It’s relatively easy to entertain and please a woman over a cup of coffee on a relaxing Friday afternoon. It’s much more difficult to do it consistently for fifteen years. The former takes a sacrifice of $2.05 and your best stories in exchange for a beautiful smile. The latter takes the willingness to encounter your worst self—the part of your way-of-being that causes her pain—and to expose it regularly to examination. For the latter we get not just beautiful smiles, but also (sometimes) her most painful sacrifices, her body for children, friends, family, vocation, and dreams.
In my experience, women are much more inclined to self-giving sacrifice than men. But this is not an inexhaustible resource; women must be loved. The greatest mistakes men regularly make are taking this devotion for granted as ego-building (she loves me vs. she loves me) and failing to cultivate the glory of the the woman’s self-giving love by committed loving in return. My worst self is a loveless, self-consumed egoist.
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”
“Meanwhile he was promoted as a courtier. In 1367 he was attending on the King himself and was referred to as Dilectus Valenttus noster . . . our dearly beloved Valet. It was towards that year that Chaucer married. His bride was Philippa de Roet, a lady in attendance on the Queen, and sister to Catherine Swynford, third wife of John Gaunt.
Chaucer wrote no poems to her, so far as is known. It was not in fashion to write poems to one’s wife. It could even be debated whether love could ever have a place in marriage; the typical situation in which a ‘courtly lover’ found himself was to be plunged in a secret, and illicit, and even adulterous passion for some seemingly unattainable and pedestalized lady. Before his mistress a lover was prostrate, wounded to death by her beauty, killed by her disdain, obliged to an illimitable constancy, marked out for her dangerous service. A smile from her was in theory a gracious reward for twenty years of painful adoration. All Chaucer’s heroes regard love when it comes upon them as the most beautiful of absolute disasters, an agony as much desired as bemoaned, ever to be pursued, never to be betrayed.”
This was not in theory the attitude of a husband to his wife. It was for a husband to command, for a wife to obey.
“Introduction,” by Neville Coghill, in The Canterbury Tales, by Chaucer
I must say, this short paragraph explains a good bit about what is going on in Sir Gawain and with Dante and Beatrice.
I’ve never seen anything like this:
I asked the elders to consider this leave because of a growing sense that my soul, my marriage, my family, and my ministry-pattern need a reality check from the Holy Spirit. On the one hand, I love my Lord, my wife, my five children and their families first and foremost; and I love my work of preaching and writing and leading Bethlehem. I hope the Lord gives me at least five more years as the pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem.
But on the other hand, I see several species of pride in my soul that, while they may not rise to the level of disqualifying me for ministry, grieve me, and have taken a toll on my relationship with Noël and others who are dear to me. How do I apologize to you, not for a specific deed, but for ongoing character flaws, and their effects on everybody? I’ll say it now, and no doubt will say it again, I’m sorry. Since I don’t have just one deed to point to, I simply ask for a spirit of forgiveness; and I give you as much assurance as I can that I am not making peace, but war, with my own sins.
Noël and I are rock solid in our commitment to each other, and there is no whiff of unfaithfulness on either side. But, as I told the elders, “rock solid” is not always an emotionally satisfying metaphor, especially to a woman. A rock is not the best image of a woman’s tender companion. In other words, the precious garden of my home needs tending. I want to say to Noël that she is precious to me in a way that, at this point in our 41-year pilgrimage, can be said best by stepping back for a season from virtually all public commitments.