Now, everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner til death…. As Chesterton pointed out, those who are in love have a natural inclination to bind themselves by promises…. And of course, the promise, made when I am in love and because I am in love, to be true to the beloved as long as I live, commits me to being true even if I cease to be in love. –C. S. Lewis, “Christian Marriage” in his book Mere Christianity.
In the wedding vow, we promise to be true to our beloved “so long as we both shall live.”
But what we do not promise and probably could not keep even if we did is to always be “in love” with the other.
Say what? How’s that?
C. S. Lewis says, “A promise must be about things that I can do, about actions; no one can promise to go on feeling in a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.”
But shouldn’t we always be in love? Isn’t that the goal?
And what does that mean? How do we define that blissful state?
And how do we nurture the feelings of romantic love so that our honeymoon never ends?
These are questions worthy of hours of discussion between us and our beloved.
Lewis asks, facetiously, “What is the use of keeping two people together if they are no longer in love?” That question lies in back of our culture’s addiction to divorces and devotion to relationships-that-look-like-marriage-but-without-the-formalities. If we are no longer “in love,” the thinking goes, then we can put the relationship out of its misery.
Millions of people “put the relationship out of its misery” every year. And then, far too many find the misery continues, even after the relationship was aborted.
The ways of a husband and wife are mysterious, I give you that.
Lewis says “being in love is a good thing, but it’s not the best thing.” He says “it is a good feeling, but it’s still just a feeling.” And no feeling can ever be the equivalent of a higher reality.
Feelings come and go. Knowledge may last, achievements may endure, and principles may be eternal. But emotions are temporary and short-lived.
Feelings are good, no one questions that. People spend zillions of dollars every year to give themselves good feelings.
You just can’t depend on them. That’s the problem. There has to be something better, something greater, something more dependable.
The storybook ending goes “And they lived happily ever after!” Now, if this implies the couple continued in that blissful, exalted state of their first feelings of love over the next half-century, then to expect that is to believe something that never was, never could be, and in truth, is not desirable. Relationships grow; people change. And no one can live in that highly charged, emotionally excited fever pitch for years on end. The system would quickly burn out. So, the human heart (and soul and mind and body) does a good thing: it gears itself down for the long haul. It goes for endurance, for a marathon, and not for a quick sprint.
Two vows I can keep
In the marriage ceremony, I will make two promises to my bride: to always be true to her and to do loving things for her every day of my life.
–To be true to my bride means many things, among them these: I will honor her at all times, I will not betray her, I will not violate my vows of fidelity, I will not flirt with other women, and I will not become romantically involved with another.
–To do loving things to my wife means regardless of my feelings at any given time, I will do good deeds to her, I will bless her, I will pray for her, and I will give to her. These actions are prescribed in Luke 6:27ff. as the four most basic acts of love we do to anyone and everyone, even to our enemies. To my wife, certainly I will do these things and a thousand more.
Rescuing our lives from bondage to our emotions
People go from marriage to marriage, from relationships to relationships, in search of that “sleepless in seattle” matchup which, because it was made in heaven, is therefore, they think, guaranteed to be everything they could ever ask for or desire in a marriage. Then, when the bloom wears off and the dailiness of life settles in, they’re convinced this must not have been the match they wanted and they’re off. They tell Jerry Springer, “He doesn’t meet my need” or “She’s changed; she used to be so loving.” (Groan.)
The passage in Luke 6:27ff tells us to “do love.” That is, love is something we do. The feeling of love is wonderful, of course, but love is far more than an emotion.
If love were merely an emotion, the Lord is unreasonable in commanding it, since no one can turn his emotions on or off at will. We cannot make ourselves feel anger, fear, or love.
But love is far more than a feeling, but is an intense devotion to and caring for the other.
So, in the marriage ceremony, I can promise to always love her and be faithful to her by doing loving things for her.
What I cannot promise is never to have a headache or to always be hungry. (smiley-face goes here.)