25 September 2012

tending to love

During the past three or four years, thanks to our somewhat odd experience in the romance department, I have rethought a lot of my assumptions concerning marital love.

(I've talked about this a little bit before, but if you don't recall, our courtship was weird. Jared: Will you go out with me? Rebekah: Well, I've never thought about you that way, and I have no idea why you're interested, and I wasn't really looking for a relationship right now . . . but sure, why not! Jared: Oh boy! Crazy kids.)

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{"The Lantern Maker's Courtship" by William Holman Hunt}
Once I became interested in this romance thing, around age 13, I had begun to ask questions, as one does. How do people fall in love? Why would they decide to stick together for the rest of their lives? How does a marriage, well, happen?

I was (still am? debatable.) wildly idealistic. When I heard happily wed young couples use phrases like "he completes me" and "she's the perfect one for me" I would think, aha! Somewhere out in the great blue yonder is Mr. Right. My one and only soulmate. I just have to find him, or he has to find me, and everything will click. Easy peasy. So I subscribed, like most idealistic teenage girls, to the soulmate theory.

The problem with this expectation, at least for me, was that I proceeded to paint a picture of Mr. Right. If he's supposed to be perfect for me, I mused, he must have XYZ characteristics. Because after all, *I* feel that those characteristics are important.

Before long I got stuck on my formula for A Good Husband. Even though most of the required elements were great things, I had a specific vision for how they'd all fit together and in what ratio they would appear. I told myself that I was being broad-minded, but in reality there wasn't much wiggle room within my formula. Honestly, I thought that 1) my husband was going to meet my expectations and 2) we would fit together effortlessly, rather like two pieces in a cosmic jigsaw puzzle.

God stuck a big pin in that idea.

What happened?  As I watched relationships boom and bust during college, I'd realized something important: you couldn't always predict which ones would work. One attractive pair would go head over heels for one another and gallivant across campus in all their lovey-dovey glory, but a year later, they were badmouthing each other on Facebook. Then we had the mismatched, surprising couples who had remarkably different interests and butted heads every other week (you know, like adults do) but ended up getting married the day after graduation.

So when Jared asked me to date him, I didn't say, "Sorry, you aren't anything like my ideal man* so you can hit the road, Jack." Thankfully, after observing the vagaries of young collegiate love, I was a wee bit wiser.
There was evidently more to "love," I reflected, than physical attraction and surface compatibility. A lot more.

I sat down and reviewed the facts. I had never considered Jared as a potential husband, but what did I know about him? He was a hard worker. He was creative, sincere, and trustworthy. A lot of my good friends back home both respected him and enjoyed his company-- which meant a great deal to me. Okay, he didn't read Chesterton and had never gone swing dancing, and I didn't feel any butterflies when he was around. Were those things so important?

They were, but not enough for me to say no. I said yes instead.

Once people found out that Jared and I were dating, they typically asked, "How long have you liked him?" I admitted that I hadn't, and um, I still didn't. They looked perplexed. I just shrugged and grinned. It was the truth: Jared was a great guy and I thought this might work, so we were giving it a shot. Hardly romantic, but what else could I say? I had come to believe that although romance was a crucial element in marriage, it wasn't the only or even the most important element. I had watched so many puppy-dog-eyed couples splinter. Romantic attraction, I concluded, was overrated. We would need it, we absolutely would, but . . . I was willing to start without it.

Thus, during the first segment of our courtship, Jared and I were making very rational decisions, rather than  being carried along by a torrent of passion. (So much for the sparks flying when I met my soulmate.) We decided to write letters. Decided to ask each other questions. Decided to spend time with one another's families. Certainly we enjoyed it, but early on, dating felt more like tending a garden than basking in a ready-made Paradise; sometimes it was just plain frustrating, and I wondered if we'd made a mistake. However, we were building up good soil. Through our many conversations and the time we spent together that summer, we were making something beautiful.

{"Conversation With the Gardener" by Auguste Renoir}
Please note, we knew that romantic love would be a precious gift from God, and we weren't going to move towards marriage until it arrived. Obviously, the Lord did see fit that we fall in love, which was-- is-- wonderful. I am not suggesting that you should marry someone you don't feel attraction to, just because he is "a good man."

I guess my point is, a lot of our initial relationship was driven by the mind instead of the heart. That isn't the pattern for most people, granted, but it happened to be our experience and everything turned out great. Consequently, I wonder: How about that soulmate thing? Is there only one prince for every princess, someone we'll just happen upon some fine day? Or do we decide to create a lasting love?

