WiW: The Happiness of Love

The Week in Words

“…What you tell me about in the nights. That is not love. That is only passion and lust. When you love you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve.”

“I don’t love.”

“You will. I know you will. Then you will be happy.”

“I’m happy. I’ve always been happy.”

“It is another thing. You cannot know about it unless you have it.”

~Ernest Hemingway A Farewell to Arms

The young priest explains his conception of love and of love’s benefits to the American soldier. The soldier proclaims that he doesn’t need such love. “I’ve always been happy.”

The priest counters: You only think you’ve been happy because you’ve never known the true happiness of love.

The soldier asks if he can find such love with a woman.

The priest answers that he does not know. The priest has never loved a woman. He has only loved God.

The priest does not know. But I do.

No, dear soldier. You cannot find such love with a woman–just as I cannot find such love with a man.

You cannot find a love that will never disappoint. You cannot find a love that will always satisfy. You cannot find a love that promises forever happiness in any mere man or woman.

You can only find such love in Christ.

“For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

~Romans 5:7-11

It is a whole new type of happiness, a rejoicing unknown by those who have only known the pleasures of this earth or the love of a mere human. It is a love that served us while we were enemies, a love that incites in us adoration.

You will be happy when you love Him. Because when you love Him, it will be be because He first loved you. You will be happy when you love Him, because then you will know His love.

Then and only then will you know the happiness of love. “It is another thing. You cannot know about it unless you have it.”

Collect more quotes from throughout the week with Barbara H’s meme “The Week in Words”.

I Bite My Tongue

Every day, I bite my tongue–er, still my fingers on the keyboard.

I desperately want to make snarky comments, to express my frustration, to let the world know how I feel.

They’re thinly veiled criticisms, one-liners that would be sure to meet their mark.

They refer to personal habits, individual quirks, things that drive me absolutely nuts.

Things about people I love.

Things that would hurt them deeply were I to speak.

Every day, I bite my tongue.

But not because I love them.

I bite my tongue because I love me.

I don’t want to disturb the peace, to have to actually deal with the issues–the issues that I know aren’t really that important but which bug me anyway.

I don’t want to have to undo the hurt I’ve caused.

Mostly, I don’t want people to see the real, ugly me.

If I said those words out loud, you’d all know how mean, how nasty, how spiteful I can actually be. And I don’t want you to know.

I want you to see me through rose-colored glasses. I want you to perceive me as super-spiritual, practically-perfect. Sure, I’ll share my struggles, so long as they’re big existential struggles (and I have plenty of those to keep blog space filled, it seems.) But I don’t want you to see my pettiness, my unlovingness.

I bite my tongue.

I do the right thing.

But not because I love.

Because I care what people think.

If you loveā€¦

“How did one find joy? In books it seemed to be found in love–a great love….So, if he wanted the heights of joy, he must have, if he could find it, a great love. But in the books again, great joy through love seemed always to go hand in hand with frightful pain. Still, he thought, looking out across the meadow, still, the joy would be worth the pain–if, indeed, they went together. If there were a choice–and he suspected there was–a choice between, on the one hand, the heights and the depths and, on the other hand, some sort of safe, cautious middle way, he for one, here and now chose the heights and the depths.
~Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

Love is intrinsically dangerous. It is a giving away of one’s heart that opens one up to the ecstasies of love’s return and the torments of love’s rejection. Some might carefully wall off their hearts, seal them against love, in order to preserve the cautious middle way with neither heights nor depths.

I choose to love.

“The best way to confront the traditional view of the impassibility of God, however, is to ask ‘what meaning there can be in a love which is not costly to the lover.’ If love is self-giving, then it is inevitably vulnerable to pain, since it exposes itself to the possibility of rejection and insult.
~John Stott, The Cross of Christ

But love is not merely the initial giving away of one’s self, the captivation with another, the heady emotion of shared joy. Love is the continued giving, even when joy seems unlikely, even impossible.

Love looks like the cross.

Love is giving of oneself when it provides no rapture, only pain. Love is choosing the pain; if by the pain, the beloved’s joy can somehow be increased.

I have been offered a choice.

If you love… you rejoice when the beloved rejoices, even if his rejoicing is your sorrow.

If you love… you pray for the beloved’s peace, even if his peace means your turmoil.

If you love… you must be willing to die.

