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Marriage has all kinds of romantic and spiritual functions. I’ve tried to explore them in my previous four posts. But it also has some practical functions. The practical ones are the ones I’m focusing on today.

Ultimately, if nothing else, I believe God invented marriage to take care of some essential human needs.

Basically, I believe marriage is meant to guarantee that every human being who chooses to be married has a partner to care for his or her needs for the rest of his or her life. It hasn’t always worked that way, to be sure, but I believe that’s what it’s meant to do.

The conjunction of male and female means that the unique gifts/strengths/abilities of each sex are available for meeting the needs of daily life. Marriage between a man and woman increases the number of talents and abilities to draw from more than any other relationship because it combines the strengths of both genders. And I really believe that each sex has unique strengths to offer.

When thinking this through, at one point I actually concluded that marriage is primarily designed for the benefit of women. I have since reconsidered, and decided that it was made for both sexes equally, but I still concede that marriage is pretty important for women.

Marriage was designed in part as insurance that each woman gets properly taken care of.

Here’s how I thought about it. I figured God must have been able to foresee that because he made men physically bigger and stronger, and designed women’s bodies to bear children (thereby making them more vulnerable, especially when pregnant), that men would abuse and exploit women. And he was right: they have, and they do.  Men quickly began to wield all social and economic power, too. So God decided, “Every woman should have a husband to protect and defend her, and her offspring, against other men. Each man must commit himself to only one woman, and not go around impregnating all kinds of women and then abandoning them. He must take care of her, and all the children she produces, for life.”

See, the difficulty with creating women to bear the children is that it makes them intrinsically tied to their offspring, and thus more susceptible to neglect and abuse, unlike men. A man can technically walk away from the relationship the moment he has impregnated a woman and never look back. A woman at least has to bring the child to term, and then feed the baby from her own body. So God said, “No way – you’re sticking around, gentlemen. ONE WOMAN AND THAT’S IT – FOR LIFE. So make it good.”

So he came up with marriage, to serve that practical function.

(Unfortunately, lots of men decided to take lots of wives anyway. And even within monogamous marriages men have abused and exploited women horribly throughout history. But the principle behind it makes sense).

But then I later came to understand that women are just as necessary for men as men are for women. God created women to save men, too. After all, he called Eve Adam’s ezer kenegdo. That’s the Hebrew term used in Genesis 2 – the term that has been lamely translated as “helper” or “helpmeet” in most English translations. According to Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, though, ezer kenegdo is better translated as “sustainer beside him” or something to that effect.[i] In fact, ezer is often used in the Old Testament to describe God when he saves his people. You know that verse, “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”?  (Ps. 121:1-2, emphasis added). The word that’s translated as help here is the same word for Eve – ezer.

That’s what Eve is to Adam. His ezer. His lifesaver. His help in times of desperate need.

And what did Eve save Adam from?

I personally think she saved him from isolation. And that’s what all of us women do: we rescue men from eternal isolation.

I mean that on a deeper level than just the literal. Sure, Adam was literally alone at first, and so when God made Eve she saved him from physical solitude. But I think it’s more than that, too. I think that if God had populated the earth with thousands or millions of Adams, the problem would still be there. Men would remain isolated, because they don’t have the gift of relationship that women have.

Men tend to be much more violent, reserved, self-absorbed, and territorial. They’re not nearly as good at empathizing, bonding, nurturing, sharing, reading people’s emotions, or expressing themselves as women are. I’m not just listing stereotypes, I’m repeating what I learned in Psychology 101. Women are much better at all of these things. Guys, in general, suck at connecting.

This is clear from history: men have almost always had the majority of the power in most human communities and civilization, and as a result have flooded human history with violence. Men stab and blow each other up because they can’t connect. They can’t get outside their own egos. I truly believe that as women gain influence in societies, they bring with them their powers of empathy and connectedness, and this is a good thing. These qualities help civilizations get along. Men need women to help them not kill each other so much.

I’ve heard it said, “Behind every successful man there is a woman.” I deeply believe that this is true. Often it is a wife, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be – it could be a mother or sister.  Every successful man must have a woman somewhere who made him who he is.  Without wives, mothers and sisters, men would not be able to come out of their caverns of self-absorption and learn to love.

