The “Quieter Love” That Comes with Time

I met my husband when I was fifteen years old. We fell in love as kids. Jordan used to pick me up at my parents’ house in his white mustang to take me out on dates: to movies; to go swing dancing; to the local Albuquerque coffee shop where he had asked me to be his girlfriend in the first place. We dated for several years (broke up once in the middle) and married two months before my twentieth birthday.

The groundwork for our relationship was laid in the early days of our youth, which paired nicely with the pleasant dizziness of youthful love: love that is just starting out, just revving up, just blossoming and overwhelming you with its sweet fragrance.

Sometimes I miss those early days of being in love. I’ve seen more and more engagement announcements in my Facebook feed in recent years, always accompanied by photos of the smiling couple and the girl showing off her ring, always full of the particular excitement and giddiness that comes with still-young love.

Let me be clear: I love my husband more than anyone. He’s my favorite person in the world. I certainly haven’t “fallen out of love” with him (whatever that means). Our romance is still young in a lot of ways, and there’s always something new and exciting to look forward to next.

But our love is different than it was back in high school, or when we first got married, and I’ve learned that that’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be. We have both changed over the years, because that’s what human beings do as they grow and learn. We’ve gotten to know each other (and ourselves) better. We’ve faced some challenges and made some big decisions together. We’ve seen each other at our worst, our most vulnerable, and our weakest. We’ve enjoyed each other at our best.

There’s a passage about love from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity I’ve been thinking on lately (and which I’ve mentioned on here before). It’s long, but it’s great, so here it is:

“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 fairy-tale 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 would 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, 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 partners 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.

This quieter love is what, I think, Jordan and I are beginning to experience now, after entering our fifth year of marriage (and the eighth year of our relationship). Because not only do we as individuals change with time, but love changes, too. After you’ve left the stage of new, young love, you begin to experience what older love is like…not that I would classify what Jordan and I have as particularly “old,” but it’s older than it was eight years ago when we started dating or five years ago when we married. Like us, it’s aging and growing and changing. Love is not a static thing. And (Lord willing) in five, ten, twenty-five, or fifty years, I’m sure our love will be different than it is now.

Relationships are fortified through little, everyday things. Earlier this summer, Jordan and I were apart for over three weeks, which is the longest we’ve spent apart since getting married. (It unpleasantly reminded us of the roughly two years we spent long-distance dating, which, as I articulated in an exasperated Twitter post while Jordan was away, “SUCKED FOREVER.”)

Some of the things I missed most during that time were just the everyday parts of our relationship. I missed our evening routine of making dinner and watching something on Hulu or Netflix together. I missed having someone just to talk to about my feelings. I missed the silly little things we’d do to make each other laugh, like doing a dorky dance while taking the dishes to the kitchen or making up our own lyrics to cheesy love songs to sing to each other from the next room. I missed lying in bed together, staring up at the dark ceiling, and talking about our days or our future or how we want to raise our kids and all of the other little, secret things you only share with a spouse. This must be the stuff of Lewis’ “quieter love.”

I am excited by this new stage of love that, while not as flashy as its predecessor, is a little deeper and richer and growing more so day by day. I remember fondly the early days of our romance, but I wouldn’t trade what we have now to go back and start all over again.

Onwards and upwards.

Image via IM Creator.

Happy Endings in Love and Life: The Keys to Satisfaction

Man was never created to be an independent creature, free to do as he pleased.  In the garden, God created man to be in constant communion with him. Adam’s sole purpose was found in relationship with God. God created Eve because it was not good for Adam to be alone (Genesis 2:18).  Relationship is a core component of human nature.  Humans were made to be in constant relationship both with God and with each other. Eve broke that relationship when she took the forbidden fruit, choosing  her own way instead of God’s way, disrupting the natural state of man.  Man was no longer in constant subjection to God.  Listening to self instead of God soon became an option for living.  Obviously, this was not without consequence.  Discord and strife, instead of peace and harmony, immediately became the norm for life.  Hello to the world as we know it.

Marriage is an institution ordained by God designed to replicate the harmony in the garden.  Husband and wife entering into perfect harmony with each other; two becoming one (Genesis 2:25). However, just as it was in the garden, the husband and wife experience unity in their submission to God.  This requires mutual submission and self-sacrificial love.  Acting for yourself in opposition to your spouse results in strife.  For many, this kind of marriage seems very constraining.  It is.  You are not allowed to follow all your passions on a whim.  Marriage is a life time commitment to submitting to and loving another human being.  But in this commitment comes great joy that is not possible in relationship outside of marriage.

