My apologies to those of you who have Google Reader and came looking for this post... I put it up a couple of days ago, thought better of it, put it up again, took it down, edited it, etc. ... but here it is, back up again. And I think it *might* stay this time... it *is* something I'm thinking about, for all that I'm not sure I'm explaining what I'm thinking all that well.

Being a leader in a 20-somethings ministry, the whole dating/relationship question is one that comes up a lot in conversation... pretty much anywhere we are - restaurants, bathrooms, road trips, parties, church services - you name it - any time, any place, someone is either thinking about it or talking about it. I'm struck often as I watch the "goings on" by how emotionally driven we can be. I'm right there, too, sometimes, but having had the privilege of watching several of my closest friends get married and start families, and listening to them talk about the joys and struggles of marriage, things they're glad they've been through, things they would have done differently if given the chance... I find myself with two thoughts: 1) if and when I do date/court/marry, I want to do it *wisely* - which means, to a certain extent, not letting how I *feel* determine my actions, or rather, submitting my emotions (as fun as the giddiness of "falling in love" can be) to God and seeking His kingdom purposes first and foremost, even in the context of relationship; and 2) for all that I'm about to present my subjectively objective thoughts on the subject, I'm also really looking forward to a few sparks someday...

Anyway, without further ado: whack two, three, four - something - at SPARKS:

Have you ever seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? It's a great movie. Lousy sets (the result of a poor budget - no one knew how successful it would turn out to be); great story... Well, okay... actually it's terrible, it's so freaking sappy, and some of the lyrics are simply hysterical... ("Bless your beautiful hide" - and that's all I have to say about that...) but I have loved this movie since the first time I saw it, and probably always will. It's a "good" story... mostly because everyone ends up "happily ever after." All seven girls end up married to seven colossal jerks who have learned how not to be jerks anymore. It's great.

There's a song in the movie called "Goin' Courtin'" in which Milly, the woman who married the oldest brother, is teaching the other six guys how to treat women properly, and she uses this phrase in the song: "goin' sparkin'." What is that?! I looked it up last night. To spark is to woo, or to court, as per the 1787 definition. (Don't you feel all historically, grammatically, and musically educated now?) :)

Sparking. I think it's somewhat telling that we would (at some point in our history) call it that. We don't use "woo" or "courtship" all that much either, anymore - although, thanks to Josh Harris, those words are back in the 20-30somethings' frame of reference. There's something there - an underlying belief that there's something "sparky" to this thing called "love" - and there is - but my question is, have we blown that out of proportion? And I would say we have... or at least, Hollywood has, and we've believed them...

Attraction's important, and I'm not belittling it - it needs to be there; I get that. But is that - or should it be - where it all starts? I'm not so sure. For example, it is a fact that arranged marriages statistically do extremely well. I actually know someone who married someone his parents chose for him. Difficult? Oh, yes. It was a tough decision for him, culturally, spiritually - he wrestled with it for ages. But wherever they are, I am sure they are happy -because I knew him - a little, anyway - and it's just the way it would go, because of the kind of person he was, and because of God in him (and in her)... So. Spark? Definitely wasn't there for him at all when he first found out about "the plan." But I'll betcha it grew over time...

And no, I can't prove it. But I'm guessing, all the same, that most happily married people would not use the word "spark" to describe what they feel when their beloved is puking into a trash can on the other side of the bed in the middle of the night. Nor would they use it when their spouse has said or done something so thoughtless that spitting tacks feels preferable to "working it out." On a different note, one of my married friends says "spark" turns up in the weirdest places for men, too - some guys find the sight of their wives folding laundry to be completely irresistible. (Personally, I find this strange, but okay...) :) All of which is to say -> "spark" - interesting concept, but not necessarily completely necessary at all times - in my humble, unprofessional, and certain lack of experience.

The Bible says that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30). This is the sort of woman I would really like to be. The sort of woman, honestly, that I think any (single) guy ought to be ready to fall for. Not indiscriminately, of course, but seriously....

