What it Means to Fall in Love

With­in this Chris­t­ian vision of mar­riage, here’s what it means to fall in love. It is to look at anoth­er per­son and get a glimpse of what God is cre­at­ing, and to say, “I see who God is mak­ing you, and it excites me! I want to be part of that. I want to part­ner with you and God in the jour­ney you are tak­ing to his throne. And when we get there, I will look at your mag­nif­i­cence and say, ‘I always knew you could be like this. I got glimpses of it on earth, but now look at you!”

— Tim­o­thy Keller, The Mean­ing of Mar­riage, Ch 4, pg 121

Bound to Fulfillment

With­out being for­giv­en, released from the con­se­quences of what we have done, our capac­i­ty to act would, as it were, be con­fined to one sin­gle deed from which we could nev­er recov­er; we would remain the vic­tims of its con­se­quences for­ev­er, not unlike the sorcerer’s appren­tice who lacked the mag­ic for­mu­la to break the spell. With­out being bound to the ful­fill­ment of promis­es, we would nev­er be able to keep our iden­ti­ties; we would be con­demned to wan­der help­less­ly and with­out direc­tion in the dark­ness of each man’s lone­ly heart, caught in its con­tra­dic­tions and equiv­o­cal­i­ties, a dark­ness which only the light shed over the pub­lic realm through the pres­ence of oth­ers, who con­firm the iden­ti­ty between the one who promis­es and the one who ful­fills, can dis­pel. Both fac­ul­ties, there­fore, depend on plu­ral­i­ty, on the pres­ence and act­ing of oth­ers, for no one can for­give him­self and no one can feel bound by a promise made only to him­self; for­giv­ing and promis­ing enact­ed in soli­tude or iso­la­tion remain with­out real­i­ty and can sig­ni­fy no more than a role played before one’s self. [empha­sis mine]

— Han­nah Arendt, The Human Con­di­tion, 2nd ed., pg 237

The Wounds We Carry

Many peo­ple come to mar­riage hav­ing been seri­ous­ly hurt by par­ents, lovers, or for­mer spous­es. I am not talk­ing about par­ents who phys­i­cal­ly or sex­u­al­ly abuse their chil­dren. I’m talk­ing of the more wide­spread expe­ri­ences of cold and indif­fer­ent par­ents or of ver­bal­ly abu­sive par­ents who know how to pun­ish chil­dren emo­tion­al­ly. Then there are the dat­ing rela­tion­ships or for­mer mar­riages in with the oth­er par­ty wrong and betrayed you. All of these expe­ri­ences can make it extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to trust the oth­er sex, while at the same time fill­ing you with deep doubts about your judg­ment and char­ac­ter. “Wound­ed­ness” is com­pound­ed self-doubt and guilt, resent­ment and dis­il­lu­sion­ment.

— Tim­o­thy Keller, The Mean­ing of Mar­riage, Ch 3, pgs 60–61

I let myself be crip­pled by this for about sev­en years… my own voice com­pound­ed with the schiz­o­phrenic lies and dis­tor­tions of she who sought, with great suc­cess for a time, to under­mine every decent thing I’ve ever been or done.

…extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to trust the oth­er sex, while at the same time fill­ing you with deep doubts about your judg­ment and character…self-doubt and guilt, resent­ment and dis­il­lu­sion­ment.
Even know­ing the voice was one of psy­chosis and hatred, didn’t stop it from wound­ing me more deeply than I could have imag­ined, wound­ing ever deep­er time and time again. I would be filled with those deep doubts about my judg­ment and char­ac­ter. I would despair of ever hav­ing a future, and I would allow axes of utter non­sense to fell my tree-of-self-aware­ness.

I am so very grate­ful, not just for the heal­ing God has giv­en me, but espe­cial­ly for the pro­tec­tion and reas­sur­ance against such attacks. I had thought to nev­er again be sub­ject­ed to such attacks until a let­ter arrived a cou­ple of months ago. This new pack­et of hatred sought to go back to the utter begin­ning of our love affair, well before mat­ri­mo­ny, and paint over great beau­ty with foul and rot­ted pig­ments of self­ish­ness and wicked­ness. Instead of felling me for a time, it became one more rein­forc­ing arti­fact to add to a pile of cor­re­spon­dence which my spir­i­tu­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal advis­ers agree show a descent into mad­ness.

It pro­duced deep sor­row, but sor­row is not at all the same bun­ny of which Tim speaks. You can­not des­per­ate­ly and deeply love some­one, what­ev­er the cir­cum­stances, and not ache for them and the pain, unhap­pi­ness, and poi­son of hatred they con­tin­ue to imbibe.