Desire is an important part of any relationship.  But as with any passion, desire can come and go.  Following desire can lead you down many stray paths.  Desire alone is not enough for a thriving relationship.   Commitment and security are needed.  In Song of Solomon, the bride says, “I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me (7:10).”  Without this firm sense of belonging, insecurity and doubt will destroy even the most passionate relationship.  Marriage provides a framework for desire where security and exclusivity allow it to blossom.

What about people in abusive marriages?  What about adultery?  There is no doubt that these will drastically affect and possibly shatter any union.  Strife and discord are inevitable in any relationship, no matter how committed the two spouses are to God and each other.  But my point here is not to write about the affects of sin on marriage.  My point is simply to present the best bet for a lasting love.

Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina is the story of a tragic love affair.  Anna and Vronsky are destroyed by a love that cannot satisfy.  Anna soon becomes consumed with doubt and insecurity regarding Vronky’s commitment.  Without marriage, there is no assurance of commitment or belonging, thereby making insecurity overtake passion.  Vronksy strives to retain his “manly independence” and keep a life apart from Anna.  He holds onto part of himself that he refuses to give to Anna.  This too prevents them from becoming one flesh.  Chaffing is the natural result.  Destruction instead of a blossoming love becomes the outcome of their affair.  Desire outside the bounds of marriage yields nothing but strife.

Anna and Vronsky are perhaps an extreme example of something so commonplace in our culture, love outside of marriage.  Anna and Vronsky’s destruction was in part caused by their rejection by society.  Today, “living together” is a common place behavior.  While it may not be openly destructive, as with any other self-centered behavior, it can result in nothing but inward strife and discord.  It may feel good at times, but does it satisfy? True satisfaction only comes through living a life in relationship with and submission to God, and, if that life involves the love of your life, a God centered marriage.

Why is God important?  This too goes back to the garden.  God created us to be in constant relationship with him.  Thriving is only possible through this relationship.  Veering away from God might lead to earthly pleasures but will never lead to ultimate fulfillment.  Jesus came so that we might be fulfilled in a post-fall world.

Are you engaging in a self-centered behavior right now?  Whether it is an extra-marital affair, or something like excessive drinking or viewing pornography, I have to ask you, “Does it satisfy?”  Not just on the surface, but deep down inside.   Jesus tells his followers, ”The thief comes to kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (John 10:10).”  Choose life.

Everyday Holiness

Sanctification is not always an earth-shattering affair.

More often, I think, sanctification and spiritual growth come through the (perhaps seemingly menial) tasks, actions, decisions, thoughts, and words that populate our daily lives.

We recently bought a basil plant and placed it on our balcony. After a few days, I harvested the leaves to use while cooking dinner, leaving the plant nothing more than a bare, green stalk with one or two small leaves near the top. Days passed by, and for a while it seemed like the leaves weren’t going to grow back. From day to day, I couldn’t see a noticeable difference in the plant. After a couple of weeks, however, it was clear that the remaining leaves had grown larger, and new ones were beginning to sprout. I couldn’t see a difference on any given day, but the growth was happening nonetheless, and over time it became clear.

Most change and growth in life seems to occur this way: it almost sneaks up on us, and we don’t realize we’ve changed until after it’s already happened. But most good and beneficial change won’t happen at all unless we work towards it, consistently, every day. I believe the work of sanctification is, at least in part, found in our small, daily toils and responsibilities, and it’s the smaller tasks that can be the most difficult because they are easier to dismiss as unimportant.

I came across a quotation that paraphrases something C.S. Lewis says about love in Mere Christianity, and it reveals the combination of forces necessary to sustain any virtuous or holy thing:

“Love is not merely a feeling: it is a deep unity maintained by will, deliberately strengthened by habit, and reinforced by grace.”

We are responsible for the first two thingswill and habitand the grace comes from God. As an illustration, this notion is easily applicable to marriage. The reality is that the state of my marriage twenty-five or fifty years from now depends upon my husband’s and my daily actions and behaviors in the present. It probably won’t be one big, monumentous thing that alters or defines the course of our relationship. More likely, it will be the culmination of all the little things we do (or don’t do) along the way, combined with the grace of God.

