Stilling the Pendulum

“Why can’t there be a balance?” Enola asked me as we politely disagreed over Matt Walsh’s latest post on marriage and “The One.” “Why does it have to be all or nothing?”
“Well, that’s why I keep writing,” I said… and then I got to thinking, wrote the following, and showed it to her. And since she approves, I’m posting it. 🙂


So here’s how I see it.

God has a perfect plan for each of us. For a lot of people–not all, but many–that plan includes marriage. As long as we “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” we can trust that “all these things,” including marriage to “The One” if that’s His will, “will be added unto” us at the right time. And as long as each spouse continues to love God with all his or her heart, soul, strength, and mind and both commit to love each other as themselves, we’ll have our “happily ever after”–not in the sense of not having any more problems ever, but in the sense of being where God wants us to be.

But there’s this pesky little thing called free will that means we have the choice not to follow God’s plan. And that, “For aught that I could ever read, / Could ever tell by tale or history,” is why “The course of true love never did run smooth.”

I don’t believe God’s perfect plan involves marrying an abuser or becoming abusive toward one’s spouse (nor do I believe God requires the abused to remain in their marriage–abuse is a type of infidelity and thus is justified grounds for divorce). I don’t believe God’s perfect plan permits one to violate the Seventh Commandment on the pretext of having found “The One” after making a mistake. I do believe it involves pursuing God together and working together to remain obedient and make the marriage function, even in the rough times that are sure to come because none of us is yet precisely who God wants us to end up being. He’s still working on all of us.

Now, I don’t say any of this to condemn anyone. There’s grace for those who have gone astray, and Romans 8:28 still holds true for victims who need healing after being abused or betrayed. But in the ideal case (which any scientist can tell you may be harder to achieve than it sounds!), when both spouses are obedient to God’s will, they may be confident that they have indeed found “The One.”

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Unspectacular

“He’s a bit of all right!” said my Aussie friend Anna of her new husband. (She doesn’t call him “the DH,” as many bloggers I know refer to their dear husbands, but “RM”–the Right Man.) Anna has struggled with diet-triggered illnesses for a long time, and she’d just been diagnosed with Celiac disease on top of everything else. But not only didn’t RM moan and mope about having to make further modifications to their attempt at gluten-free living, not only did he give her his full support, but he also started speaking up for her when she wasn’t willing to stand up for her own needs.
Now, Anna’s hardly a meek little mouse. She’s the kind of woman who can plan to travel from Australia to Scotland, or vice versa, overland by herself–and she’d have made it, too, had world events not made the route too dangerous to attempt. She’s even confessed to having given up on the possibility of marriage because she was told she was “too much”: too smart, too vivacious, too curious. But it seems that on this point, she’s been too reticent and needed someone to have her back.
RM does. That’s… why he’s the Right Man for her.

I can daydream all sorts of like-to-haves about my Faramir. And if he looks like Brad Paisley or Gil McKinney, I wouldn’t object. 😉 But those aren’t essentials. What’s more important, to me, is the stuff that is gold but doesn’t glitter, qualities like being my advocate when I’m too exhausted or hungry or in pain to advocate for myself. I want someone who’ll recognize at once when I’ve hit my limit and will make sure I eat or sleep or do whatever else I need to do to recover my strength and clarity of mind. That’s not to say I can’t take care of myself, but it would be a lot easier to have some help.
I’m sure he’ll have burdens of his own that he’ll need me to share, too. Not knowing what they are, I can’t address them here and now. But I’ll want to help in whatever ways I can, because that’s love: bearing one another’s burdens and so fulfilling the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2). It’s not showy or spectacular. But then, what in this world that’s truly worth having is also worth much spectacle?

(Post title from Die Prinzen’s “Unspektakulär,” about a guy who’s pleasantly average–no big scandals, no showy weaknesses–and likes himself that way.)

In Defense of “The One”

A few months back, F insisted that we cap our Girls’ Day Out by watching Austenland. I’m not an Austen fan by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t usually like rom-coms, but I agreed anyway. There was some heavy-duty embarrassment squick, but what redeemed the movie for me was not only Jane’s realization that she wanted a real relationship instead of pining for a fantasy starring her seemingly non-existent Darcy, but also…
(Spoiler alert!)
… the ending, where the Darcy figure tracks her down to convince her that he is serious about being in love with her. “Did you ever think you might have this all wrong?” he finally cries. “Jane, you are my fantasy!”
And she finally understands, and they kiss.
(End spoilers!)