This is not romantic, butterflies-in-the-stomach, shivers-up-and-down-my-spine love. This is cross-love, God’s love. And I pray one day, I should truly learn to love this way.

The Journey to Contentment

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For most of us, contentment in singleness doesn’t come in one fell swoop. It’s a journey, a battle, a day to day (or at least week to week or year to year) struggle.

My journey towards contentment in singleness began the summer before my junior year of high school. Marriage was on my mind–and had been for years–but this year, I was pursuing it with unparalleled abandon. No, I wasn’t tossing myself recklessly into the world of dating. By then, I’d officially(?) “kissed dating goodbye” (a sentiment I’ve since rethought a bit, more on that later.) No, instead, I was eagerly preparing myself for the life of a homemaker, taking over the family menu planning and gardening, trying to acquire as much “wifely” knowledge and skill as I could, determined to be ready as soon as God gave the okay.

My sister went to China that year, and when Mom and Dad and I picked her up at the airport, she started telling us about what God had done in her heart there. She told of how God had asked her if she’d be willing to give up her lifelong dream of being a missionary in Africa to serve the children of China. And as Anna told her story, I heard God’s voice–there in the back of my parents’ station wagon. “Rebekah, will you give Me your husband?”

I knew it was Him, there could be no doubt–and in a knee-jerk reaction, I answered Him: “Sure, You can have my husband–as long as You don’t take him.”

You see, I’d read the stories–all those amazing stories of women who’d learned contentment in singleness only to have God “surprise” them with a spouse. That I could take.

But that wasn’t what God was asking. He asked me again. “Rebekah, will you give Me your husband?”

I wrestled with God’s question for months. I begged Him to rescind the question. I tried to bargain with Him. He would have none of it. He only repeated His question: “Rebekah, will you give Me your husband?”

And, after months of wrestling, I made my decision. I didn’t want to give God my husband, but I chose to do it.

I willed to give God my husband.

Do you believe in fairy tales?

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A little girl puts on her dress up clothes and dreams of fairy tales come true. She’s Cinderella dancing at the ball with her Prince. She’s Rapunzel letting down her golden locks. She’s Sleeping Beauty awakened at last by true love’s kiss.

A pre-teen tosses her head at the immaturity of the boys around her. She’s old enough now to see that there are many more frogs than princes–but she dreams of her own knight in shining armor.

A high school senior still dreams of fairy tales, but she knows they’re only a dream. Life doesn’t even come close. She’s been groped by a hundred frogs, propositioned by a dozen clods. But nobody’s coming to whisk her from this world. She escapes into romance novels and chick flicks.

A thirty year old woman scorns her childish fantasies. Fairy tales. Figments of her imagination. They’re not worth believing in. There are no fairies for her, just like there’s been no Prince Charming. She’s done with fairy tales. She’ll make her own way now.

From our earliest childhood, fairy tales awakened in us universal longings. The longing for love, the longing for pursuit, the longing for rescue from the world that’s turned against us. At least, those are some of the longings fairy tales awake in me. But more than just awakening longings, fairy tales promised the fulfillment of those longing. A prince who loves me, who pursues me, who rescues me from the world turned against me.

Dreaming of this prince, we wait for our fairy tale–only to be disappointed when we find that life–well, life isn’t a fairy tale.

Disillusioned adults decry the fairy tale. It only sets girls up for disappointment. They replace the tales with feminist fables, stories of daring girls who need no man. But little girls still love their fairy tales.

Fairy tales are found in every culture–some of them surprisingly similar. Think of the thousands of variations on Cinderella you’ve heard or seen, in stories and movies. Fairy tales, despite seeming far from reality, are somehow an integral part of the human psyche.

Why do you think this is? Why do we continue to fall for the fairy tale when we see it so rarely in “real life”?

I’ve got a guess. I think we love fairy tales because, ultimately, fairy tales tell the story of God’s pursuit of us. The problem comes, the disillusionment begins when we seek the fulfillment of our fairy tales in man.

You’re skeptical. I can see it. Well, let me tell you a story–a Cinderella story if you will.

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was enslaved inside her own father’s house. When the king issued an invitation to a ball He was holding for His Son, the girl wanted to go. But even her best efforts to produce a suitable ball gown resulted only in filthy rags. The girl cried in frustration–but even while she was still crying, who should appear but God-the-Father, who clothed her in a beautiful garment and presented her to His Son.

Too far-fetched, you say?