While marriage is an apt example, I believe the quotation above applies not just to love (marital or otherwise) but also to every aspect of our daily lives. To find grace and virtue and sanctification in the everyday, we must have the will to continue in our work, maintain the habitual actions necessary to strengthen ourselves and our relationships, and trust in God’s grace to sustain us. When you think about it this way, repetitive, everyday tasks start to seem kind of miraculous.

In turn, this thinking speaks to the importance of maintaining a daily prayer and Scripture study habit: the five or ten minutes I spend each day seeking communion with God may not seem like much in the moment, but it’s a habit that will strengthen my spirit and my relationship with the Lord over time.

Much of my thinking here is inspired by a blog post by Janelle Aijian titled “On the Road with the Noonday Demon” that a couple of my Facebook friends shared recently. It’s short and worth a read, so I won’t rehash every detail here, but the overall message of the piece is that Christians may be easily distracted from everyday tasks, dismissing them as less important than more exciting, “meaningful” activities (evangelizing, community service, etc.). However, the difficult work of committing consistently to our everyday tasks is in fact the root of growth and sanctification. As Aijian notes, early Christian monastics referred to this struggle as the “noonday demon,” that is, the “tedium or perturbation of heart” regarding their everyday work that came upon them around midday.

The author references Pascal to explain the heart of this difficulty: it is the struggle between our inherently sinful nature and “our restlessness for God and for holiness.” She continues:

“We were created to be perfectly holy and perfectly happy, in communion with God and each other, but at present we are full of error and sin and trying not to think about it. It’s Pascal’s contention that most of what we spend our lives doing is intended to distract us from this fundamental wrongness in our spirit, this knowledge that we are capable of being completely happy, but because of the sin rooted deep within us we are always subverting ourselves, preventing ourselves from experiencing the unencumbered joy we were made for.”

Striving to live virtuously in the everyday forces us to face up to our weaknesses, fears, biases, inadequacies, and bad habits. Our everyday roles and responsibilities as friends, spouses, parents, students, teachers, employees, or leaders can be both frightening and boring (doing the laundry can be as much a part of being a supportive spouse as being emotionally and physically available). Sometimes we feel like we’re doing a terrible job, and a lot of the time we’re just faking it. Often it would be far easier to abandon these tasks than to commit to return to them, day after day, and try to do better. Settling into our daily work can be quite challenging because we must constantly fight against our corrupted nature in order to endeavor any sort of virtue. Aijian explains:

“When we settle down to work it’s easy to be unsettled. Consistent work is not distracting. Consistent work, our own work, is quiet, and it requires a quietness of spirit to accomplish. The desert fathers moved into the wilderness and lived simplified lives not in order to remove themselves from temptation, but to confront the twists and turns in their spirits that only became apparent when they refused to be distracted.”

It’s difficult, and not fun, to sit down and own up to your shortcomings and sins. We begin any virtuous work (including the work of everyday living) having already fallen short, so it’s easy to get discouraged and opt to think about something else instead. When we distract ourselves by checking email, running errands, working overtime, going out with friends, or doing any other activity, it’s easy to believe that we’re actually just fine and that we don’t really need God’s grace or forgiveness right now. None of those activities are inherently bad, but they become harmful when used as distractions from our spiritual state of being and the everyday work that has been allotted to us. To quote Aijian again, “The noonday demon is perfectly happy to get you doing something, so long as it isn’t the thing that is yours to do right now.”

If we continually distract ourselves and ignore our faults and sins, then we are unable to address them, ask God to forgive them, and work to eradicate them. When we remove ourselves from distractions, we can come before God more honestly, more humbly, and in a better state to receive God’s grace and let our hearts be changed and worked upon by Him. And that miraculous, divine work of forgiveness, sanctification, and growth starts today, in, as Aijian says so well at the end of her piece, “the simple, monotonous, often unobserved, difficult, profoundly good work of living.”

Image via Flickr.

“I Do, I Don’t”: One Christian Couple’s Tale of Love, Divorce, and Loss

I Do, I Don’t is an all too common story: a young Christian couple decides that they are going to get married. We see the proposal happen during (perhaps at the end of) a worship service that both parties are helping lead. Gil is one excited guy: he’s thrilled to be marrying the love of his life, especially after his admitted past struggles with sexual activity. Sidney is equally excited, as far as we can tell: she’s got some hesitations (she’s young, he’s a few years older, people are hesitant, etc.), but she keeps saying that God is good, and that she wants to be an excellent wife for Gil.