I won’t say that I’ve grown com­plete­ly immune, and to be hon­est I do not want to become so. Satan does find those very occa­sion­al low­est points to charge one of his tempters with whis­per­ing into my ears tired old lies and doubts. I am glad I am not entire­ly immune sim­ply because the hubris of immu­ni­ty would be an utter lack of hum­ble­ness and fail­ure to see myself rela­tion­al­ly as fall­en man in need of Christ. If I became that, I might tru­ly begin to be the mon­ster she describes. I think Spur­geon said it best when he said, “Broth­er, if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him; for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” All the more rea­son to sur­round myself with friends and spir­i­tu­al lead­ers who know me well and hold me ever account­able. Instead, I think it leaves me clear to see those issues with my char­ac­ter and judg­ment that still mer­it large allo­ca­tions of prayer and effort.

God brings joy in the morn­ing.

Psalm 30, HCSB 1 I will exalt You, Lord, because You have lift­ed me up and have not allowed my ene­mies to tri­umph over me. 2 Lord my God, I cried to You for help, and You healed me. 3 Lord, You brought me up from She­ol; You spared me from among those going down to the Pit. 4 Sing to the Lord, you His faith­ful ones, and praise His holy name. 5 For His anger lasts only a moment, but His favor, a life­time. Weep­ing may spend the night, but there is joy in the morn­ing. 6 When I was secure, I said, “I will nev­er be shak­en.” 7 Lord, when You showed Your favor, You made me stand like a strong moun­tain; when You hid Your face, I was ter­ri­fied. 8 Lord, I called to You; I sought favor from my Lord: 9 “What gain is there in my death, in my descend­ing to the Pit? Will the dust praise You? Will it pro­claim Your truth? 10 Lord, lis­ten and be gra­cious to me; Lord, be my helper.” 11 You turned my lament into danc­ing; You removed my sack­cloth and clothed me with glad­ness, 12 so that I can sing to You and not be silent. Lord my God, I will praise You for­ev­er.

I’ve explored only of the wound­ing caused by adult rela­tion­ships. So long since has God healed me from the first type of wound­ing Tim dis­cuss­es, that I near­ly for­got to touch on the sub­ject. Learn­ing some cru­cial truths resolved my fear of being mar­ried and of being a father to chil­dren such that they no longer seem jus­ti­fi­able con­cerns. I remain vig­i­lant but no longer par­a­lyzed.

I have learned to tru­ly love, to affirm, to serve, to sac­ri­fice, to place the pre­rog­a­tive of anoth­er above my own and to take joy in doing so. I am not my father. I will nev­er vis­it upon a beloved wife or child the ter­rors vis­it­ed upon me; the fear of which kept me from believ­ing I had any right to love and be loved. I will have my own unique blind­ness­es and short­com­ings, but nev­er those and nev­er lack­ing the love and humil­i­ty that keeps me from real­iz­ing (yes, after prompt­ing and time per­haps) that these blind­ness­es and short­com­ings exist.

I like­wise real­ized is that even were there some ‘demon’ hold­ing license to lurk with­in me, a fear I once very much held [knowl­edge of which was used by anoth­er as impo­tent firey dart which fail to wound], I do not exist in a vac­u­um. I will nev­er be sep­a­rat­ed from peo­ple who know me and who have been giv­en leave to look deeply into my life and sift and seek and con­front.

Most impor­tant of all con­sid­er­a­tions is that my deal-break­er-if-lack­ing cri­te­ria for a future beloved is a deep, abid­ing love of Jesus Christ com­bined with a sharp intel­lect, a heart of love and wis­dom, and the courage to be bold. A mar­riage is not one per­son per­form­ing solo, but two per­sons act­ing in sweet and sacred con­cert with one anoth­er.

2 Timothy 1:7 NLT
For God has not giv­en us a spir­it of fear and timid­i­ty, but of pow­er, love, and self-dis­ci­pline.
If one mem­ber begins to play off-piste and ignores the direc­tion of the Con­duc­tor Almighty, the music quick­ly sours and the part­ner in error must cor­rect if sweet­ness is to again be achieved.

I am no longer slave to a heart of fear on this, or this, or this account.

The only way to overcome the unpredictability of your future is the power of promising

When we make a promise we take it on our fee­ble wills to keep a future ren­dezvous with some­one in cir­cum­stances we can­not pos­si­bly pre­dict. We take it on our­selves to cre­ate our future with some­one else no mat­ter what fate or des­tiny may have in store. This is almost ulti­mate free­dom.

When I make a promise, I bear wit­ness that my future with you is not locked into a bion­ic beam by which I was stuck with the fate­ful com­bi­na­tions of X’s and Y’s in the hand I was dealt out of my par­ents’ genet­ic deck.

