He also serves as a Steering Core member of KCM and a campus pastor at UC Riverside KCM.