The lead-up to the marriage is wholesome, and pushes the boundaries of what boundaries you shouldn’t push. The couple decide not to kiss until they are married (and the kiss on the wedding day is incredibly awkward; we aren’t spared the sight in the film). They talk about the pressure of people watching them (since they are both involved in church ministry), but both seem to truly want God to be glorified in their relationship. Sidney even says at one point that divorce isn’t an option, no matter what happens.

The screen fades to black shortly after the wedding. Six months later, we see Gil in a class, and all of his students are asking to see Sidney. He says she’s at work, and suggests that they pray that she can come to school with him again.

Then the film reveals that Sidney left Gil three months into their marriage. Gil is heartbroken, but still considers himself married. He was asked to leave his church (for reasons we aren’t told; presumably related to the reasons that Sidney left him, though that is hardly confirmed), and found himself in a new church, serving as best he can. The remainder of the film focuses on Gil’s actions towards his out-of-contact wife and his new pastor’s thoughts on the situation. There is an interview with Sidney at the end, where she says that they shouldn’t have gone through with the wedding.

If that feels like a lot to take in, then I’ve communicated the film’s emotive power correctly: throughout the entire film, viewers ought to feel tense. This is marriage we’re talking about; people’s lives hang in the balance.

Half-way through, I started to respect Gil quite a bit. His pastor recommended that he pray about ways to be a faithful husband even when his wife was absent. Gil took this very seriously, and started sending his wife Scripture verses regularly. While this might seem odd to some, it struck me that Gil was actively attempting to fulfill God’s calling in regards to his own marriage. That, in itself, is awesome. And difficult. I can’t imagine how difficult that would be.

He and his pastor echo the same truth: God hates divorce. You see it all over the Bible, you hear it from the words of God and from Jesus himself. So Gil decides to tough it out. He said he’s love her forever, and so he shall. The weird part comes when the film is over: we find out that Sidney is still living the single life, but that Gil has “found the girl of his dreams” and gotten married.

The film leaves the viewers with a lot of questions: why did Sidney leave Gil? Why did Gil’s church ask him to leave (and Sidney stayed at that church)? What changed with Gil’s heart that made him comfortable to remarry, after all his beliefs about marriage and divorce? Is Sidney open to remarriage, or has she decided to remain “faithful” to her once-spouse?

While those are specific, the questions for Christian viewers are far more important: what should a person in Gil’s situation do? Are we called to “remain married” to someone who leaves us, Biblically speaking? What can break a marriage, death aside? Some argue that adultery is cause for divorce, but many don’t even believe that, these days. God seems to put grace and forgiveness at the forefront of all marriages–see Gomer and Hosea, for instance. Not to mention the parallels with Israel’s history: if marriage is a representation of Christ and the Church, ought we always to seek after our spouse, even when they won’t have anything to do with us?

None of that is easy. Perhaps I’m being too quick to judge; from the sidelines, it seems relatively simple to say that he should swear off all other relationships and seek his wife in faithfulness. If I were sitting in that position, of course, I’d likely have a much harder time of it. That doesn’t mean I’m wrong, necessarily, just that situations like these are complex. If someone gets remarried after their spouse leaves them, perhaps they are committing adultery. But God is bigger than that, and He is capable of forgiving; we should be able to do so as well.

I’ve known people who’ve been divorced, I’ve known people who’ve gotten remarried after a divorce, and I’ve known people who’ve stayed married until death parted them. It’s the middle category that I find hardest to support, however. Divorce is ugly, and everyone agrees on that point (I hope). But if your spouse leaves you, I find it difficult to support a decision to remarry, Biblically speaking. The narrative of marriage throughout Scripture (God’s faithfulness in the face of Israel’s idolatry; the leaving of one family to join another; Gomer and Hosea; and the ‘two become one flesh’ language) emphasizes pursuit and love, not resignation and absence.

All in all, the film is a difficult one to watch. If you’ve had friends go through a divorce, it might be helpful to see someone else’s perspective on the whole thing. You can purchase and view the film here.

