We saw it coming. As much as a 21 year-old far-sighted new grad and a 32 year-old eye-doctor standing before the wedding altar can. Because every marriage starts sight unseen.
The wedding guests shook their heads. “They’ve met their match,” some said. The guests, the bride, the groom- all knew that sparks would fly as sure as love would grow. That the cakewalk would end the second we left the three tiers at the reception hall and entered the January cold.
No. We weren’t giddy. Weren’t head over heels. Our love was not blind.
Bound But Not Blind
We knew to keep our eyes wide open before the wedding and half shut afterward. But half shut’s not blind. Because, like GK Chesterton wrote, blind is the last thing love is.
Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind. And if we don’t love the unlovable it’s not really love at all.
We knew these truths. We could see that our love was not blind. We were quite aware of our different ways of seeing and doing and saying things.
Which is why we picked those those verses from 2 Corinthians 9 for our wedding text.
Pastor Berg asked us, Are you sure you want to use this? It’s really not a standard wedding text like 1 Corinthians 13. The context is actually grace to give money. Is that okay?
Oh, yeah. For sure. Because we two strong, determined types knew we’d need all grace, in all things, all the time to stay bound. Which is exactly why God gives this abundant grace.
That’s lesson 1: God gives it, so we can give it. Because we all need it.
And 20 years in we still need all God’s strong grace to make our marriage work. Especially when in the heat of the fight, we might be tempted to wonder, Did I make a mistake?
Mistakes and Soul Mates
J.R.R. Tolkien was married for 55 years. Happily, from all accounts. He and Edith understood that real love means self-denial. That takes grace. And that in a certain way, most marriages are mistakes. He explains this in a letter he wrote to his son Michael.
Tolkien’s take on marital love is not sentimental. I think that’s why I like it so much. I’m not so sentimental.
If you take nothing else from this post, please take this:
The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called “self-realization” (usually a nice name for self-indulgence…); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriages entails that: great mortification.
When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think that they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only—. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’.
And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates.
But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. In this fallen world, we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will…(Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52)
That’s lesson 2: Your ‘real soul mate’ is the one you married. (Yes. Love the one you’re with.)
Jim and I both may possibly have found a more suitable mate. May have. But as for soul mates: he’s mine and I’m his.
The Unquestionably Incompatible on the Practice Court
G.K. Chesterton, also happily married, once wrote, I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when the incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such are incompatible. Hear, hear and three cheers for Chesterton.
Have you been there? Are you now? Wondering if you made a mistake? Feeling how unquestionably incompatible the two of you are? If you do, please take heart.
Because we have and we do and, I suspect, we will still feel our incompatibility until death do us part. Twenty years in and I still can’t believe he thinks that. He can’t believe I said that.
That’s lesson 3: Incompatibility is not a marriage breaker. It’s a place-for-grace given.
Thankfully, we have the perfect place to practice grace; a practice court for love. That’s what Gary Thomas, in my favorite Sacred Marriage book, calls Christian marriage. On that court what makes a win isn’t getting your way and achieving your dreams. No.
A deny yourself, serve your spouse, forgive first love wins. A robust holy love that has contempt on contempt and picks gratitude over entitlement scores points. It’s a holy love that knows faithfulness matters because marriage is meant to mirror God’s faithful love for his bride and her glad submission to him.
But, good night! Who knew how grueling hard this test would be. T.S. Eliot called it the greatest test in the world. It’s much more than a test of sweetness of temper…it is a test of the whole character and affects every action. We fail lots of tests and we miss a lot of shots. But we do keep fighting through when incompatibility flares.
Which, incidentally, takes all grace. All God’s strong grace for grace to abound in our house.
I won’t say I didn’t think we’d come this far.
We knew God could make all grace abound. We thought we would. He give it so we can live it. But I will say we had no idea how hard living it would be. We’ve both had some high hopes smashed and big dreams dashed. Some shattered in the hands of the other.
So, yes, there has been hard. There have been sparks. But no matter, how hard and the sparks. Game still on. Because God gives more grace, strong grace to get us back up so we can give and forgive, bear and forbear, respect and submit. He does. God gives it, so we can live it, to the praise of his glorious grace.
We’ve been working grace out as God works it in for the last 7300 days and it’s one score us, score one grace. And I admit it. I’m getting just a teensy bit sentimental when I see how far, by grace, we’ve come now.
So, yes, Dr. Jim, I do take you. For sure. You’re still the one.