When I make a promise, I tes­ti­fy that I was not rout­ed along some unal­ter­able itin­er­ary by the psy­chic con­di­tion­ing vis­it­ed on me by my slight­ly wacky par­ents.

When I make a promise I declare that my future with peo­ple who depend on me is not pre­de­ter­mined by the mixed-up cul­ture of my ten­der years.

I am not fat­ed, I am not deter­mined, I am not a lump of human dough whipped into shape by the con­tin­gent rein­force­ment and aver­sive con­di­tion­ing of my past. I know as well as the next per­son that I can­not cre­ate my life de novo; I am well aware that much of what I am and what I do is a gift or a curse from my past. But when I make a promise to any­one I rise above all the con­di­tion­ing that lim­its me.

— Lewis Bene­dic­tus Smedes (1921 — 2002)
“Con­trol­ling the Unpre­dictable – The Pow­er of Promis­ing“
Chris­tian­i­ty Today Jan. 1983

Where God and Love and Grace Abound

There was a time I felt it nec­es­sary to hide this arti­cle behind pass­word pro­tec­tion as it con­tains things which some might assume to be of a per­son­al nature. As of March, no longer do those rea­sons apply. This is one of my favorite com­po­si­tions. I’ve been told by some who have read it that por­tions were help­ful to them. For these rea­sons I wish it hid­den no longer.

We stop and ask our­selves those crit­i­cal ques­tions which we believe we must have answered in the affir­ma­tive before we will go Danc­ing in the Mine­fields. The answers, if entire­ly hon­est, will always be insuf­fi­cient. We will nev­er start the music; nev­er take hand with a dance part­ner.

Our ideals exceed the graces of human­i­ty. We men wait on the Proverbs 31 woman. She does not exist. Many women wait for the sec­ond com­ing of Christ. His heart is already spo­ken for. When He returns it will be to car­ry home God’s daugh­ter-in-law. And so we wait rather than begin the great adven­ture. We stand at the edge of the mine­field, star­ing out across it, alone, yet yearn­ing to dance; for a com­pan­ion with whom to dance.

We are pris­on­ers there­fore, in our very hearts, held cap­tive by fears, clutch­ing tight­ly to stan­dards of per­fec­tion rather than stan­dards of hon­est yet often stum­bling pur­suit of excel­lence.

“Why am I afraid to dance, I who love music and rhythm and grace and song and laugh­ter? Why am I afraid to live, I who love life and the beau­ty of flesh and the liv­ing col­ors of the earth and sky and sea? Why am I afraid to love, I who love love?” ― Eugene O’Neill, The Great God Brown and Oth­er Plays

The ques­tion then… the sec­ond ques­tion, bespeaks a more real­is­tic ide­al, prompt­ed when we defin­i­tive­ly have God. If we have God and His exam­ple of Love and Grace to always stand with us, then the sec­ond ques­tion becomes the one that mat­ters.

The third ques­tion becomes then, mere for­mal­i­ty. It was answered when we invit­ed God to a place of pri­ma­cy with­in our mar­riage and our hearts.

God will join our hands. God will start the music. Our eyes on Him we will dance with joy­ous aban­don and our feet will find only safe firm ground, ’til we come to the oth­er side and meet with Him, our Father, face to face.