Access to the film was provided by United Films.

On Singleness: Six Principles to Keep in Mind

Perhaps the most consistent conversation in the lives of young people (myself included) is that of singleness. While we see this in all young people, it is especially true in Christian circles. Call it a marriage culture, a quirk of the Christian movement, or even a deep respect for marriage in the Christian community, the point remains the same: “single” groups at churches often look like dating pools, both to their organizers and their participants. There isn’t much between the college Sunday school class and the “young marrieds” or the “new parents” classes.

I’m not immune to this phenomenon, of course. I’ve spent countless hours talking about my relationship status (note: single) with family, friends, trusted confidants, younger people, older people, married people, and other singles. These conversations can sometimes be frustrating (either in the “let me set you up with so-and-so since she’s a Christian and so are you” way, or in the “I’ll spend my life praying that you find someone who can make you whole” way), even if they do mean well. There are helpful conversations, of course, but they are few and far between, for the most part.

I’m not here to tell you how to talk to singles. Some have told us what not to do (my favorite is the “pants” suggestion; seriously, read that link [EDIT: This link has since been broken. The author wrote an amusing anecdote about being told to put a pair of man’s jeans at the end of her bed, and to pray that God would send a man to fill those pants.]). And while a lot of work still needs to be done (if you search for “How to encourage Christian singles,” one of the top hits is “Single For Now”), I’ll see if I can give examples of the sorts of things that are more often helpful.

1. Being single doesn’t mean I’m less than a whole person.

Sometimes, we act like people are the separated half-souls from Plato’s Symposium, rather than full people created in the image of God. There’s a wholeness to people, and there’s something to be said for being whole. In fact, the Scriptures describe marriage as “two becoming one flesh”: God values unity of the self, either to ourselves or with another.

2. Not all Christians are compatible with each other.

In fact, just avoid setting people up, generally. There might be exceptions (e.g., you’re really good friends, you know the sort of person your friend might be interested in, and you have good reason to think the other person might actually be a good match), but generally blind dates are kind of terrible and awkward. It is one thing to invite lots of people to an event, in hopes that two will hit it off. But please don’t invite me out to dinner with you, your spouse, and your single Christian friend. Wink, wink.

3. Singleness does not need a solution.

When we talk about “singleness,” we often frame the entire conversation in terms of “waiting”: I’m single, because I’m waiting for Jesus to send me the perfect woman, or to send me to the perfect woman. The often-utilized alternative is similar: you’re working on making yourself a better person, so that you can be a better spouse one day. We’re told to pray for our future spouses–some even write letters–and we’re rarely taught that we simply might not get married. Our divorce rates rise, and sometimes I wonder if that’s in part due to our emphasis on marriage. Not to say marriage is not worth emphasizing, just that singleness has a fairly decent precedent (Jesus and Paul, to name just two).

4. Just because I’m single, it doesn’t mean I’m lonely.

The converse of this is also true: just because you are married, it doesn’t mean you’ve escaped loneliness. Jason Helopoulos already gave this point a solid treatment, so I’ll leave this point to him.

5. If I volunteer, just let me serve.

The apostle Paul says that “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided.” There’s a lot more to this passage, and it’s a little bit of a strange one to work through, but one clear truth: single people have more time. So when we (single people) ask to serve, seek to be a part of your ministry, or desire to help out with whatever it is you’ve got going on, don’t stop us on account of our singleness. Sometimes we treat marriage as a stabilizing stamp; if someone is unmarried, that doesn’t mean they are too unreliable to settle down, necessarily. Maybe they’re called to service, or maybe they just haven’t met that person God has in mind for them, or perhaps there is some more practical reason. But the point is that we might be uniquely capable of pouring quite a bit of ourselves into a project; give us the space to do so.

6. Lastly, we need your friendship more than we care to admit.

I value my single friends–sometimes to commiserate our mutual single state, other times just because they have lots of free time–but without my married friends, life would be a lot more difficult. Seeing that my friends are still recognizably themselves after they get married is a reminder that single people are people too. Beyond that reminder, however, is just that I have a need for fellowship, same as you. Having fellowship with married people helps keep me from thinking of all fellowship as either focused on dating or focused on talking about dating. That helps me treat everyone as a whole person; I’ve got to follow my own advice here.