Judging from my own experience, it is a combination. God ordains our lives, so in that sense, there is a specific "Mr. Right" out there for every Christian woman destined for wifehood. I know that Jared is the one for me; God gave me complete peace about that. However, there is a lot of tough work involved in building up love; while most people don't see that side of things until they're married, we got to experience it beforehand, and bewildering as it was at points, I'm glad. As we weren't yet floating in a sea of romance, we had to prosaically cement a deep, meaningful friendship. God crowned it with the gift of romance, but since that only happened toward the end (probably because once it did, we lost no time in getting engaged . . .) the vast majority of our dating time was spent deciding to do "loving" things instead of letting them happen to us.

So I guess I'm still skeptical of that soulmate concept. I feel like in the end, your attitude towards marriage and your overall character matters more than "finding The One."

For example, sometimes I ponder the arranged marriages that have occurred throughout history. While I know many were disastrous, many were happy. Husband and wife often learned to love one another, respect one another, work together to build a good life. Take Isaac and Rebekah. It's an extreme case: Rebekah didn't even get to see a picture of her fiance before leaving Haran, and she sure didn't know what his favorite movie was. But then again, nobody forced her to marry Isaac. She considered the matter for herself, and because she believed that God had his hand in it, off she went to meet him. And you know what? "Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her" (Genesis 24:67). It's interesting that this love story works backwards, to our modern way of thinking. Commitment came first and romance followed.

(That story helped me when I doubted my own sanity in dating a boy who I barely knew. See, it worked out all right for my namesake!)

Okay. It doesn't always work that way. Thousands of successful marriages have obviously begun with more "sizzle" than ours did. (We were sizzling plenty by the time we got to engagement, believe you me. But unlike most of our friends, it was a late addition to the equation. Ha ha.) Also, I am not holding up our courtship story as a formula to follow. Lord preserve me from formulas. So I don't wish to declare that romantic love must come straggling along behind-- only to suggest that it might. And that goes for after the wedding, too. However you got there, I believe that marital love remains a garden to be tended. There are weeds in a garden, along with the flowers. Pull out those weeds if you can, and be patient with the deep-rooted ones. Till the soil and plant the best seeds you can find. Decide to invest in that garden, whatever pops out of the soil.

Sometimes Jared makes me want to pull my hair out. Sometimes I give him a tension headache. Weeds galore. On those days, we don't like each other much. Yet on those same days, we love one another, and we insist on believing that this-- and none else-- is the marriage and spouse God has given us. Besides that, we believe that He will provide all the grace necessary to sustain it.

Which He does.

Water Under The Bridge by Jars of Clay on Grooveshark 
{our wedding dance song}

Why did I bother to write all this?

Partially for my yet-unborn daughters, in hopes that they will have a more open mind than their mother did, more faith in God's leading, and less faith in their own plans. That they will understand how the love that binds a husband and wife together reaches deeper than (though it does not skip over) emotion. That if the Lord has marriage in their future, they will wait for one who is both a joyful and wise choice-- one who arouses their affections, but is also a man who can be counted on.

I wrote partially for fellow wives (and to any husbands who happen to read this), in hopes that we'll stop holding our spouses at arm's length, critically wondering if they are "the one" to whom we should dedicate our lives. They are. Go till that garden!

Finally, I wrote this to myself, in hopes that I will always remember what a tremendous gift I've been given in my husband.

*Except that he was. I just didn't know it at the time.

3 comments:

  1. Loved this post! I agreed whole-heartedly! Can't count how many times Lane and I have asked the question, "Do you like me right now?" And the answer being, "No, but I still love you." The fact that we can give this answer is a gift and grace of God that only He can produce in our sinful hearts. I love your transparency, Rebekah... thank you :-)

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  2. Looks like lantern-making was shiznitz.

    Also, you will find echoes of your thoughts, idealized, in Rilke's letters.

    "To take love seriously and to bear and to learn it like a task, this it is, Friedrich, that young people need. Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure were more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work. So whoever loves must try to act as if he had a great work: he must be much alone and go into himself and collect himself and hold fast to himself; he must work; he must become something!"

    Most of the letter from which the above is drawn: http://freetexthost.com/icyfdqlc36

    The full online texts of all his letters: http://archive.org/stream/lettersofrainerm030932mbp/lettersofrainerm030932mbp_djvu.txt

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