She waves a wrinkled hand and retells stories from years gone by. When she and her husband reached retirement, she wanted to give herself to important things, like a street-corner truth-sharing, or volunteer work with orphans. But her plans changed when she got stuck caring for her ailing husband, who is eight years her senior. Well, "stuck" is how she felt, until it occurred to her that she wasn't being held back from ministry, this was her ministry—caring for her dance partner. So, care she has.
On the wall in their bedroom three pictures hang: one from their wedding, one from their twenty-fifth anniversary, and one from their fiftieth anniversary. The changes that fifty years wrought on their faces and bodies are dramatic. Now, it's been eight years since that last portrait.
The man she married was a handsome, capable man who took her on cruises to the Far East. The man she's married to today is voiceless and withered, staring up at pictures of cartoons above his bed, contained by a crib-like railing. When he needs her, he squeezes a small squeaky toy.
This is how they're celebrating Christmas: she stays within earshot of the squeak. This is how they're celebrating love.
They're greyer than 30 years ago, but the wide smiles and happy eyes remain. Tonight he's enthusiastically organizing games; she's managing multiple pots on the stove...and they both make it look so easy. She tells me that they had a family dinner in the afternoon; this evening's Christmas dinner is an "extra" meal. "Just" a meal for about fifteen people who don't have family around this Christmas. Just the way these two do life—they are given to hospitality.
The love I see between these two is demonstrates itself as like-mindedness. He asks for testimonies; she always has one to share. He leads the study; she contributes her insight. He invites a friend over; she makes her famous cake. He brings home the proverbial bacon; she graciously cares for his aging parents. They both glow when they talk about the good news. Their lives are one, split as by a semicolon: two related thoughts, flowing in the same direction, with the same idea in mind. Their love is evidenced by kind interaction and teamwork.
This is how they're celebrating Christmas; with a stirring spoon in one hand, straws for group games in the other. This is how they're celebrating love.
In the living room there are a dozen young adults playing games, laughing, and being extra-friendly. It's easy, when you're young and your skin is tight and your teeth are straight, to look for a love that is all jitters and woo-woo and lightening.
I don't have much to say about the youngsters, because they don't have much history yet. They're exploring. Giggling. Flirting a little. And probably giving no thought to the dining room, or the back room.
This is how the young are celebrating Christmas; smiles and nervous butterflies and glances. This is how they're celebrating love.
I leave the back bedroom with a certain heaviness, and this is why:
I don't think that kind of love is in me.
Living room love? Yes.
Dining room love? Maybe.
Back room love? No.
What young soul doesn't want the woo-woo of the living room? It's heady; it's fun. It's a gift of God when it's guided by wisdom and truth. But friend, it's the cotton candy version of more enduring love—it's good but you can't live on it.
A young person could even value of the agreeableness of the dining room. Cooking dinner, taking care of the inlaws, steadily performing our duties day-in and day-out. It's a bit boring, but it's the stuff of life: potbellies and three square meals. This dinner, that outing. Haircuts and hassles, cancer and curry. Sunrise, sunset. We can see the value in their faithfulness.
But the door between me and the back room is closed. There's something in me that doesn't want the reality-check of that stubbly jaw or rumpled pajamas,
...where the pictures on the wall show decline,
...where look on his face reminds me that
"death will soon disrobe us all",
...where I see a still-capable wife dying to other dreams.
No, I don't think that back room love is in me.
First of all, love is of God. I could never conjure it up myself. And this is my hope: He who loves is born of God and knows God. He can produce this love-fruit in me, if I abide in Him. This is a miracle of His grace. That back room love is not in me yet, but He can produce it in me.
Secondly, old, enduring love can only come from people who are old and enduring. I've often wondered at the wisdom of God in making pregnancy a nine-month period. It gives a couple time to adjust, to dream, to plan, to prepare for a new little life. Except for those tabloid-like tales of women who give birth unexpectedly, there's really no such thing as a pregnancy that is still a surprise by the time the baby arrives.
In the same way, God never calls us to be elderly before we have first been young, and then middle-aged. In this I see His wisdom, too. He gives us time to discover what love is, at all its stages. At my age, it's no wonder that back room love seems beyond me. My call is not to serve an old husband, but it is to build a good wisdom-foundation for enduring love. To mediate on what true love looks like. To follow godly older examples.
So that someday, that back room love will be in me, too.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another,
God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
—John, in 1 John 4:12
Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God;
and every one that loves is born of God, and knows God.
—John, in 1 John 4:7
"‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity:
this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.
It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run:
being in love was the explosion that started it."
being in love was the explosion that started it."
—C. S. Lewis on Chr!stian Marriage