I believe that this is true of mankind in general but also on an individual level. Most men need women to help them connect with other members of the human species. I know my husband needs me for this purpose.

I once read that statistically, that if an elderly woman loses her husband, she can usually go on living for many more years if she is physically healthy. But when an old man loses his wife, he usually dies shortly thereafter. He has lost his link to humanity and thus expires.

I’m not saying by any means that woman’s only gift to humanity is her relational powers, nor that a man’s only contribution to a marriage is his strength in beating off violent offenders.  But I think that these are some of the practical reasons God instituted marriage. Eve’s ability to nurture and empathize rescues Adam from his self-imposed isolation, and Adam’s bodily strength protects his physically vulnerable wife.*

Men need women and women need men. That’s why God created marriage – to enable men and women to rescue one another, from man’s violence and from eternal isolation.

This is my theory, anyway. What do you think?

What am I forgetting? How else do husbands and wives or men and women save one another? How else does each of the sexes contribute to the cohesion, health and success of the human species? How else does marriage serve a practical function? Also, is there a better way of describing Eve’s strength than ”gift of relationship” or “relational powers?” I sense that these terms are lame.


[i] Eldredge, John and Stasi. Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. Nashville: Nelson, 2005. 31.

*I’m also not saying that every woman and every man has these gender-specific gifts, or at least not in equal share. But in general, women are better at the one thing and men are better at the other.

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So I’ve been explaining what I think is the purpose of marriage in my previous two posts – the first point I made was that the purpose is not happiness, and the second was that it’s designed to grow us up. Now I want to move on to more theological considerations.

I am no theologian but I have spent a good portion of my life seriously thinking about these things. I know I have readers who come from Christian backgrounds, like me, and others who do not, so I’ll do my best to speak to everyone.

I believe that marriage reveals things to us about the nature of God.

I believe that all earthly experiences and all learning endeavors can teach us about God. Since God invented everything, the more we learn about things – all things – the better we are able to understand the nature of the One who created them. I think all education is essentially about Him, though not everyone realizes it.

But some things in life teach us more vividly or more essentially about his nature than other things do. I think marriage is one of those things. Here’s why.

1. Marriage teaches us about masculinity and femininity, which are both important attributes of God.

I intend to explore the issue of gender more deeply in a future post, but for now I just want to say this: God is both masculine and feminine. I refer to God with masculine pronouns, in accordance with the longstanding Judeo-Christian tradition (as I believe there are good reasons for this tradition), but I truly believe that God is equally masculine and feminine. God is both Father and Mother. God created male and female to express both sides of the spectrum of his nature; a part of God’s nature is revealed in woman and a part is revealed in man.

When the two are unified, as in marriage, I believe we get a slightly fuller picture of God.

2. Marriage helps us to understand God’s relationship to us.

I believe that God invented marriage in part so that we could get a better understanding of His relationship to us.

How does marriage do this? First of all, when a man or a woman falls in love, he or she gets a small taste of what God feels for us. When someone falls in love, she begins to understand what it feels like to be completely selfless towards another human being. Her beloved’s desires become her own; she begins to desire his happiness as much as she desires her own.

In the book of Isaiah, God says, “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (62:5). In short, then, the depth of wild, selfless, desperate love that I feel for my beloved, and that he feels for me, is a tiny picture of God’s love for his beloved: us.

The Bible often figures God’s people – first Israel, later the Church – as a woman to whom God is betrothed. This woman is often figured as being unfaithful, and God is a brokenhearted lover (cf. Isaiah 57:7-8; Hosea 2). But someday the bride and groom will be married. The day that Jesus returns to reclaim his people will be the wedding day (Revelation 19:7). “‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘you will call me ‘my husband’” (Hosea 2:16).

On the one hand, you could argue that God uses the earthly imagery of a wedding to help us mortals to understand his unfathomable love for us. However, I think it’s possible that he actually designed marriage to reflect and imitate his relationship to us. I think he had the Great Wedding in mind when he thought up marriage, saying “This will help them understand how I feel and how I am going to bring them back to me.”

