The radio and television host Larry King was asked in an interview about his marriages. He has been married eight times to seven different women. So he must be an expert, right?
King answered, “Questions about my marriages and divorces always take me to the same place. I once asked Stephen Hawking, the smartest guy in the world, what he didn’t understand. He said, ‘Women.’ If the smartest guy in the world couldn’t understand them, what do you expect from me?”
Then King said, “The three greatest words in the English language are not: ‘I love you.’ That’s second. The first are: ‘Leave me alone.’”
No wonder he’s been married eight times. Larry King didn’t need wives. He needed tropical fish. He needed something pretty that didn’t talk back, didn’t demand his attention.
One doesn’t need to be the smartest guy in the world to understand that a wife needs to trust her husband’s love. She needs to know that he would give his life for her. That makes us think of giving up one’s seat on the lifeboat or giving away the last sip of water in the canteen while lost in the desert. But instead of sharks and deserts, we’d do better to think of giving up one’s preferred way of doing things, or even of giving up the remote control. People rarely go from giving up nothing to giving up everything. They start by giving up their time, their attention, their diversions. A husband who won’t sacrifice a diversion for his wife certainly won’t sacrifice himself.
The kind of love a wife needs looks remarkably like the kind Jesus gave, as St. Paul described it. There’s good reason for that: Jesus knew how to help people learn to love. This is what so many people don’t understand. The kind of marriage the Bible suggests is possible – rich, extravagantly loving, daringly vulnerable – is not just the result of two compatible personalities finding one another; it is a religious experience.
The beautiful marriage the Bible describes is never just between two people; it always involves three. A braid of hair provides an analogy. To look at it, one would think there are only two strands wrapped around each other, but two strands won’t hold together; there must be at least three.
In the beautiful marriage the Bible pictures, one first sees a husband and a wife wrapped around each other. But between them there is always a third person present, tying them together. He lives within the marriage, and the marriage is about him, which is why, near the heart of the Bible’s longest passage on spiritual life in marriage, the apostle unexpectedly says, “but I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
St. Paul urges husbands to be like Christ and give up their lives for their wives. He understood that there is no love without sacrifice. Many husbands are like the guy who says he would die for his wife and means it: he’d wrestle a shark for her, give his life in one great sacrifice. He’s ready to die for her but not to live for her. He would give her everything, he just won’t give her anything that requires day by day sacrifices.
But that is precisely what sacrifice looks like in marriage. It looks like going to the family reunion rather than having the guys over to watch the hockey finals. It looks like doing dishes rather than sitting in front of the TV. It looks like listening rather than tuning out. These are not gigantic sacrifices. They are little things; daily things. But that is what real love looks like in daily life.
Jesus was up front about all this: he told his followers they would lose their lives but, in that loss, would find their true selves. What is lost, usually slowly and incrementally, is selfishness, which must be lost to make possible the experience of joy. Marriage provides an extended opportunity to practice being, in St. Paul’s vivid expression, “a living sacrifice.” Marriage is a school – one of many, but surely one of the best – in which people can learn to live and love the Jesus way.
First published by Gatehouse Media, 2/16/2019