Until Death Do Us Part

I’m sure it’s bizarre to begin dating—and be starting a marriage—with the thought of one’s impending death, but then again, I am a melancholic who grew up on Tim Burton movies. Sometimes we laugh about shark attacks or the imminent robotic takeover (which is actually no laughing matter). But both Jackie and I talk about death quite often, though, and I think we’ve been both blessed with the wisdom that we’re only temporarily here—Heaven is our real home.

I’ll be drawing heavily from Sheldon Vanauken’s memoir A Severe Mercy for this piece. I describe this book as “The Notebook on crack,” to my friends, but even that would be an understatement. I read it a few years back and it still packs a wallop upon re-reading.

The book chronicles Sheldon Vanauken’s courtship and marriage of Davy (Jean Davis) in the early 20th century, their Christian faith, and the tragedy that would befall them both. Without revealing any major spoilers (don’t hate me), death is a major theme in Vanauken’s book. But not just physical death—death to one’s selfish desires also receives extensive reflection by Vanauken. I had just finished reading the book when Jackie and I began dating a year ago and I convinced her to read it right away.

I won’t have Jackie forever. Maybe for one year, maybe for thirty, maybe for sixty. It’s hard to think about. We’ve had a few teary-eyed conversations when we talk about life without each other. However, in this time in-between on earth, I have to ask myself if am I leading her closer to Him, her Creator and Eternal Father to whom she’ll one day return, or am I content to lead her only to myself? I usually don’t like the answer.

Vanauken experienced conflict within himself as he saw Davy converting wholeheartedly to Christianity. They were both self-proclaimed “pagans” when they first came together, but after serious reflection and a friendship with C.S. Lewis (how cool would that be), Davy began accepting the Christian faith.

Vanauken didn’t like it. “What I wanted, emotionally if not intellectually, was the old Davy back,” writes Vanauken with utter honesty (p.139). He knew that Christ was now to be Davy’s first love, and Vanauken the second. Vanauken thus felt, like many men do, that he was in competition with God. “I should have attempted, with some success, to damage or lessen her commitment to God, not admitting of course, even to myself, that I was doing it,” Vanauken confesses, “But I think I should have failed. She was too far gone in God’s service” (p. 215). Vanauken himself eventually experienced conversion to Christianity after his own intellectual assent and friendship with Lewis (again, I’m jealous).

Many times Jackie has asked if I wanted to pray a rosary together or attend daily Mass. And many times I find myself reluctant or even disparaging. I’ve had a long day. I’m tired. Doesn’t God know we love him already? Didn’t we do a rosary yesterday? How quickly I forget to give due to the Lord of all creation who wrote this amazing love story in the first place.

Spiritual sloth can be a nasty bugger. It’s easy to take our loved ones for granted, until perhaps it’s too late. I recently asked a co-worker about his marriage, and he told me that, “The hardest part about marriage is daily remembering that God called you two together. You remember that…most of your problems go away.”

Marriage as a call…I’m not sure how many people enter into marriage seriously believing that God called them to each other, but I know this to be true in my case. With a call comes a mission. My mission is to love Jackie as Christ loved the Church (St. Paul, Ephesians 5), and that means unto death. Christ didn’t hold back. He gave until it hurt. He gave until it killed Him.

There is nothing pleasant about dying. It’s not pleasant to die to myself, to know that I have to be second and make sure she puts God before me. The human side of me often wants to be the center of her attention and watch another episode of Treehouse Masters instead of doing night prayer together (that show is awesome, by the way). Men especially are tempted to see God as a competitor who he’s fighting against for the affections of his woman; we believe that the Author of our freedom is somehow against our freedom. But this is a great lie. The greater that Jackie loves God, the greater she loves me, and vice versa. We don’t make idols of each other. We’re able to love each other rightly when we rightly “put first things first.”

I am only Jackie’s steward. My guardianship over her is temporary. She will officially be under my care in 40 days when her earthly father walks her down that aisle and entrusts her to me, but I’m painfully aware that one day I will have to hand her over to her Heavenly Father. How will I care for her from now until that day? How will I begin to lead her to Him? Fulton Sheen recounts the prayer given by a dying husband in the presence of his wife in Three to Get Married: “I give you [God] my life, give me the assurance to see her again, there where we shall lose ourselves in the immensity of your Love.”

I’m learning. I’m grateful for this time of engagement I’ve been given to make mistakes and learn from them, to learn to not hold on when I’m called to let go. To quote the prophet Gandalf, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that has been given to us.”

