Serve God, Love Me and Mend
Todd and Charity
A few days ago we woke to a Colorado morning. Breezy blue, sunshine in the sky, no humidity— just the way I want it, day after day after day. But in Virginia, as in Pennsylvania, it isn’t always that way, which is why I was glad. Meg soon joined me, and we drank our cups of tea together, taking in the delight of the day, not speaking but in our hearts longing for the mountains of Colorado, where we first met.
Even at 17 I didn’t believe in love at first sight, but I liked Meg. We laughed and played, ate ice cream, and then said goodbye… not seeing each again for several years. But off-and-on I thought about her, across America as we were, wondering and wondering when I would see her again.
Through the next years we became friends, good friends, and while it is a longer story, we became very good friends who decided to get married. And now we have been, for most of life, making our marriage a life together.
I want to marry you. How do we know that? How is it that we come to know that we want to marry someone? This man, this woman…. will you be my husband, will you be my wife? A critical decision it is, but over time even more important is the challenge of finding our way into a good marriage. Everyone of us wants that. In our very bones we want that.
As complex as marriages can be, as full of wonders and wounds as marriages always are, becoming a good husband, becoming a good wife, is the honest hope for sons of Adam and daughters of Eve the world over. But what makes for that kind of marriage? where being twined together shapes who we are, how we live and how we love.
We all watch marriages, pondering what we see. In my own listening to people I have loved, trying to make sense of what makes a good marriage, I have concluded that there are two habits of heart that are written into a long-loved love.
To take delight… to give grace.
To take delight is to keep one’s heart alive to the wonder of love. The infatuation, the pleasure, the companionship, the longing, the safety and shalom, all this and more. It is to choose affection, day after day, with tender delight saying the words of love that must be said. In a world of a thousand distractions, where day and night we hear grievous lies about the nature of human happiness, it is choosing to keep the eyes of one’s heart fixed on the good gift of long love… the good gift of this man, of this woman… to delight in this wife, in this husband, from this day forward.
To give grace is born of the reality that we stumble and fall, time and again. Forgive me my sin, we pray, as we forgive those who sin against us, we promise. There will not be a day when this grace will be unneeded. To say it simply: you will need to give grace every day. Terrible wounds require great grace, yes; but most of the time it is in the ins-and-outs of daily life that we miss each other. Not meaning to offend, we do. Not meaning to hurt, we do. And so we give grace, morning and night, we give grace.
Good marriages are always and everywhere marked by these commitments. Small as they are, they become large because over time they become a marriage, for blessing and curse we either choose for them or against them. Simply said, delight is not disdain; and grace is not resentment. The words are different, and they make a difference, a world of difference. Profoundly, of course, these graces are born of the very heart of God, whose love we know because he delights in us, he gives grace to us— and our deepest vocation as human beings is to be like God in the world, seeing what he sees, hearing what he hears, feeling what he feels. We find our truest selves when we give ourselves to the imitation of Christ, taking delight and giving grace.
Knowing the human heart so well as he did, astute observer of Everyman and Everywoman that he was, Charles Dickens wrote for the generations. One of my favorite ever stories is his novel, David Copperfield.
A very good book about the nature of growing up into the world, it is also the story of love found, love lost, and love found again. At the end of his first marriage, David is looking into the fireplace, wondering what happened, remembering both happiness and sadness— and he concludes, “Trifles make the sum of life.” They do, for all us. The little things matter, because over time they become our lives.
Taking delight and giving grace must become habits of heart, instincts that mark us, characteristically… because they are who we are. The long-loved love we long for grows from these graces.
During these summer months I have been reading another novel, this one by Michael O’Brien, a contemporary Canadian writer whose books have become companions to me over the last few years. They take me to deeper places, sometimes allowing me to smile, sometimes making me cry. I am almost finished with Strangers and Sojourners, a story set in British Columbia through the years of the 20th-century. The central characters are a wife and her husband, an Englishwomen and an Irishman who find each other in the vast wildness of a continent far from home. And slowly, very slowly, they begin to love each other, choosing for the hope and promise of marriage. Early passion becomes a long life, children are born and children die, work is done and done again, the seasons come and go, and the years pass. Many years into their marriage, the wife Anne whom we have come to know well over hundreds of pages, ponders the years of her life and love. She writes in her journal,
“I am coming to see that it is not so much a question of finding the right place, the right time, the ideal marriage. Neither life nor happiness hinges upon such things. It is wholly within. It is response to what is given. It is choice.”
Yes, yes, and yes again. Even with commitments to delight and grace, choosing both day after day, we never find everything… the right place, the right time, the ideal marriage. At the end of every day, we respond to what is given— and we choose, choosing honest happiness and wonderful happiness, knowing that perfect happiness is not ours in this life, because the perfect does not exist in this wounded, frail world that is ours. Proximate happiness is possible, and is a gift to be prized. Very real and very true, it is a happiness we can touch and smell, a happiness given by God to those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
Somehow Shakespeare knew this. Remember, his work was both tragedy and comedy, both horrible heartache and great gladness— and sometimes his stories give us both. Take “Much Ado About Nothing” for example. Wrestling with the truth of human hope, with the sorrow of self-deception, love seems forever lost. But before the grief becomes final, we hear these words, “Serve God, love me and mend.” They are words we all need because they are born of the truest truths of the universe. Shakespeare knew the wounds of the world, but also he knew that healing is possible… if we choose to heal, if we choose to be healed.
400 years later, Mumford and Sons know this too, bridging the stages of London over the centuries, from the 16th-century bard himself to their band whose music is enjoyed all over the 21st-century world. Calling their song, “Sigh No More,” they play on Shakepeare’s play, giving us his good words again, rippling across the generations.
Serve God, love me and mend
This is not the end
Live unbruised, we are friends
Love; it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be
There is a design, an alignment to cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be
The words remind us that all of life cannot be “whatever.” Some things matter, some things are true, some things are made to be, in fact some things should be— because they are real and true and right, for everyone everywhere.
And in the end, marriage is a long friendship. People who like to be married are friends, very good friends. They become kindred spirits, heart and mind, soul and strength. In the midst of our hurts, living in a world of wounds, we long for the beauty of love as it was made to be. The playwrights and poets of London have long known this to be true, giving us words that make marriages good marriages. Serve God, love me and mend.
Well, three last words. Faith, hope, charity. Ancient wisdom they are, remembered and remembered again. Much could be said about them, and much has been through the ages, but here I want us to reflect on the final word, the remarkably rich word, charity. Born of a very old word, charis, through the centuries it became grace, and more recently it is simply translated love.
In the world that is really there, names matter, as do words. One of the first human vocations was to name the world, describing what was seen, giving names and meaning to what was named. We understand where we are today when we remember we are in the neighborhood of the two Andrews, Carnegie and Mellon, remembering two men whose lives and labors shaped this city. That name places us in Pittsburgh, remembering William Pitt, Prime Minister of England 300 years ago when this wilderness territory was best described as Penn’s Woods, becoming Pennsylvania. Names tell us something important about who and what is named.
But names, like words, must at some point be enfleshed. They are signposts, showing us something that matters about what has been named. Words have to become flesh for us to understand them.
May you be that, Charity. May you be your name. And may your name give life and love to your marriage. And Todd, may you take this woman into your heart, accepting the gift of charity she is, the gift of grace she is, the gift of love she is. And may you together find years of honest happiness, even wonderful happiness. May that be so, may that be the gift of this day, and of the marriage born of this day.
Amen, and amen.