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Marriage as Mission: “A Love that Hangs in the Balance”


Continuing our series Sacraments and Social Mission: Living the Gospel, Being Disciples, current missioner Mary Mortenson writes today about her faith’s relationship to the Sacrament of Marriage with her husband, Nate Mortenson, and her own call to mission. 

Marriage, one year and some months in, continues to be a perfect mystery to me. Each day, I find myself asked to love and be loved in ways that seem beyond my capabilities, yet I sense that I’m being held in this beautiful balance of both being beyond myself and more myself than ever before.

How and why this is the way I’m called into relationship with Nate and with others is a beautiful mystery to me.

As I seek to know and be in relationship with God, I find that a similar mystery exists. Christ came to be our example of love and grace in such a vulnerable way, coming as an infant and put in the hands of a hurting and broken humanity.

We too are called to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and then and only then will we have the gentleness that it requires to offer love and grace to others.

“A love that hangs in the balance” Photo by Nate Mortenson

This has been my experience of marriage, a place where I am held ever so gently, loved despite my many shortcomings and in return I’m able to do the same with others. This is why the mission of Franciscan Mission Service resonates so strongly with my heart.

A call to be among those that are poor and marginalized, not because I have something to teach them, but because against their will they have been put in vulnerable situations and have been given very little love and gentleness in the process.

Sadly, in our human efforts to hide our own failing and weaknesses, we desperately seek to expose the weaknesses of others. How often out of protection and self-preservation have we decided to point fingers and build strong, calloused walls that only keep us from responding to one another with grace and love?

The best pre-marital counseling I ever received was that the love that Nate and I have for one another isn’t something that either of us has personal ownership over.

It is a love that hangs in the balance.

 It exists outside of ourselves. It’s something we feed or it’s something we neglect.

I’ve loved this explanation because it shifted something subtly for me. It made we realize that this love isn’t something for Nate and me, but the love that we experience and tend to is meant to be shared. A healthy marriage isn’t just a “good example”. Instead, it’s meant to bring others right into the thick of it. We wrap them up in it.

I became aware that Nate shouldn’t take me away from others but bring me closer to them. We experienced this as we met one another’s families and friends and when we began to make friends together. I had more to give to others because of Nate’s love for me, not less.

Coming to Bolivia with Franciscan Mission Service was a natural response to who Nate and I are, what we want to seek in our life together, and the love that we hope to share with those around us. As hard as it has been to be far away from family and friends these past few weeks, I’m comforted by the fact that in my marriage I’m encouraged to share myself in some hard and vulnerable ways.

My prayer for each one of us is that the love that we share with those around us isn’t something to be guarded and protected but something that very naturally and unexpectedly offers itself up in the midst of this dear world of ours.

Nate and Mary Mortenson


Mary and Nate recently returned from two years of mission at the rural Carmen Pampa University in Bolivia.

Nate, the youngest son of nine, hails from La Cross, Wisconsin. Mary grew up picking strawberries in small-town Minnesota. The couple met at the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire, where Mary studied sociology and outdoor leadership and Nate studied Spanish and geology. They share a passion for food and bicycling, and a desire to set their marriage on a foundation of service, simplicity, and a deeper global understanding.