3. Marriage helps us to understand the relational nature of God.

As a Christian, I accept the doctrine of the Trinity, which teaches that God is one but exists as three persons. This is a complicated and mysterious doctrine, and I don’t want to get into too much detail here, but essentially the doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God lives eternally in relationship within his Triune nature. Throughout eternity God has existed in relationship between the Father, the Son, and The Holy Spirit. God’s essence, therefore, is relational.

I said earlier that all learning leads us to a deeper understanding of God. But learning about and experiencing relationship is especially important, since God’s very essence is relational. The more we learn about what it’s like to live in relationship, the better we understand God’s nature.

Just as all relationships enable us to grow up, so do all relationships teach us about God’s relational nature; but marriage is special because of the unique way it unites two individuals, both in body and in spirit.  The Bible says marriage makes us “one flesh,” and no other relationship between two people is simultaneously as intentional and as permanent as marriage.  Marriage brings together bodily union (sex), emotional union (romance, friendship), and commitment. Marriage is – or ought to be – the most intimate relationship a person can ever experiences. As we experience this level of intimacy, we begin to get at the very heart of God’s nature.

In these three ways, I believe that marriage teaches us about God.

What do you think? Are there more/different ways that marriage might teach us about God? Do you think I’m wrong? Of course, if you don’t believe in God, none of this will make any sense to you.

In my next post, I plan to explore how marriage teaches us what it means to be human.

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I know, I know, I know. Seven months is not a long time to wait to get pregnant without success. I shouldn’t be using such strong terms as “barrenness.” In fact, it’s perfectly normal to have to wait several months, and in no way indicates infertility on either partner’s side. I know.

But I’m still depressed as hell most of the time. Because for Mennonites, seven months is a really long time to wait. But I’ll get to that later.

I want to begin by saying that all my life, I was puzzled by the idea of couples wanting children. I heard about couples “trying” or “deciding” to have kids. Sometimes I heard about couple’s “not being able” to have kids, and them feeling “frustrated” about it. I never understood.

Who wants children in their lives? Who wants to let a bunch of noisy, uncontrollable, and utterly ungrateful little people invade their lives forever?

I have never felt anything special about children. I’ve never connected with kids. Even when I was a child myself, kids didn’t especially like me – I’ve always been too serious and nerdy – and as I got older, they liked me even less. I’m not particularly charming or funny or matronly. Kids don’t find me especially interesting or likable, and frankly, I’ve never found them all that interesting or likable either. The feeling was mutual.

So I’ve never understood how a person could reach a point where she wanted children – enough to get upset about it if she didn’t get them. She could always comfort herself by saying, “Oh well – at least I don’t have to endure that harrowing nightmare that is childbirth.”

I didn’t understand, that is, until April of 2009. Suddenly, for reasons I can’t fully explain, everything changed. At that point nothing made sense any more.

If you are like me, and have always wondered what it must feel like to actually want children, well, here are some of my experiences and reasons. And if you have never wondered, then you already know exactly what I’m talking about.

An overwhelming desire to love somebody.

It’s preposterous. But these days I’ll see a sudden movement outside, through the window, out of the corner of my eye, and my heart will skip a beat as I hope it’s a puppy or kitten who needs my love. (It never is).

I am in agony over wanting to give my love to somebody. I feel I have so much to offer a child.

I have been babysitting a professor-friend’s little boy, Avery, for about as long as I’ve been trying to conceive, and it is very hard sometimes. I think he’s a source of my problem, to a certain extent. I love him too much.  Ever since I began to care for that child, my desire for a baby of my own has been almost physically painful. I cry buckets some nights because I don’t have a little one to kiss and hold and care for. It just hit me one day when I was putting him to sleep and has never gone away.  And the sensation is made worse by the fact that it is so new and came on so suddenly. When did I become this person? Who am I? How do I deal with this? My new-found desire for children is confusing and disorienting. I’m not a mother, I’m an academic! Or . . . at least, I was. Now I don’t know what I am.

It is torture for me to hold back my fondness and affection for the little one. He provokes such intense feelings of tenderness in me. I want to pour out all my love into him . . . But he’s not mine. I feel an overwhelming wellspring of love, and yet have no one to direct it to.

I want to share this overflow of love with someone.

It frustrates me to find out I have absolutely no control over the matter.