I heard Henry Cloud giving an interview on Moody radio this past weekend, about his new book, The Secret Things of God (which I am now reading), and one of the things he said that jumped out at me was this - something to the effect of how everyone's looking for that 'perfect' person - but 'perfection' doesn't exist. Nobody's 'perfect.' And ultimately what it comes down to is that one day, you just need "to covenant with someone to seek after perfection together."

I am a hopeless romantic, so don't let all this practicality fool you. I love sappy movies, true love stories, Christian romance books (well, the few that are well-written, anyway) - I'm a sucker for roses and daisies - I will not say nay to a box of chocolates (okay, really, people, it's chocolate...) - and I hope some day to say that I've found that "perfect" person. But perfect doesn't mean he's going to get it all right. Perfect, actually, means he'll probably screw it up a lot, and so will I, but we will love each other anyway. Jesus, in Matthew 5: 38-48 defines 'perfection' as loving people the way God loves them. We may never get there in this life, but that's something to chase after, isn't it? Especially in marriage, I would think, given all the symbolism it's gained as the Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ...

So, spark? Sure, that would be nice. But I think I would so much rather wake up next to someone with whom I've committed to do life, and vice versa - than to wake up next to someone I was attracted to for five seconds and married in a fit of starry-eyed bliss.

Elisabeth Elliot, in her book Passion and Purity, tells of a young man whom she says "seems to have made a career of falling in and out of love." He meets someone, but can't "maintain the feelings," he says. This is part of what she wrote to him in response:

About this business of falling out of love. Everybody does it, you know. Sometimes before they get married, but always afterwards.... There is something to be said for making an adult choice and sticking to it. "Being in love, wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, "is a good thing, but it is not the best thing... 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.... But of course ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God..."*

a deep unity
maintained by the will
deliberately strengthened by habit
reinforced by grace

Somehow that just sounds so much better than sparking... tho I wouldn't complain about that either. :)

*Passion and Purity, by Elisabeth Elliot - p. 180-181


Barry said...

"Sparking" isn't quite as old-fashioned a term around here. My grandparents, and some of my parents' generation, used the term.

Speaking as a happily married man, I would say that although love is about much more than the initial spark (which - you're absolutely right - doesn't last forever), if there's no spark then it's very difficult for the flame of love to get started in the first place.

Real love is more about what you do than what you feel, so when your spouse is busy throwing up, that's when you prove that you love her/him by your actions, even though you're grossed out. The nice feelings and "spark" are, in a sense, your reward for all the more practical, earthy side of things.

If there's one thing I've learned during my marriage, it's that love is about giving. It's not "a game of give and take" as the song would have it. It's all about giving, not taking. Sometimes you won't get anything back, but you carry on giving because you love your spouse.

Phew, that must be the longest comment I've written in quite a while!

Happy said...

oh, but thank you for writing it, Barry! it was brilliant. i think you're right - a bit of a spark is probably necessary to get things going - but oh, for the rest of it... i don't know. maybe it's just because i'm all melancholy and reflective this time of year (turning 29 for the 4th time tomorrow) but i just want to get to that - that whole "doing life together" thing. Complete with vomit. (unfortunate but real.)

i think i've found this in any number of areas lately - even with how i "fight" with people. Granted there's the whole biblical principle of not letting the sun go down on your anger, but even with that - when i'm mad at someone, or vice versa, i find myself so much more about getting past it and being whole now than about wanting to be right... i just want that equilibrium i guess, that comes from having someone to give to, and knowing that there's someone who will give to me, but not caring as much about whether they do or not as i care about being able to give to them.... if that makes *any* sense.... (????)

not sure i'm spitting that out well, either. but thank you, is what i meant to say, 1/2 a comment ago - it's so cool to hear others' perspectives on all this. :) anyone else? :D

faintnot said...

covenant...yes, that is the word for mariage and when I think about it, because we are sooooo human, and soooooo annoying at time, (I include me in that for sure) the covenant is what keeps us steady and sure and faithful. "How can two walk together unless they be agreed" (i can't remember where that scripture is...I'll search for it later). I like this post, Happy. You have quoted wisdom and it is good, very good.
Thanks, Happy. I love reading your posts, friend.

Rob said...

