This summer, Martha and I celebrated 35 years of marriage – not exactly rarified air – but getting there. What has been the key to our longevity? Simply put, learning to love the real person.
After C.S. Lewis lost his beloved wife, Helen, he realized he didn’t have a single good picture of her. But upon reflection, he didn’t want one, saying, “I want Helen, not something that is like her. A really good photograph might become, in the end a snare, a horror, and an obstacle” (Jeremy Pierre, http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2011/08/17/love-the-one-youre-with/). What did he mean? According to Pierre, C.S. Lewis was “terrified at the prospect of shaping Helen into a phantom of his own making” and thus losing his memory of the real person with all her faults and foibles, which was after all, part of what made her the unique and engaging person he had grown to love so deeply. Pierre goes on to say – “We can be thankful for the thousands of little disagreements that season the marital relationship, the countless differences of perspective that make it alive. These indicate that you are interacting with an independent being, one you’ve been entrusted with to love sacrificially…. Taking Lewis’s insight, then, we should be suspicious of our tendency to admire only those characteristics we approve of in our spouse and to revise those we don’t…. Don’t be discouraged when you don’t see eye-to-eye with your spouse. Where there is no disagreement, no annoyance, no resistance, there is no opportunity for sacrifice. If we love only what is pleasing to us in our spouse, we are loving only our preferences. We don’t need the gospel to do that.”
Over the past thirty-five years, Martha and I have learned (and we’re still learning) to love each other as the real people we are, well-intentioned but sometimes irritable, impatient, inconsiderate, and self-serving. How do we endure? We look to Jesus. As Jeremy Pierre states: “Jesus came to serve an impulsive Peter, a distracted Martha, a dubious Thomas. And he came to serve a silly person like each one of us.” Husbands and wives need the gospel. We don’t know how to love in our own strength. It does us all well to remember in the words of I John 4:19 “We love because he first loved us (sacrificially – warts and all)” – parentheses mine.
Happily, in our marriage, Martha and I have known the joys of smooth seas with the wind at our backs. However, there’s been some rough waters too – it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. There’s even been some “doldrums,” those periods when there’s no wind to fill our marital sails. But through it all we continue to celebrate the fact that we’re one, living and loving as real people do when they are knit together by the Savior’s love and forgiven by the blood of His cross.