I was under the impression that having a baby was a decision one made. And I had made my decision. I had planned it all out. I was going to get pregnant in the summer – my aim was August at the latest – so that I would have a spring baby. That way, I could carry my newborn around outside in a sling for the first months of his life.  I would be in my second trimester by now. I would know the baby’s sex, and we would have a name picked out for him or her. We would have a crib and a stroller. I would be saying things like, “Oh, little Benny was so active last night . . . I could hardly sleep.”

Now I say, “family planning? Ha! In my dreams.”  There is no planning in any of this. It isn’t a choice. It’s just something you hope for and wait for without any say in the matter. It sucks. I was totally wrong about all this.

Everyone else in the universe is having babies right now.

Those of you who aren’t a part of the Mennonite culture might not understand this, but women in my world have babies in their early twenties. At 24 and babyless, I’m already behind schedule, all because I wanted to get a degree. In my social circles, it is universally understood, “We want to be done having kids before we’re thirty.” And most of my friends, like me, plan to have three or four children, so they have to get started early if they want to reach this goal. They are already all on their way to achieving it, but I’m not.

My sister never tires of saying “Mennonites have an uncanny ability to get pregnant the second they have sex.” And it’s true. I’ve heard that Mennonites statistically have the highest fertility rate of any cultural community in the world. (Well, technically the Hutterites beat us, but they are Anabaptists too, so I consider us all a part of the same, ridiculously-fertile family).

Just listen to my own situation. Right now, there are four unwed girls in my church who are with child. These girls didn’t choose to have babies; they got them by accident. One of my close friends recently found out she unexpectedly got pregnant right on the heels of her first child’s birth, and another got pregnant on purpose, after her second month of trying. Two of my married friends recently had unplanned honeymoon babies even though they were using birth control.  The real kicker: almost every single one of these girls – seven out of the eight – is younger than me.

Every other day I get a new Facebook update from a distant acquaintance telling me that she too is carrying another child, and is asking for advice on how to deal with the nausea.

And in the non-Mennonite world: half of the bloggers I follow right now are currently expecting or are brand-new first-time parents. I actually had to stop subscribing to a few because it was too depressing.

Even Jim and Pam from The Office are expecting, for heaven’s sake, and theirs was also unplanned.

I myself entered this world by mistake, two months before my parents were married. Mom’s fertility was through the roof – she got pregnant eight times in ten years, giving birth to six children.

It seems like the only way to have babies these days is by accident. Alternatively, my friends just have to think the words, “I feel I would like to start a family,” and they immediately begin gestating.

Why is it so easy for everybody else – so easy that it happens by accident – and yet so hard for me and Ben?

The women around me, their bellies swell with new life and their breasts swell with life-sustaining nourishment. Next to them I feel gaunt, barren, pre-pubescent – like a patch of gritty, inhospitable desert amidst fecund, luxuriant rainforests.

Most absurd of all: I feel like God is withholding a child from me because he doesn’t think I would be a good enough mother.

This is ridiculous because I don’t even believe God works like that. It goes against everything my theology teaches me. And if he’s letting all kinds of irresponsible single girls around me have babies, surely he doesn’t pick and choose his mothers that way. I’m married and I’m taking all the friggin’ vitamins and reading all the parenting books, for goodness’ sake. But a part of me still entreats him to change his mind. I worry that he thinks I would forget to feed them, that I would be too negligent. I cry out, “God, I promise I will wake up for her every time she cries, and I will even send her to that lame Sunday school if you want me to, and I will read her stories every day so she will be smart, too.” But he doesn’t hear me. He thinks I would be forgetful and careless. That’s how it feels, anyway.

There’s also something impossibly depressing about thinking (hoping!) that maybe there is a baby inside of me and constantly finding out that there is not. It’s disheartening to pray, month after month, “God, if there is a child inside me right now, please make him healthy and safe,” and then to have a stupid little stick tell you month after month, “You wasted your time. There was never anyone in there to begin with.” To think, “Maybe my baby – little Benny or Kathy Junior – is living inside of me right now,” and then to realize, “Nope – the only heart beat that has ever been inside this body is your own.”

There’s no one there. There never was.