Among young evangelical bloggers, it’s become something of a commonplace to decry the notion of “The One,” the perfect soulmate. And on the face of it, I can see why. Running from commitment in a good relationship just because you’re afraid that you’re about to miss out on a potentially better relationship is foolish, especially if that other potential relationship exists only in your own mind. It might even turn out to be a matter of using uncertainty over God’s will as cover for prioritizing one’s own will–goodness knows He often hands us answers to prayer that look nothing like we expected them to, and idolizing (in the fullest sense of the word) one’s own preconceptions of the perfect spouse can blind us to God’s best that comes wrapped in the form of a flawed but real human. Pining for Darcy can turn into pining for the fjords, if you know what I mean. Plus, maundering on about “The One” can be very hurtful to people for whom God’s plan involves remaining single, whether that’s for a longer season than most or for life.

The trouble with making a blanket condemnation of “The One” is that it misses an equally important truth: It matters who you marry.
Expecting perfection is unreasonable, certainly, and it’s true, as some wags have noted, that God asked Hosea to marry a woman who could and did turn out to be unfaithful. Yet Hosea is a special case–that marriage was intended as a very public, very concrete allegory of God’s relationship with Israel. Most of us are not prophets who might need to make such a statement! Rather, if the average Christian marriage is an allegory of anything, it’s the relationship between Christ and the Church. Here’s what Paul says in Ephesians 5:22-33:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

This image has to leave room for the foibles of human nature, to be sure. But an abusive, neglectful, or unfaithful spouse does not fit in this picture. In fact, Jesus gives infidelity as the only acceptable reason for divorce several times in the Gospels (e.g. Matt. 5:32), and Paul says that a deadbeat husband “has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). If you’re in a relationship with someone who’s hindering your walk with God or who’s causing problems for your emotional or physical health or your relationships with your family and friends, marrying that person is not a good idea. Neither is it wise to marry just for the sake of getting married. I’ve had at least one friend who was in a relationship with a good, godly guy and wanted to marry him, but before they could marry, they realized that their callings were leading them in totally different directions. Breaking off that engagement was the right thing to do for both of them. (I don’t know what’s become of him, but after remaining single for another ten years or so, she recently met someone else–on the mission field!)

The long and short of it is, when it comes to making a commitment to spend the rest of your life with someone, you ought to seek God’s will–not as an excuse to avoid commitment or out of reluctance to exchange fantasy for reality, but to ensure that you’re not about to walk into a trap. Finding “The One” won’t automagically solve all your problems, but knowing that you’re following God’s direction makes it easier to avoid outright despair in the darkest nights and the fieriest trials. And trusting His direction also means trusting His timing, as I’ve noted before, which can be hard when well-meaning friends, family, and church leaders are applying undue pressure. But as F pointed out just this weekend, whether and whom to marry is the second most important decision any of us will ever make, after the decision to follow Christ. And if I give my whole heart to Him, shouldn’t I be able to trust Him to find the right match for it and make the two one at the right time?

A Herman’s Hermits heart in a Rolling Stones world

This is a somewhat roundabout post. Please bear with me–I do have a point and will get to it before the end.


Someecards: “Best of luck explaining why you’re still single at Thanksgiving and Charles Manson isn’t.”
Me: Do you really want me to be the kind of girl who would marry Charles Manson?!


Yesterday I came across an article by Gina Dalfonzo with the subhead, “Why the state of marriage doesn’t mean we lower our standards.” She’s objecting, quite rightly, to a sociologist who argues that despite the destructive nature of pornography, single Christian women ought not to consider a man’s consumption of porn an automatic dealbreaker because otherwise finding a potential spouse will become well nigh impossible. One of the comments on the article notes that such a response is a very secular one, based solely on pragmatic consideration of statistics and ignoring the fact that, as the song says, “God specializes in things called impossible.”

It also ignores Mark Twain’s comment about “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” but that’s a question for the boffins what have the hard data. What I know for a certainty about the odds is this: When you’re looking for a needle in a haystack, you don’t just grab hold of the first thing that pricks your finger, because there’s a better-than-even chance it’ll be a grass burr–maybe not Charles Manson or Henry VIII, but there are any number of abusers or deadbeats, dudebros or Nice Guys who would fall into such a category (and any number of abusers or gold-diggers, prima donnas or Run-Around Sues who would be equally bad matches for a good man).

I’d rather die single than marry a grass burr.


And by Henry VIII, I do mean this guy:


All of this brought to mind a paper I wrote once for freshman comp in which I contrasted “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits with “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. The thesis of that paper isn’t relevant, but the contrast is, since both songs deal with the subject of disappointed love. Continue reading

“Adequate?! He’s sensational!

“There’s no such thing as a perfect man”–true enough, though I can think of one Exception.  It’s even been said that you always marry the “wrong” person in that your spouse is not the same person on your wedding day as he or she will be ten years down the line, nor is he or she at present fully the person God wants him or her to be… and neither are you.  All true, and very wise.