So singles: rejoice. You’ve got time and life and love. Befriend married people, hang out with them, babysit their kids, watch a movie, and call it an early night if you’ve got to. Spend time with other single people, but don’t just do it as a dating pool: people are valuable for who they are, not just who they could be to you.

And to married folks out there: rejoice. You’ve got love and fellowship and you get to reflect God’s love for the Church. Try to work us into your schedules, but never forsake your spouses. Don’t set us up, treat us like whole people.

After all, we’re all made in the image of God.

The Friendly Green Monster: When You Should be Jealous

The second Commandment, as stated in Exodus 20:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This passage has always confounded me. Not because of the command against idolatry—I don’t have statues of Baal or Aphrodite sitting on my living room mantel. But the idea of God as “jealous” seems wrong: the Church teaches that jealousy is a sin, a temptation to run away from. Yet the Almighty  is perfect and holy, and therefore His jealousy must be perfect and holy, as well.

The jealousy that stems from selfishness and greed places it squarely in the “sin” category. Someone either wants what they don’t have, or they think someone else is trying to steal what they do have. A child who won’t let her best friend touch her new doll is protectively jealous because she wants to keep the toy all to herself. Her jealousy rises from selfish greed.

The jealousy of God, on the other hand, stems from love and purity. The Israelites are instructed not to make idols because God is jealous of their worship: He does not want them to turn away from Him and lust after false gods, which disrespects the Creator and harms the Israelites. The disastrous consequences of their faithlessness are laced throughout the Old Testament. God rightfully demands Israel’s complete devotion and loyalty, and His jealousy guards a relationship that is only holy when it is pure and complete.

In the book of Hosea, the relationship between God and Israel is likened to marriage. The Lord refers to Israel as an adulterous whore who has deserted her true husband for various lovers, including Baal and other idols. The Lord, acting as the just and faithful husband, openly shames Israel: “I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.” (Hosea 2:10) Yet this is not the end of the story. God will then show mercy upon Israel by wooing her back to Himself: “Behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14) It is God’s jealousy that spurs both the just punishment and the merciful reconciliation. He loves Israel enough to be jealous for her, and patient with her sins.

This same principle can be applied to our human dating and marital relationships: we need jealousy to keep marriage healthy and intact. At their wedding, a bride and groom give themselves wholly to each other. They are no longer their own, but “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 6:3) The consequence of not staying true to this commitment is lust and adultery. Just as God rightfully expected the Israelites to unconditionally worship and obey Him, we must expect our spouse to remain unconditionally loyal and committed to the marriage, and guard the purity of this commitment jealously.

I’m not talking about extreme cases of physical abuse or overprotective spouses: a smile of friendship to someone of the opposite sex should not occasion burning jealousy. Yet a small, healthy dose of jealousy only adds to the strength of a romantic relationship because it demonstrates the individuals’ depth of love and commitment. The man who is not jealous of his wife’s attentions does not care enough about their marriage, and will only encourage her to look elsewhere for intimacy.

Romantic love is not like a toy, which should be generously shared with others for maximum enjoyment. Some things should not be shared, and marriage is one of them.

Giving Up: The Significance of Sacrifice

I’ve been contemplating a new life motto:

“I give up.”

I consider this not in a self-loathing or self-pitying way, and this is not to say I don’t believe in my value or abilities (to an extent).

Rather, I think of it in a relational way, a spiritual way, even, considering certain types of fasting, a physical way.

My new motto was spurred by an Ingrid Michaelson song, “Giving Up,” which popped up on my Pandora station recently. I’d never heard it before, and I was immediately struck by the lyrics of the chorus (of course, it’s better listened to):

I am giving up on making passes

I am giving up on half-empty glasses

I am giving up on greener grasses

It’s a love song, and I find it to be a rather theologically sound take on Christian commitment in marriage. I once heard it put this way: “When you say, ‘I do,’ you’re also saying, ‘I don’t’ to everyone else.” When my husband and I got married, we committed ourselves to each other and our marriage, which means we promised to give up on things like flirting with or dating others, physical intimacy with anyone else, and most shades of emotional intimacy with others, too. We were (and are) giving up on living individualistically.

I don’t think everyone should or needs to get married—some are meant for singleness and celibacy. But I think those who resist marriage because they don’t want to give up their independence are missing out. They choose to sacrifice bigger, deeper, longer-lasting joys for smaller, more immediate pleasures.