Of course, it’s not all bad. I remind myself that I can get a ton of writing done without kids around. I remind myself that I don’t have to worry about morning sickness, hemorrhoids or stretch marks. I can sleep in whenever I want. I can see a late movie with Ben at the drop of a hat if we feel like it.  I also remind myself that for some unfathomable reason our society prizes the appearance of malnourishment and infertility in women, so that other women actually covet my gangly body. After the fifth consecutive month of getting a negative test back I went out and bought a bunch of tight-fitting clothes to make me feel more valuable as a person. I may not be a scholar and I may not be a mother, but frig, at least I can be “hot.” Maternity clothes be damned. I’m wearing skinny jeans, because they don’t look good on curvy women.

These are just some of my irrational feelings. Don’t try to reason with me, I already know all the logical responses to these feelings. Logic is scheduled to resume on Friday.

How about you, though? Have you ever felt the desire to have or care for children? What was your experience? Or do you find the desire to reproduce as bizarre as I always did?

I’d love to hear from you. But if one more person tells me I need to “relax and it will happen” I will personally sock them in the nose.

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(This is the conclusion of my Sex Education series.  Continued from Part Four: The Party. The whole thing began here, in Part One.)

For your own sake, I am not going to tell you about our wedding night.  That would just be cruel. I don’t want to do to you what others did to me.  Before I was married I had one friend tell me about her orgasms and it made me wish my brain would spontaneously combust.

Also, you may not mind hearing about my experiences while I’m a twenty-three year old grad student, but inevitably I will eventually become somebody’s weird mom.  I’m already kind of dorky now; there’s no telling how lame I could get in twenty or thirty years.  And then everything will be different.  I will in all likelihood become the stodgy, out-of-shape middle-aged woman using obsolete slang that you see wearing tacky makeup and jogging pants up town.  And Ben will probably grow some kind of unfashionable facial hair in his forties to counteract the loss of hair on his head and will continue to insist on wearing shoes that don’t go with his pants.  You might know us personally or see pictures of us at that time, and then you will most certainly not want to hear about me and Ben on our wedding night, or on any night for that matter.  So I will spare you.  Instead, I will speak broadly and abstractly on the subject so you can imagine it has nothing to do with my personal experience.

First, though, I must say that everything worked out just fine and none of my sex-talk-induced fears were at all justified.  I don’t know what was wrong with those two women who filled my head with all those ridiculous, scary ideas.  They must have both been working through some major mid-life issues at that time or something.  Indeed, many women I’ve talked to seem feel “discomfort” at first.  You have to take it slow to begin and prepare for some awkwardness and lots of talking.  For anyone reading this who actually does have really high expectations for the wedding night, I want to make it clear that it can be pretty uncomfortable and awkward for a while.  But as far as I know, there is probably one couple in every thousand that has the problem where the man absolutely does not fit inside the woman: that was a totally freak occurrence and so if you are a virgin you have nothing to worry about at all.  Oh – except for the doctor’s exam.  That, on the other hand, is every bit as nightmarish as I had anticipated.  I went in for one about a year after I got married and have never been back (The horror!).  I had to take the rest of the day off to recuperate – to just shudder for a couple of hours.   Of course, there are plenty of women out there who feel differently about it and talk about their gynecologists like they talk about their dentists.  But these women for obvious reasons are not my friends.

Secondly, the young pastor couple was right: sex in a married context can be fun.  All kinds of hilarious possibilities open up when you get that comfortable with another person’s body.  For one thing, I get to terrorize Ben with all kinds of horrible night clothes.

Here’s the story: right now I really like going to bed in a long-sleeved cotton nightgown with stripy tights underneath.  It’s cozy, it’s hip, and I think it’s a rather cute ensemble.  I go to bed looking like a quirky but comfy young punk-rocker.  But only when the two pieces are worn together.  Once, after a couple of years of being married, when changing into this outfit before bed, I unthinkingly put on the tights first and then removed my top, so that for a few moments I was standing there in just a blue bra and my stripy tights, chatting with Ben about my day while he reclined in bed.  Suddenly, he looked up at me from his book, and a look of horror crossed his face.

“What are you wearing?”

I looked down at my stretchy, hip-hugging, knee-length, black-and-white pants.  Without the little mini-dress over top they looked absolutely absurd.  They reminded me of elf-tights.

