there is no end to it.
Hate needs no instruction, but waits only to be provoked.”
Katherine Anne Porter
The verisimilitude in Porter’s quotation cannot be denied. There’s brilliance in these short comments. Have you mastered what it means to love? Probably not, but even if you have, tomorrow is a new day. Love must be learned – and then “learned again” – and after that, learned “again.” There is “no end” to this learning. You might master many things, but not this one. It’s like mastering God. You can’t do that either. (Funny to think about it this way, since the Bible says “God is love.”) If this sounds unnecessarily negative, review the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13
– and please, don’t think of weddings! Instead, think of marriages:
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way.It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
These are such beautiful words. So powerful. So timeless. They give a profound definition of love that can be “road tested” in any relationship – but especially in marriage. I remember in my teens when I contemplated marriage. I just knew I was going to be a great husband. (I had the same misplaced confidence about my parenting skills before I had children.) Then reality hit.
Skipping ahead some (so as not to unnecessarily depress or disillusion the reader, or to cause myself to want to stick my head in the oven), I find myself now married for the second time, and sometimes the strangest thing happens. Sometime my wife says something about me (a criticism) that I remember hearing from my first wife. Now, you know when that happens, you have to at least try to pay attention. There’s a pretty good chance that, in addition to the spouses, God is speaking to you.
And here can we turn back to Katherine Anne Porter for more illumination. She described marriage as “… the great revealer, the great white searchlight turned on the darkest places of human nature.” I’m telling you, she should have been a theologian. More valuable insight confronts us here, for here we learn that “human nature” has its “darkest places.” (You may have noticed this theme in the Bible as well.) And marriage, she says, acts like a searchlight, seeking out those previously hidden places, and acting as “the great revealer!” Relationships of all kinds will do this of course, but not like in marriage where there is more intimacy, an abundance of time spent together – and no escape! Remember this proverb, “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you can’t fool mom.”? Well, it’s the same with your spouse. All the crud and cruelty, the shallowness and selfishness, the defensiveness, the laziness, and all the behavior driven by fear or lust or greed or pride – will all be “revealed.”
Porter provides a great service by letting us know we’re not alone. It doesn’t matter. She’s speaking to everyone. It’s not just you. It’s not just your spouse. In the words of C. S. Lewis, we’re all either “sons of Adam” or “daughters of Eve.” This is what we bring to our marriages – a distinct resemblance to Adam and Eve. Do you remember how they turned on each other? How in the end, the lovers sold each other out, like Julia and Winston in Orwell’s 1984? When our first parents turned from God, the logic and order of their lives was destroyed. (There was “a disturbance in the force.”) Now they would think of themselves first, refuse to take responsibility for their actions and shift the blame to the other – just to mention a few endearing new behaviors. These behaviors would come to them quite naturally, like Porter’s hate, “which waits only to be provoked.” In contrast, something beautiful and so very necessary as love, would be counterintuitive and almost impossible to practice consistently. It must be “learned, and learned again and again.”
Looking at it another way, we could say that the things that are required in marriage are anything but mysterious: Put the other person first. Control your temper. Let the truth prevail. Humble yourself. Be courteous – and so on. Just do these things – just show love in these actual behaviors, and you’ll be fine. It’s clear that anyone can have a good marriage. It’s only necessary to practice these simple behaviors which everyone understands. (It’s not like figuring out the “sound of one hand clapping”, or whether or not a tree that falls in a lonely forest makes a sound.)
But looking at it yet another way, we could say that the things that are required in marriage while simple, are also simply nearly impossible – or at least let’s say “exceedingly difficult.” (Many people seem to find it so at least, if we can gather anything from high divorce rate, as just one measure, or the Six Word Memoir book on Love and Heartbreak. which is full of painful insight.) What’s simple to understand proves not-so-simple to do. We find we disappoint ourselves, our spouse, others we know – and God. What I believe we find is that, without his help, we can hardly do it. Without his help, we have little chance of success. (I’d like to say “no chance”, but I’m trying to be academically credible. Really though, I mean “no chance.”
What then to do? I think I know. Again, it’s simple and it’s not. I’ll give you a hint for now. It’s not more information, more motivation, or just trying harder. It’s not those things – as helpful as they sometimes are. It’s more than that – or maybe less.
I’m going to separate it from this blog entry though, because this is one is long enough, and out of sympathy for my readers, both of whom must be pretty worn out by what I’ve said already. Pray for me then, as I attempt to compose part two – and what is much more challenging and not at all as much fun – living it out.
In the next installment of this discussion we will really see the centrality of downward mobility in marriage as an approach which can lead to fullness of life and love.