But may I share a bit of Tolkien trivia with you?

The name Faramir means “adequate jewel.”  It’s a backhanded complement of sorts, considering that Boromir means “jewel of my right hand.”  Essentially, with his choice of names, Denethor was saying that his second son was all right but wasn’t all that.  We see this attitude carry over into their adulthood:  “Do not speak to me of Faramir,” Denethor snaps at one point.  “I know his uses, and they are few.”  Not until Boromir’s dead and Faramir’s at death’s door, suffering under the Black Breath, does Denethor realize that he does love Faramir after all.
(And then becomes suicidal, but that’s another story.)
Now, I don’t want to imply that Boromir’s a bad man or that he’s somehow less good than Faramir.  They’re both noble, honorable men with different interests, different strengths, and different flaws.  And yes, Faramir does have flaws, even in the book.  He gets jealous when he realizes that Éowyn still has a crush on Aragorn, for example, and Tolkien once got a little put out with his tendency to ramble on at length about Gondorian history.  Boromir’s flaws are simply easier for the Ring to exploit and thus prove fatal.

Denethor wasn’t wrong to call both of his sons jewels.  He was wrong to assume that Faramir’s character was simply “adequate”–a C, maybe C+, on an American grading scale.  And that doesn’t stem just from Faramir’s having inherited more of the royal (i.e., Elven) qualities from both sides of the family than either Denethor or Boromir did.
See, even as a child, Faramir sought true wisdom.  That pursuit drew him into friendship with Gandalf, who is an angel in disguise.  Both Gandalf and his mother, before her death, helped him develop the habit of virtue.  That’s why he can reject the Ring even before he knows what it is and hold to that resolve after finding out the truth, aiding Sam and Frodo rather than forcing them to go to Minas Tirith and allowing the Ring to be misused. And that choice, in turn, is what prompts Sam to declare, “You have shown your quality, sir: the very highest.”
Not C+, A++! Considering that Tolkien viewed Sam as the chief hero of the book, that’s a pretty strong endorsement.
Yet somehow I suspect that while Faramir can accept Sam’s compliment and return it with grace, he doesn’t think of himself that way. And that isn’t entirely the result of Denethor’s emotional neglect. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, the better a person’s character is, the more acutely aware he or she is of his or her own flaws and shortcomings. The Apostle Paul called himself “the chief of sinners,” for example, and many other people whom the Church has named saints have felt the same way about themselves. Plus, like most veterans, I’m sure Faramir believes that the true heroes never make it home.
As he tells Éowyn, he’s not Aragorn. He’s the second son of the steward, a Ranger captain. He’s nothing special. He’s… well, adequate.

Which reminds me of the Hogan’s Heroes episode from which the title of this post comes, “The Witness”:

Gen. von Rauscher (on meeting Hogan, who’s being volunteered to witness a rocket test): He will do; he is adequate.

Marya: Adequate?! He’s sensational!

Von Rauscher: ADEQUATE!

[later, after the Heroes destroy the rocket:]

Marya (to Hogan): Sensational!

Hogan (shrugs): Adequate.

All of that to say, I suppose, that when it comes to looking for a spouse, Faramir’s sort of “adequate” may be just exactly right.

To my future husband

My sweet friend Bethany wrote such a letter two years ago, almost to the day, and today she wrote another that makes me wish I were close enough to be able to run to her house and dance with her. And that’s the reason for this post.

My darling Faramir,

I love you.

I don’t know who you are, where you are, what’s going on in your life now. I do feel certain that God has promised me that you do exist and are out there somewhere searching for me. We’re of an age, I believe, and maybe you’ve been wondering whether I exist! Well, take heart, dearest. You’ve been the man of my dreams for many long years, even when I thought I was in love with someone else; you’re the tall dark handsome someone whose face I’ve never seen. You’re everything I’ve ever wanted–godly, kind, considerate, wise, someone I can trust with my life and my heart, whom I can love without reserve, who will encourage me and inspire me to keep going further up and further in with God as well as with you, that one-in-three-billion needle in a haystack full of grass burrs–and probably a lot of things I don’t yet know I want, and I fully expect you to sweep me off my feet from the day we meet at long last. I have indeed walked with you once upon a dream, and somehow I just feel sure you’ve been dreaming of me. So I’m telling you now what I’ve asked God countless times of late to tell you for me.

I love you. I’m waiting for you. I’m praying for you.

Do thou the same for me. And may the Lord watch between me and thee while we are apart.

Immermehr,

Deine Lucy

P.S. Does that signature seem so very odd? You, of all people, should know I live for crossovers.