“What, you don’t like them?” I asked, bending my knees a couple of times to give him the full effect.

“Oh, stop!” he said, putting out his hand to block out the disturbing vision with his palm.

“What – You don’t like my tights?  You don’t like my dancing?”

I began to perform a jig for him – or at least, what I vaguely understood to be a jig – in the spirit of my leprechaun pants.  It involved the kicking-up of heels and elaborate flourishing of arms.  Kind of a mix between Riverdance and The Urkel.  It was very racy.

“Stop, oh stop!” he cried, covering his eyes in desperation.  “I never want to see that again!”

Of course, this means that Ben now gets special striped-tights dance performances on quite a regular basis.  I totally have the body for it.  It’s very intimate.

As a married couple I am also free now to pat his butt whenever I am so inclined, and it happens to be often.  He calls it molestation, and we have a running joke about how I routinely molest him.  Sometimes I follow him up the steep stairway in our house with my hands on his butt and there is nothing he can do about it.  See what I mean?  Being married is awesome.  We also have plenty of other bedroom jokes but I am not going to share them with you.

I also want to pass on some fabulous advice that my youth pastor gave me when we had our chat about sex.  He said, “Everything that you think you know about sex from TV: forget it.”  And he was right.  Sex just does not happen like that.  The first couple of times do take some careful planning and in-depth verbal communication.  It’s some pretty complicated stuff and you do have to talk about it.  Also nightgowns never just slip off effortlessly, and there’s a good chance that elbows and knees and hair will get in the way.  I elbowed Ben in the eye at least three times within the first month, and he still has a way of pinning me down by my hair any time I get close to him.  In addition, you will be self-conscious about garlic-breath and hairy legs and bumping noses and an infinite number of other things you can’t possibly anticipate beforehand.  But all of that is just fine because you love each other and know you have a lifetime to figure it all out together.

And that leads me to my last thought: I’m only talking here about sex within marriage.  I can’t tell you anything about sex outside of marriage since I’ve never experienced it.  And I really don’t think I’m missing out.  I’m sure it’s got its positive sides too but ultimately I believed that married sex is infinitely sexier, more beautiful and more romantic.  In fact it’s downright poetic.  You’re uniting your body with a person who has committed his entire life to you.  He has promised to stay with you for life, protecting you and caring for you and listening to you until you die.  He has chosen you above all others and has promised to never touch or love or look at another person in that special way as long as he lives.  It melts my heart just thinking about it.

Here’s something I wrote about sex shortly after I got married, when I was still about twenty, addressing those people who seem to think that married life is dull and conventional and unexciting.  It’s a little bit sentimental, but hey, I was young.  Nothing really has changed; I just wanted you to know that I was still a fresh, sappy, dewy-eyed newlywed when I wrote it:

You just don’t understand – don’t understand what you’re missing. You can’t understand why God would have commanded that we do it this way because you’ve never experienced it.

You’ve never known what it’s like to see your beloved cast down his eyes at the sight of another disrobed on the television screen, because he is saving his eyes for only you.

You’ve never known what it’s like to see his innocent face focus on yours, wide-eyed, as you explain what a woman’s body is like, because he’s never known one before.

You’ve never known what it’s like to press your mouth against lips that have only felt the curves of your own against them.  Not because they couldn’t or didn’t sometimes want to, but because he wanted to share that sensation with no one but you.  You don’t know how sweet these innocent kisses are.

Raw and untouched, our tender skins kiss warmly against each other so that soul mixes with soul.  When we separate I carry a blend of him.  Only him.  Were miles of earth or the divide of death to stand between us, that imprint of love would remain, would never fade.

Nakedness, for us, is inextricably bound up with love.  By love, I don’t mean powerful feelings of excitement or adoration, or temporary fits of passion.  I mean the devotion that makes you swear that you will never abandon or give up on the other – not under pain of death or the intoxication of infatuation.

I will never, ever forsake you.  I will never, ever choose another over you.  I will never take my eyes off you.  I will never leave you stranded.

Nakedness, for us, is a symbol of forever.

*     *     *     *

So, here are a couple of really beautiful experiences I want to share with you that can’t possibly make you gag.  They’re nice, I promise.  And I think they’re all the sweeter because we’re married.