Very well put. You remind me of another book, which I really need to get a copy of for my marriage-counseling lending library: Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying, by the redoubtable Amy and Leon Kass.

BTW, Happy birthday!

Tara said...

Wow. Good post Happy. I can tell you tho that for me I was the one that was committed for years. I stayed in a very unhappy marriage for way too long. We were not Christians when we married. Then we both converted. I was able to submit he was not. We were then unequally yoked. It made for a very unhappy situation. But for me, my covenant was what mattered. I tried. I stayed. There was alot of abandonment. Drained bank accounts. Lying. Drugs. Eventully adultry.
It was painful. But God met me and helped me thru that. Now as a divorced single woman scares the hell out of me.
That "spark" is nice. It's what hooks us. But as the old saying goes...where theres smoke, there's fire. It's burning my fingers that concerns me. I yearn for a true Christ centered marriage. I desire a man to share my life with that loves God more than me. For now, I am trying to figure it all out. How to be single. How to not want a relationship of the world.
Sometimes, I wonder if I will ever know what it means to be yoked and not feel the burn of the straps around my neck from pulling all the weight. Is it possible?

Happy said...

Tara - thank you for sharing your story here - I knew some of that from reading your blog, but to hear it again in this context... oh, honey. I'm so sorry for the hurt you've been through, and I know that even with all the healing He has done and is doing in your life, it's still scary now. I've not been through nearly as much toughness as you've seen in your life, so I can only imagine, but I've been in some share of broken situations, and I know how real that fear can be...

For all my talk, being in a "relationship" (why do we call them that? we're in relationship with EVERYBODY, for Pete's sake...) - but still - so much fear. Fear that I'll screw it up and hurt him. Fear that he'll hurt me. Fear of missing God's specific will for my life... fear of taking the wrong a relationship, or within it.

But Jesus said, "Come, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." I thought of those verses instantly when I read what you wrote, and have been thinking on that for a couple of days now... Fear is such a cumbersome thing, isn't it? It's heavy, it's a burden, it holds us back from things - sometimes things it ought to hold us back from (fear is not always a bad thing; sometimes it can be quite healthy!) but sometimes it keeps us from what God really wants us to have... God's word also says that "perfect love casts out fear." Well. The only one who has ever loved perfectly in this life is Jesus. So I take that to mean that Jesus will cast out my fear, the way He cast out demons from those who needed to be rid of them...

Even when "yoked" to someone in marriage - as Christ-followers, we are ultimately bearing His yoke... and it *seems* to me, tho I cannot speak from experience, that if both partners are seriously seeking to live after God's own heart, that it really will feel light, for all the seriousness that will need to (and should) go into putting it on... I suspect, Tara, that if and when God does tell you it's time for that, it will be in the company of an amazing godly man who will not only pull his own weight, but will actually (to keep the metaphor) be the lead ox... every team of oxen has a leader. I believe - and will pray - that God will send you a strong one, with whom you will find serving God a deep delight. I know you already love HIM - and I believe that God will give you the courage you need when the time is right to risk - in spite of the fear - loving someone else. I forget where it is - but somewhere in the Word it says something about entrusting yourself to the one who judges justly... Entrust your heart to Jesus, Tara, and trust Him to judge the heart of any man on your behalf - He'll tell you when it's right.

And please know that I'm so preaching to the choir right now. :P and very aware that this is advice coming from a little sister to you. so feel free to tell me i'm a punk and to shut up. :)

I love you, my dear sweet sister - and I am so inspired by you. Keep writing. I don't comment often, but I'm reading. :) Thank you for sharing your heart so honestly.

Happy said...

Faintnot - thank you, as always, for your incredibly kind words. You are one of my favorite people, and I have been so privileged to be some small part of your life over the past several months... Your passion for Christ and His Bride challenges me to fan my own into brighter flame. Blessings to you, my friend. :)

Rob - thanks for the book recommendation... I shall add it to the list of wishful expenditures being currently superseded by the "check engine" light on my dashboard... do you suppose that means i should get my engine checked? lol... :P

peace - and thanks, everyone, for this great conversation. i am learning so much from you - as i always do.