He loves Thee too little, who loves anything together with thee, which he loves not for thy sake. -Augustine
A Pleasant Inn
The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why.
The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).
That’s it. Serious. But not too, I hope. It expresses my heart so well. Marriage is a gift, indeed. A faithful friend who can find? A source of joy, a blessed strength, a means of grace. Yes, yes, and yes.
The closest thing I have on earth to my faithful, loving immortal God is my flesh and blood husband, who knows me well and still loves me. It is a comfort and fun to have him near- to sample this new dish, and savor that gorgeous sunset and listen to me read, Please, just this one really good part?
Marriage is a gift from the God who richly provides us with everything to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17b). At its best, it is a cozy, refreshing inn along our path home.
Marriage is also a great test of character, a merciless revealer of sinful hearts. T.S. Eliot said that marriage is the greatest of tests, much more than a test of sweetness of temper, as people sometimes think; it is a test of the whole character and affects every action. Which is a big part of the gift.
It is my best chance to practice confessing sin and forgiving sin. It is, in a word, the gymnasium for my growth in godliness. Not that I don’t work out a bit at work and with friends and all alone, too.
But marriage is different. Gary and Betsy Ricucci nail it: One of the best wedding gifts God gave you was a full-length mirror called your spouse. Had there been a card attached, it would have said, “Here’s to helping you discover what you’re really like!
Gentleness and patience, in particular, get the best workout in marriage. I don’t struggle at all being patient and gentle with myself, and rarely with my friends. These two can be formed only in the crucible of frustration.
And gentleness? Francis De Sales instructed women like me, we who may do the right thing with a violent diligence, not to lose any opportunity, however small it may be, for exercising gentleness of heart toward everyone.
(Alas, I’m falling down the serious slope. But I know who can pull us up.)
G.K. Chesterton wrote, Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline. And in “What’s Wrong with the World,” he 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 incompatibility becomes unquestionable.
Jim and I know this good fight of incompatibility. And still, One made suitable helpmates.
Moderate in the House of Mirth
In 1 Corinthians 7:29, Paul gives a surprising bit of advice for the lovestruck. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none. He’s laying down what Matthew Henry calls, a holy indifference toward the world and everything in it. Even husbands and wives.
In his commentary on this verse, Henry writes,
That is, they must not set their hearts too much on the comforts of the relation; they must be as though they had none. They know not how soon they shall have none…Those that are their comfort now may prove their greatest cross. And soon may the flower of all comforts be cut down…As to worldly enjoyments: that is, they should not take too great a complacency in any of their comforts. They must be moderate in their mirth, and sit loose to the enjoyments they most value. Here is not their rest, nor are these things their portion; and therefore their hearts should not be set on them, nor should they place their satisfaction in them.
But there’s more to the story. The creation itself, extending to the mystery of marriage, is communication from God. It is not an end. It is a pleasant inn, a bit of fun, and sometimes even fabulous. And when we’re there, we’d best give thanks and chase the pleasure up the beam.
Because, as Joe Rigney writes, Created glory mediates divine glory so that when we chase the pleasures up the beam to the source, we arrive a the joy of joys, the river of delights, the person of persons, the living God and Father of Jesus Christ (The Things of Earth, Chapter 3).