My absolute favourite kisses are the ones he steals when I’m still half asleep.  In fact, nothing in all of my experience compares to this sensation.  In that instant I am suddenly awakened to the vague consciousness that my sweet beloved is right there – touching my lips with his own.  His kisses are warm and fragrant with just the right amount of tickle . . . warm little pillows touch my face, and my whole being is tenderly nudged into the awareness that I am wholly beloved.  In these moments I cannot reciprocate – I am barely crossing the misty borders of consciousness – but I know I’m not expected to.  The kiss was freely given, with no anticipation of any kind of return.  That, to me, is love.

Another supremely romantic moment for me is when we hold hands in bed.  It happens every so often that we are both tucked under the warmth of our blankets, our minds each in their own little universes, winding down, slipping into sleep; when suddenly, his hand slides gently between the sheets, touches mine, and slowly folds over it.  We lie there, motionless, wordless, in the dark, holding hands like adoring teenagers on a first date, and fall asleep like that.   I couldn’t possibly wish for more in life.  These are the reasons God invented marriage and sex.

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Every night of my life I thank God for at least three things: my husband, my family, and C. S. Lewis.  I often forget to thank God for Jesus because it feels strange to thank him for someone who has Eternal and Necessary Being, and who can’t help being omnibenevolent.  But the first three, I never forget.  Without these three (and of course without Jesus) in my life, I feel my life would be worthless and empty.  My husband and my family I love for obvious reasons.  I don’t think I need to elaborate on them: love for spouses and parents and siblings is expected and normal.  But my love for Lewis is a special case.  I love him profoundly.  I understand that it’s odd to passionately adore a person who has been dead since before your parents were born. But C. S. Lewis, among other things, has helped me to understand God and the universe and he has helped me learn to deal with my struggle with love, as I have described it in my last two posts.  And for that I thank God nightly.

See, Lewis wrote this magnificent but highly under-appreciated book called The Four Loves.  I would say it was my favourite book of all time except that I say that about every book that Lewis ever wrote.  The Four Loves, as far as I can see, is deeply prophetic and divinely inspired.  Lewis talks in this book about affection, friendship, romantic love, and charity – you know, those “four loves” with impressive Greek names that everyone wishes they could rattle off in casual conversation (storge, philia, eros, agape).

In his chapter on charity, or selfless love, Lewis says this:

To love at all is to be vulnerable.  Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.  The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.  The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

This passage changed my life. It is really easy to find in my copy of the The Four Loves because I have scrawled out, in all-caps letters, THIS IS THE GREATEST THING I HAVE EVER READ across the top of the page, and I have drawn two huge stars in the margin next to it.  Not that I need to find it in there often because I have typed it out and taped it on the wall it in my computer room next to the printout of Lewis’ face on the cover of Time Magazine.  I have to recite that passage to myself on a regular basis, every time I start to get the feeling that I ought to love Ben less or to not have children simply because loving is too painful.

Lewis knows exactly what I’m talking about when I say I want to erase my love for Ben to avoid heartbreak.  He knows that to love is to invite suffering.  But he reminds me that the only alternative to this kind of suffering is damnation.  To choose a life without love is to choose a life without meaning.  A loveless heart is a damned heart.  I should never want that.  When I say that I wish I could erase my love for Ben, I am saying that I want to give up something glorious, just because it comes with suffering, in exchange for the mundane, the barren, and the meaningless.  I am asking, essentially, for hell.

Sometimes I feel like this passage has saved me.  Lewis reminds me that God wants me to love wildly, extravagantly, selflessly, unrestrainedly.  Even though it doesn’t feel like it, and I may not experience it in my lifetime, God promises to redeem whatever love I have given away and lost.  It will all be worth it in the end.  If I withhold love to avoid suffering I am rejecting God’s promise to make all bad things into good things.  I am denying myself one of the greatest goods in existence.  I can’t give up on love.  It’s the only eternal thing in the universe.

So I keep on loving Ben with all my heart even though I know it brings pain.  Not only is it impossible to erase my love for him, but it is damnable.  My only choice is to embrace love and wait for it to be made perfect, even if I have to spend decades alone, waiting.

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