I think it’s worth it, giving up.

And I think this idea has far-reaching spiritual and theological implications (which also encompass the physical aspect I mentioned). When the young rich man asked Christ, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” the Lord didn’t reply with, “Hoard your wealth, and focus on doing whatever you can to make yourself happy.” He said:

“If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)

In other words: give up. Give up your wealth, your comforts, your self-serving ways, for Christ. The apostles, when called, literally gave up their former lives—Christ called Peter and Andrew while they were fishing (doing their job), and Scripture tells us that “they immediately left their nets and followed Him.” (Matthew 4:20)

Christ doesn’t stop at possessions or trades, though; He takes it all the way: deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) So what do we need to do to serve Christ, to live fully as Christians?

Give up.

Finally, a thought on fasting, which is a very literal approach to giving up. Physical fasting, obviously, demands one to give up certain foods; many Christians also fast from certain activities or other indulgences. In the Church, this activity serves several spiritual purposes: to remind us of our limits as human beings and dependency upon God; to help us focus on things of God, instead of on serving our desires; and to remind us that faith and Christianity are active, not passive. They are effortful, requiring work, even pain, and especially sacrifice.

We are called to give up. Which is why I think this makes such a good marriage, spiritual, and life motto. This idea of giving up reminds me of two other related interests of mine: minimalism and monasticism. Minimalism, or the practice of living lightly on necessities rather than messily on luxuries, has many pragmatic benefits: it can help save space, reduce stress, and save money. But I also find it to have spiritual significance, similar to that of monastic living. Living simply puts into practice the monastic mindset of disconnecting from typical worldly desires or material goods for the sake of pursuing greater goods like spiritual clarity and fullness and a stronger devotion to God.

And that’s what all of this giving up is about, anyway. We give up so that we may gain more.

The State Of Our Union Is…Confused.

President Obama’s State of the Union address was nothing new.  As all politicians do, he called attention to a few high points of the past year, but primarily focused on the future, laying out a fresh list of promises that few people truly believe he can make good on.

The President took aim at Big Business, especially the medical and insurance industries, blasting them for making record profits while average Americans struggle.  What is more interesting is that he went on to warn Congress that now is not the time to gut funding for medical research that helps to save lives.  We have to wonder if the President is aware of how much of those record profits the medical industry invests in just the kind of medical research he wants to protect.

The real issue here, though, is not the specifics of where certain money is being spent, but rather an entire political philosophy.  When the President suggests that high profits for private companies can actually have a negative impact on society, and that any reduction in government-funded research is unacceptable, he is implicitly saying that the responsibility to do such research should be entrusted to the government rather than those private companies.  It would be better, in his mind, for the medical industry to hand over more of its profits to the government (paying more of their fair share, as it were) so that the government can do more of the same work that the medical industry is already doing.  I’m not arguing here that this is either good or bad.  The President’s underlying philosophy could be right.  I merely point it out because, sadly, the underlying philosophies of our politicians are rarely scrutinized and examined in light of other issues, which often leads to confused voters and even more confused politicians.

An excellent example of this political schizophrenia came from two of the President’s more praiseworthy statements.  In his best line of the night the President said, “What makes a man is not the ability to conceive a child, but the courage to raise a child.”  He went on to say that our rights as individuals are always wrapped up in the rights of others, highlighting the importance of community and cooperation.  Taken alone, these statements are excellent and any Christian on the conservative side of the spectrum ought to be able to endorse them wholeheartedly.  What may seem puzzling to some, then, is the President’s radical Pro-Choice agenda and his newfound but staunch support for gay marriage.

President Obama rightly acknowledged that a stable family structure is best not only economically, but also for raising healthy and productive children.  The redefinition of marriage is at odds with this truth.  In every nation that has officially redefined marriage on a large scale, marriage is disappearing.

More important is the issue of abortion.  How can you hope to encourage young men to think of fatherhood as something that requires courage when all the consequences and “dangers” of sex and pregnancy are so easily removed, and with no remorse?  When you continue to push the “easy way out” on the one hand, any calls for courage on the other hand ring hallow.

Moreover, why is radical individualism only a bad thing, and why are the rights of others only important, when it comes to gun control or higher taxes?  Why does the President not chide the radical individualism of the successful businesswoman who seeks an abortion because a child is simply inconvenient at the moment?  Why is she not to be reminded that her rights are tied up in the rights of others, necessarily limiting her choices?