And when I find myself in a Tim Burton/melancholy mood, thinking about death taking the ones I love, I find peace in the words C.S. Lewis affectionately conveyed to Vanauken—“Christians NEVER say goodbye!”

-Bobby

  One thought on “Until Death Do Us Part

  1. July 2, 2013 at 6:53 am

    Another incredibly beautiful post! Thank you so much, Bobby, for your candid honesty…it only helps people realize what the heart of marriage is all about and how important it is to fix our eyes on Christ! The responsibility is both multiplied and magnified once you begin a family – can’t wait for you guys to begin that journey because you will be given a depth of knowledge and experience about Love beyond imagination once you hold in your arms the fruit of your love. God bless you and Jackie!

  2. July 2, 2013 at 10:37 am

    You need some pretty photos in your amazing blogs. :) No need to post.. just a comment.. :)

  3. John
    July 2, 2013 at 11:07 am

    Gee, how uplifting. So Marriage isn’t exactly two souls becoming one, but rather just loaning another human being for procreative and financial reasons until God takes them back, cant wait for that…….

  4. Joey Higgins
    July 2, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    John,

    One of the first rules of making successful arguments is to be charitable in your reading of your opponent. That means, taking the strongest argument that your opponent could have made with what they write/state and addressing that. This leads into another “one of the first rules”: don’t make logical fallacies. They aren’t logical (hence the fallacy part) and they make people like me gently remind you of that fact – and nobody likes the logic police.

    Bobby didn’t say that marriage wasn’t two souls becoming one – he was concentrating on another aspect – the true aspect of the nature of marriage; the, “till death do us part,” portion. Furthermore, Bobby said nothing of, “using,” or, “loaning,” but being a steward helping ones spouse get closer to God. That’s clearly a strawman argument as the intention of using the word “steward” has nothing to do with usury or loaning. A very cynical read could get to that point, but it’s not the intent of the original argument and is very weak; I would argue a completely invalid point.

    Now, if you could illustrate how you got to your points, I will gladly amend my statement, but I think that you will find when you try to hash out the point you were making, you will see that it is invalid.

    John, I believe that I have been in your shoes before (where you are coming from), and it does get better, if you let it.

  5. eliana
    July 2, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you for writing such an honest, beautiful post. In three days I will mark the one-year anniversary of my sweet husband’s passing. I had known him for almost 30 years, and we were married for almost 25 years. I struggled for a long time with the fact that our marriage ended with his death, and it took me a long time to understand the sacrament had been fulfilled. I could not continue to hold on when letting go was the best gift I could give him — so he could be fully with God now that his earthly life was done. He was always much better at putting “first things first” than I was — I don’t think I would have felt as loved if he hadn’t put God first. I am forever changed by loving him, and I move forward with the memory of his love, our life together and my shattered heart. I continue to believe in a loving and merciful God, and a plan that works for our good even when we don’t understand. I take the gift of faith, my husband’s loving example, and the grace of a God who loves me beyond understanding into the next chapter of my life. Towards a future more hopeful than I have today.

    Your post brought me such comfort, and I wish you much joy in your marriage.

  6. Brian Doyle
    July 3, 2013 at 12:15 am

    This is wonderful, Bobby. I’ve enjoyed reading all your posts, and I look forward to meeting you sometime soon. As I posted on my page, the date of my dear Christys passing is just a few days from now. This post shows that you have wisdom beyond your years, and that you and Jackie are wise to envision all aspects of the wonderful life you are having and will have together, including its eventual conclusion. Christy and I lived every day as if it might be our last. Alcoholism almost killed us, and recovery from same caused us to meet each other. But we knew each day was precious, especially when Christy’s constant health struggles led to a Lupus diagnosis. We realized that we were each married to Christ, and through Him we were married to each other. Therefore, we never expected each other to fulfill needs only Jesus could satisfy. Now I look forward to our next meeting in Glory. I have to admit that I find the answer that Jesus gave to the Sadducees in Matthew 22:23-30 a bit discouraging, the conclusion of which was, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” My ardent desire is to be married to my dear wife for eternity. But I think that when I arrive Home, I’ll be happy with how Jesus has set it up, no matter what the outcome. Thanks for sharing your beautiful heart. You are both in my prayers daily. What an exciting time for you both. Much joy, love, and peace to you and Special Ops Jackie, one of God’s mighty warriors.

  7. July 11, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Reblogged this on ALYSSA&KATIE and commented:
    Very inspiring.

  8. July 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    I just read this post – I love your description of “A Severe Mercy” as “The Notebook” on crack. Awesome. I have started giving this book away to engaged friends!

    God bless you both in your beautiful journey.

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