It was there, in the grocery store, standing half way down the aisle in front of several hundred jars of peanut butter, that I realized something profound about marriage.
Despite being a lifelong fan of crunchy peanut butter, I found myself reaching for a large jar marked “smooth and creamy”. Realizing what I was doing, I hesitated for a moment, and then placed the jar of smooth paste into my cart and stood a while. Considering.
Considering how it was that despite having said tender and heartfelt “I do’s” at our wedding just a few months earlier, that this – THIS – moment was a true indication that we were learning the slow process of love-in-action. We had promised to yield, to learn, to put the other first: words which sounded lofty and romantic and which almost certainly required a string quartet soundtrack for extra poignance.
But it was here in the peanut butter aisle, with a garbled Cindy Lauper soundtrack playing overhead, choosing the peanut butter he liked rather than the one I liked that something shifted in my understanding. Not just about marriage, but about the mystery which marriage represents.
For love and obedience are not dissociated things, where the former is about commitment and passion, and the latter a formal set of obligations. Rather, love means learning to delight in pleasing our beloved and doing what they want. The wedding day vows are a promise to begin and continue the life-long habit of learning about our loved ones: learning how they think, what makes them happy, what makes them sad. True love requires more than feeling, it requires knowledge. A skilled lover knows. A skilled lover knows what delights their beloved, and they show their love by putting that knowledge into practice.
Standing in the peanut butter aisle, I felt a great many things: efficient, productive, domestic even. But I didn’t feel romantic or lovey-dovey. And yet: putting a jar of smooth peanut butter into my cart made me realize that we show love when we learn the habits of pleasing our loved ones, and we do so willingly.
We love with songs and with candles and with date nights. But we also love with peanut butter sandwiches. We love by watching a show we probably wouldn’t have chosen to watch on our own – just because it pleases our beloved. We love by learning just where they like their back scratched, or by washing the kitchen knives by hand even though it seems crazy to us – and yet it matters to our beloved that it is done that way.
And so it is that marriage is a classroom in which we learn the mysteries of loving God. “If you love me, you will obey my commands,” said Jesus. The words obey and commands sit so uncomfortably with our understandings of intimacy. “If you loved me, you wouldn’t tell me what to do,” I think feistily, “and you wouldn’t demand I obey, either.”
Marriage has gentled my feistiness, though. For there, in the peanut butter aisle, I learned that love was not so much about blind obedience as a yielding to the preferences of our beloveds. If I love him, I show it in the choices I make in my grocery shopping, in the way I keep our home, in the way I speak about him. And so too, if I belong to Jesus, if I love him, I will show it in the way I make decisions: mindful of what delights him, forfeiting my own preferences.
And so it is that marriage teaches us the wild way of loving, of knowing, of yielding, of delighting to do what delights the one who loves us.
Of course, he would love me no less if I bought the one I prefer. His love is not conditional like that.
It is a profound mystery – and of course, I’m not just talking about marriage.
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