Again, our current way of political discourse in America is not set up to handle these underlying philosophical questions, so I don’t place all blame upon the President or his party.  Mr. Obama may be wrong, but Conservatives and Christians in the media are failing to say so in an intelligent and persuasive manner.  We are all caught up in the culture of soundbites and shouting matches.  Worse yet, when we finally do tire of this unhelpful bickering, we retreat into the amusement of trivialities.  Senator Marco Rubio delivered a winsome, articulate, and at times passionate response to President Obama’s address on Tuesday night.  All day Wednesday, the biggest topic of discussion was Rubio’s 3-second, awkward reach-and-sip from a mini water bottle.  This mildly humorous non-event has received more attention than anything the President said in his speech.  That’s a sad statement.

I don’t exactly know where to go from here.  But I do believe that if conservatives and independents start demanding more thoughtfulness from their representatives while refusing to reward the escalating “cycle of soudbites”, things can only change for the better.

You can start right now by NOT posting that angry knee-jerk response to your brother-in-law’s annoying Facebook post.


“Two’s company, three’s a crowd … and four’s an environmental disaster!”

One would think that if anyone’s genes need reproducing, David and Victoria Beckham would have approval. But even in our success-obsessed culture today, the achievement and beauty of Mr. and Mrs. Beckham is not enough to get them off the hook among those who believe that one’s family size should be a debate for the whole world to weigh in on.

Recently, an article in the UK Guardian criticized the Beckhams after the birth of their fourth child, Harper Seven, calling them “environmentally irresponsible.”  Simon Ross, chief executive of the UK based Optimum Population Trust was critical of the couple: “We need to change the incentives to make the environmental case that one or two children are fine but three or four are just being selfish . . . The Beckhams, and others like London mayor Boris Johnson [who also has four children], are very bad role models with their large families.” He went on to argue, as do many who are concerned with the world’s population, that with 7 billion people in the world and counting,  “there cannot be more people on this Earth than can be fed.”

Mr. Ross, like others with concerns about overpopulation and the world’s food supply, fail to take a few things into account.  When Thomas Malthus predicted in the 1800’s that the population would overtake the food supply, he failed to also predict the impact of the Industrial Revolution, along with many subsequent technological innovations that allow crops to be grown faster and in harsher climates than he could have possibly imagined.

The concern about resource depletion isn’t a proven science, and studies show that human capital and labor productivity are what actually drive the increases and reductions of resources.  What’s more, worries about overpopulation disregard the principle that life is inherently good. Even if humans and the environment existed adversarially (though I believe that they don’t), human life is still an unqualified good. The choice for life shouldn’t be made on the basis of environmental concerns, though all our decisions about consumption should certainly be with prudence. And empirically speaking, if there’s a crisis in our world today, it’s underpopulation. Most countries in Europe, for example, are seeing birth rates drop below replacement levels (looked at Russia lately?), though immigration will contribute some stability to these nations’ numbers.

While we must certainly care for the environment, the answer is not that families or developed nations are to blame. Even if developed nations use a larger proportion of the earth’s natural resources, the technology coming out of these countries allows many people in the developing world to be fed, and affords a greater quality of life to everyone around the globe. The earth’s resources are not a pie whose portion for everyone at the party shrinks as new guests arrive. Steven Mosher, President of the Population Research Institute, argues that because each person has unique value, “more people means more for all of us — more economic production, more potential for artistic and scientific achievement, more innovation.” And speaking of innovation, two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution, we are still not running out of food.

What is more unsustainable than the current rate of population growth is the increasing numbers of people who do not grow up in stable, married families. Dr. Henry Potrykus, of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute, recently released “Our Fiscal Crisis” detailing the relationship between the future of America’s economy and the proportion of intact, married families. It is impossible for a country to remain strong when fewer than half of its citizens grow up in homes that do not offer the stability that marriage provides.  This holds true for any nation, not just the U.S., and the negative effects of broken homes are well-documented.

David and Victoria Beckham have remained committed to one another in marriage, thus demonstrating what is right about families in Britain. To the Beckhams I say, Congratulations! The begetting and raising of human life in the context of marriage is one of the greatest adventures in the world. You are setting a good example for the world to follow.