Dear B.A., don't panic. Although life in the Historical House is not prelapsarian Eden, it's not Golgotha either. It's more like King Solomon's court, actually, only without any concubines and with only one wife, who is me. Sadly, there are no slaves, either, so if Solomon doesn't do it, the wife has to take out the bottles.
I am thinking about this today because of at least two comments in the combox in response to my post-Valentine's Day post on love. I was very sanguine and cheerful about love, possibly even more so than St. Paul. Love, said St. Paul, is kind. Love, says Seraphic, giggles like a baby when you turn him upside down and tickle his tum.
"Hey!" said the Millennials, wisely suspicious of the hippy-like pronouncements of their elders. "What about sacrifice, self-denial and suffering?"
"Holy cow," say I to St. Paul. "Do you think they're getting this from Christopher West?"
"Couldn't say," says St. Paul. "It's so hard to keep up. I think I have Dawn Eden's M.A. thesis around here somewhere..."
"Someone said something about self-gift," I say.
"That's JP2," says St. Paul. "I'm sure of that one."
"I think he sort of got that off me."
At any rate, the mention of self-gift reminds me of my pal Boston Girl (see My Book) who went to a Theology of the Body talk in a tight shirt and listened to all the earnestness about self-gift and said that she didn't want a man to think he was giving himself like a birthday present. She wanted a man who would seize her like a cobra and wrest her unto himself. There's gotta be some take with the give, said Boston Girl, and various woman looked at her in horror. In the end (age thirty-something) she married a man who seized her, not like a cobra, but like a stealthy engineer who asked if she would mind sharing her table. Perhaps, cobra-like, he dropped down from the rafters of the cafe. Now there's an image.
Where was I?
The essence of the Christian life is joy, which is why we tell stories of the martyrs in which they don't actually feel their suffering, and even tell jokes, like St. Thomas More when he told the headsman not to cut his beard off, "for it has done no treason." And therefore the essence of Christian marriage is also joy. This joy is specific to the relationship between the couple, as in "Yay! I'm getting married to Charlie!", and not to the state itself, as in "Yay! I'm finally getting married at all!"
This is not to say that Charlie will not sometimes be a pain in the neck. However, the fabulousness of Charlie should outweigh his pain-in-the-neckness by 10:1 the week before you marry, and perhaps 7:1 the year after. If Charlie is the average NCB, he will shower you with attention and costly little gifts and possibly even poems before you are married, and then mostly stop. The lover deserts us, the husband remains, as the Irish poem so wittily observes. And you, who told yourself you would never, ever, ever nag your husband, think of the best and most cheerful and least toxic way of saying "Please take out the bottles; it has been three months."
To my mind, that is where the sacrifice, the self-denial and the suffering come in. The sacrifice is that you say good-bye to Charlie the Lover to wrestle with Charlie the Husband. The self-denial is that you make yourself confront Charlie in the best, healthiest way possible, instead of shrieking or going passive-aggressive, either of which you might generally prefer. The suffering arises from the fact that Charlie, just like you, is a sinful, mortal person who makes mistakes, loses his temper, sulks, gets ill and will die.
It is not healthy to look for ways in which to sacrifice yourself, deny yourself and suffer. It is much better just to sacrifice, self-deny and suffer when the circumstances God sends you demand it. And I know what I'm talking about, poppets, since I went into a form of marriage feeling that--hooray, hooray--I had at last slain my unruly desires and hopes and was making a great sacrifice so that somebody else would be happy. Imagine my chagrin when just marrying the somebody else was not enough for him.
I was only 25, and this is why, poppets, I scream and hit the ceiling when beautiful young things like you ask about sacrifice, self-denial and suffering. Fear not: you'll get them. You don't have to look for them. Don't. Romantic erotic love ends either in heartbreak or death. But it should begin in, and be sustained by, joy.
St. Paul said that wives should obey their husbands, and that husbands should love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave up His life for her. I don't see any other allusion to crucifixion in that bit of Ephesians, but my take is that if there is any crucifixion going on, it's the husbands opting for crucifixion, not the wives, and not at the hands of the wives, either. Marriage is not supposed to be a crucifixion; I suspect it is a school for patience, which is an entirely different thing. Now giving birth--I suspect giving birth is like the Crucifixion: it hurts horribly, it can kill you, it brings forth life, and the crucified one believes it was all worth it.
There are two principal ways of approaching marriage: there is the Just Get On With It school, popular in South Asia, in which a young woman and young man who like each other okay get married, have children, and conduct their lives according the ancient rhythms of extended family. (The "like each other okay" bit is a more middle- and upper-class thing, I understand, and definitely not universal.) Then there is the Love Marriage school. I understand only the Love Marriage school, and that is why I think everyone Western who feels vaguely called to marriage should hold out for it. Better old ovaries where love is, than healthy young ovaries where hatred abounds (Not exactly Proverbs 15:17).
"Don't forget to tell them I thought being Single was better," says St. Paul.
St. Paul thought remaining Single was better.
"Although of course it's better to marry than to burn," adds St. Paul.
"Oh dear," I say. "Isn't that a bit negative?"
"Hel-lo," says St. Paul. "We're talking to the Millennials here."
It's better to marry than to turn into a skeeze.