Well, how about the one about the innocent girl who disobeyed her guardians’ instructions and took an apple from a stranger? It looked good, but when the girl bit into the apple, it only brought her death. For years, she lay there, under the shadow of death, sleeping under the apple’s curse. But then one day, a prince came and saw the girl and loved her. He kissed her, freeing her from the curse.

Still sounds a bit outlandish?

What about the one where a beautiful maiden is locked in a high tower at the beck and call of a wicked witch. The witch uses the maiden’s beauty against her. But a Prince sees the beautiful maiden and falls in love with her. He purposes to destroy the witch and to release the maiden. At first, it appears that He had lost His quest, that the witch had gained power over Him–but in the end, He defeats the witch and takes the maiden to be His bride.

Do you begin to see the picture–the universal themes found in fairy tales? They echo a far greater tale, a tale that is no fairy tale. A God-tale.

For we, all of humanity, you and I, had an enemy who took us into slavery, partly by cunning, partly by our own foolishness and rebellion. Since that day, we have been enslaved, as dead, trapped under a curse, helpless to deliver ourselves. Yet, at just the right time, a Prince, the Son of the King, saw us and desired us. He saw beauty in us, despite our fallen state–and He resolved to break the curse.

At great cost to Himself, the Prince took on our captor, came face to face with our curse, and delivered us from slavery and certain death. Having done so, He betrothed us to Himself–and now eagerly awaits the consummation of that marriage.

I believe in fairy tales because I’m living one. My Prince has found me, has freed me, has betrothed Himself to me. I’m living a fairy tale–a fairy tale halfway between here and heaven.

Litany for Life

Every finished venture, and every new adventure begun, calls for a time of reflection, of preparation, of prioritization. As I have just completed my internship and am returning to graduate school, this time for my first semester as a teaching assistant, I have been reflecting, preparing, setting things in order.

I have set a few SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Relevant, Timely) goals for myself–some more frivolous than others. But beyond that, I have spent some time reflecting and praying over my next step, using a little tool the Navigators sent me at the beginning of the year. The tool is called “PREP for a New Year” and is intended as a sort of New Year’s reflection. The “PREP” stands for Praise, Reflect, Evaluate, and Pray and Plan.

When I got to the “Pray and Plan” segment, I found myself crying out to God that this year would be different than the last. My internship experience was great, but I felt like it was one of the few things that was great about the past 7 months. I experienced great professional and educational growth–but my growth in other areas has been stunted or non-existant.

When I look at what I REALLY want in life, apart from my professional goals, very little has been accomplished in 2009. I have not grown in my relationship with God like I would have liked. I have not grown in relationship with the body as I would have liked. I have not lived with the lost as I would have liked.

My life vision is to glorify God by growing in daily relationship with Him, being conformed to the image of Christ; by growing in relationship with others, taking time to live life together; and by growing personally, always learning and practicing what I’ve learned. Yet little I’ve done in the past seven months has moved me towards that vision.

So I was crying out, asking God for priorities for this upcoming semester, begging that it be more than the previous semester–and God directed me to three simple words. Listen. Love. Learn.

With a hundred things jockeying for my time, my attention, my heart. Listen. Love. Learn. Listen for the voice of God; Love Him with all that is within me; Learn to do His will.

Faced with a deep discontent with the status of my friendships. Listen. Love. Learn. Listen to what others are saying; Love them as Christ loved me; Learn how to serve them.

It goes against my instincts, against my fallen nature. I prefer to talk, to be proud, to teach. But God would have me Listen, Love, Learn.

It would have been easier if God had given me good SMART objectives (or at least something I could DO). You know, thing like:

  • Read a chapter of the Bible every day at least six days a week
  • Spend at least 15 minutes in prayer daily
  • Limit blog-reading to one half an hour per day
  • Don’t listen to secular music
  • No “R” rated movies
  • Memorize a verse a day

Those are all nice, good, EXTERNAL things. Things that only change what I do, but not who I am. They are the easy changes to make, the legalistic changes that can let me feel good about what a great Christian I am.

But God did not give me rules to follow. He did not tell me to do these five steps daily and everything will be just fine. He did not tell me to give up these five items and I’ll be a better Christian.

Instead, He gave me a litany to live each moment of my life by. Listen. Love. Learn.

Lord, may I keep Your word ever before me as I begin the next small chapter in this adventure You are taking me on. Help me to ever be mindful to listen, to love, and to learn.