Am I wor­thy?
Hard­ly.
Am I worth­while?
With great cer­tain­ty.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Will I always imme­di­ate­ly put you first?
I real­ly real­ly wish I could say, “Yes.”
The times that I don’t, will I get there before too long?
You may count on it.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I flaw­less?
Hard­ly.
Does my beau­ty out­shine my flaws?
I am per­fect in my imper­fec­tion.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I wise?
Hard­ly.
I peti­tion God for wis­dom, does He give?
Always, gen­er­ous­ly, and with­out reproach. a
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I com­plete­ly hon­est?
Com­plete­ly? No, nev­er com­plete­ly.
How then am I to be trust­ed?
My rare laps­es in efforts to be entire­ly hon­est are moti­vat­ed by imma­tu­ri­ty and fear. God con­tin­ues to mature me and expel my spir­it of fear, prompt­ing me to ‘fess up to mis­truths and strive for dis­ci­pline. b
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I always under­stand­ing?
Hard­ly.
Do I strive to make a habit of lis­ten­ing dili­gent­ly?
Very near­ly always, and until I do under­stand.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I thought­ful?
Hard­ly.
Will my thoughts always return to you?
They can nev­er stray far.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Do I come with a guar­an­tee?
What fun would that be?
So what if things break down and stop work­ing?
I will not rest until we’re repaired and what’s bro­ken mend­ed.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I trust­wor­thy?
Hard­ly.
When trust is bro­ken, will I rest?
I shall not. Your trust is the very strength in my body.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I unselfish?
Not hard­ly.
How then can I love and serve?
God has shown me the joy of putting you first.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Do I stew­ard well my time and mon­ey?
What was the ques­tion again?
How then will I care for wife and fam­i­ly?
I have learned against my nature. To whom God gives much… c
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I above reproach?
I’d be lying if I said I was.
But is that not a stan­dard to which a man must work?
Yes, and I do, and that is why I can­not answer untruth­ful­ly.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I coura­geous?
Not espe­cial­ly. Much more so now than in the past.
Why is that? May I be count­ed on then?
God has shown me what is most impor­tant; much more than youth­ful fears.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I right­eous?
None are right­eous, no, not one. d
Do I seek after right­eous­ness and to hon­or God?
Very near­ly always I do.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I always faith­ful in all things?
I try, but I some­times fail.
Can my fail­ure edure?
My heart will nev­er allow.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I always kind?
There was a time, when I hard­ly under­stood kind­ness.
And now?
I am still learn­ing the more sub­tle aspects, but the new man I am under­stands and cher­ish­es kind­ness. My heart has been soft­ened to the point where kind­ness is very near­ly always my first response to oth­ers. I wish God to refine me, as impu­ri­ties are burned and then drawn away from pre­cious met­al in a cru­cible, to have no oth­er response.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I will­ing to change?
In myself? Far too reluc­tant­ly.
What if God puts it on my heart for you?
Watch how quick­ly the old man dies!
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I gor­geous?
You betcha!
Lev­i­ty? Humor? Here? In this seri­ous dis­course?
I val­ue so very high­ly the absolute beau­ty in your gen­uine smile; a smile which touch­es every fea­ture of your face, head, and shoul­ders; eyes that reveal a com­fort and hap­pi­ness; a smile which briefly melts away the ten­sion which seems con­stant com­pan­ion. I will always yearn and strive to engen­der those feel­ings in you until the ten­sion, per­haps, becomes stranger to us both.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
You betcha! My love and grace abound, for you, my love.
Am I hum­ble?
For too long have I gripped, white-knuck­led, to unmer­it­ed pride.
So, I have rec­og­nized and acknowl­edge the lack of mer­it?
I do. I have been hum­bled so much and so often that return­ing pride appears an inter­lop­er in these envi­rons.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Am I teach­able?
With this thick skull?
Have the years taught me hard lessons?
The hard­est of all my des­per­ate need to learn.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
It is, where love and grace abound.
Do I, in turn, expect per­fec­tion?
No, no I do not. More­over I want it not.
What then, do I want?
I want only You; You as you are. No ide­al­ized ren­der­ing could approach the beau­ty and love­li­ness of who you are.
Is that suf­fi­cient?
I can­not answer for you. My love and grace abound.
Will I love?
I will love deeply.
I will love sac­ri­fi­cial­ly.
I will love you as Christ loved the church.
I will give myself up for you. e
My love and grace for you and our fam­i­ly will ever abound.

a James 1:5
b 2 Tim­o­thy 1:7
c Luke 12:48
d Isa­iah 53:6, Romans 3:10
e Eph­esians 5:25

There is a dif­fi­cult dis­tinc­tion to make here. I’ve bor­rowed the metaphor of danc­ing through mine­fields from Andrew Peterson’s auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal song, “Danc­ing in the Mine­fields.” Mar­riage is always a dance through mine­fields and always fraught with dan­ger.* We live on a fall­en earth of fall­en peo­ple under the influ­ence of the Bent Oyarsa. We will encounter mines; in those sea­sons when our eyes waver from God, or when the fal­l­en­ness of this world (sin by those out­side our mar­riage and sick­ness being a major con­se­quences of fal­l­en­ness) asserts. With God in our mar­riage how­ev­er, our dance will be more grace­ful, more beau­ti­ful, and less apt to put a foot wrong in clum­sy stum­ble. More­over, when we do encounter mines, our devo­tion to God will equip us to bet­ter deal with what­ev­er the Bent Oyarsa (Satan) throws at us. Our devo­tion will mean that -we- react dif­fer­ent­ly, and choose to weath­er storms with one anoth­er, storms that shred mar­riages based only on things earth­ly. Andrew says it beau­ti­ful­ly: “And we’re danc­ing in the mine­fields. We’re sail­ing in the storm. This is hard­er than we dreamed, but I believe that’s what the promise is for.” These storms are best illus­trat­ed (quite lit­er­al­ly) here: Fam­i­ly Man — Andrew Peter­son

* “Life is pain, high­ness. Any­one who says dif­fer­ent­ly is sell­ing some­thing.” ― William Gold­man, William Gold­man: Four Screen­plays with Essays