Football, it seems, is the universal language of men; given enough time, almost all male-male conversations will eventually turn to football. In light of my previously touched upon opinion of the sport, this has always posed somewhat of a problem for me. For a period of time I held one card up my sleeve when it came to football talk: I had caught Match of the Day one night and had heard Alan Hansen muse upon the fact that Rafael Benitez was far too cautious as a manager for a team like Liverpool – and this became my party piece. As soon as the talk turned for football, I would wait and listen for any of a number of keywords – Liverpool, Benitez, aggression, caution, management, and so on. Upon their utterance I’d spring into action:
“I, for one, think that the problem for Liverpool is that Benitez is much too cautious as a manager for them”
People would agree, people would disagree, but at the very least they would recognise me as making a valid contribution to our footballing discussion, and I would escape; manly, and unscathed from the disapproval of my peers.
Bluffing can only get you so far though, and people soon figure out that you actually have no experience upon which to base your opinions. And nobody likes that guy.
It is with this in mind that I tentatively approach the subject of this post- for as hard as it may be to believe from my youthful yet rugged looks, I am an unmarried man of a measly 25 years, and yet I aim to talk, in part at least, about marriage. The reason I feel able to do this is because I do not aim to offer you advice on the little intricacies of married life that surely only experience can shed light on. Instead, I’m aiming at a much broader topic, of which marriage is just one facet. So don’t stop reading just yet…
October 2008 saw the release of the quite catchy “So What?” by P!nk. In it, P!nk (Alecia Beth Moore) sings of her wavering between heartbreak and defiance over her divorce with her husband, Carey Hart.
You can watch the video by clicking here.
What’s strange about the video for this song is that the guy that Pink is singing to (you see him most from 2:04) is actually her soon to be ex (pending divorce proceedings) husband, and both seem to be quite content starring in the video together (particularly strange for him as the song is less than kind about his time as a husband).
Don’t misunderstand the aim of this post; I’m not about to tear into the lives of celebrities to bring condemnation. I could have chosen any number of music videos, TV or film clips, that would speak of the same problem evident in this video. What we see as commonplace in these media forms is indicative of a society that lacks a full understanding love. More and more we are being presented with the idea that divorce is simply part of the expected scenery for those that choose to marry. It can be quick, clean and clinical (see Juno for a good recent film example of this), and there is no reason that it should spoil the couple’s friendship after the paperwork is completed. Feelings are king, and we commit for as long as we feel it is right.
C.S Lewis spoke of the very root of this problem in his brilliant book ‘Mere Christianity’:
“Being in love is a good thing, but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go. And in fact, whatever people say, the state called “being in love” usually does not last. If the old fairytale ending “They lived happily ever after” is taken to mean “They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,” then it says what probably never was nor ever could be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, and your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be “in love” need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense-love as distinct from “being in love” is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both parents ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself. They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be “in love” with someone else. “Being in love” first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.”
Lewis had the same discomfort that I have in talking about this issue for the very same reason – he was unmarried as he delivered the series of war-time talks that would eventually form the book. However, he, like me, drew confidence from the fact that what he spoke of was part of something broader, something that had already been laid down as the right way, something that the Creator speaks of.
Throughout the Bible we are confronted with this idea that loving someone goes beyond the feelings that we may first experience in their presence (or even in their absence). The book of Hosea is a great picture of this. God tells Hosea in verse 2 of chapter 1 “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the LORD”. Hosea obeys and it’s not long before the wife he promised to love faithfully for life is off sleeping around again. It’s at this point where God shows us the true nature of love. He tells Hosea:
“Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins” (Hosea 3:1).
“Go find her and make good on the promises you’ve made to her” is the call of God. His reasoning: “because that’s what I do for Israel”. This is where we see the broadening of this post. I am talking here not simply about marriage, but about love. We are called to love God and love those around us (Matthew 22:37-39), and so the principles that God puts forward for love apply to all of us, married or not. Our love, both for God and for people, must be a love that goes beyond mere sentiment; that does not fade with dimming of our once fiery emotional passion; a love that chooses to continue to serve when the rest of the world would say you were right to give up.
Paul ends his famous treatise on love in 1 Corinthians 13 by talking about the constancy and eternal nature of love. “Love remains” he says, and we can only understand this if love is in fact independent of any external factors. If love simply involved our wavering feelings, our emotional thoughts that change so frequently, who could guarantee that that love would remain eternal? It is only God’s love, dependent only upon His unchanging nature that can truly help us to continue to love after those first exciting feelings have gone.
Perhaps you know a neighbour, work colleague, or fellow student who at first you tried to love, tried to really feel a warm glow of love for them. Perhaps that feeling lasted for a time. Perhaps that person has now sunk to the bottom of your ‘gives me a fuzzy warm glow inside’ list. The call of God is the same – continue in your commitment to love and serve them.
Perhaps the Church has burned you in the past. Perhaps at one point, early in your life, you felt a great love for the Church, desperate to serve her in any way you could. Perhaps since being burned, it hurts you to even think of the Church. The call of God is the same – continue in your commitment to love and serve her.
Perhaps (and I extrapolate my point here from what we have already seen) you at one time were consumed with an exciting passion for your husband or wife. Perhaps that excitement seems to have dimmed a little in recent years and it looks like there may be a far more exciting proposition elsewhere causing you to weigh up your options. The call of God is the same –continue in your commitment to love and serve your partner.
In a world where no one would hold it against you for ‘following your heart’, this can be a tough ask. But we are asked of it nonetheless. And it is tough. Impossible even. On our own at least. For who can choose to love those for whom there are no warm fuzzy feelings? Only the person that calls on the help and transforming power of the God who could hang on a cross, surrounded by a crowd of hateful mockers and murderers and pray with all sincerity:
“Father, forgive them” Luke 23:34.