when love is built on countless failures

Sometimes, when your love has endured through terrible things, you are amazed to find that you could ever bicker over something as trivial as pancakes.

But suddenly, there you are irrationally irritated, both of you. And off you go to the bedroom to “discuss” in loud whispers behind closed doors, leaving the kids in buttery, syrupy wonderment.

Soon a “you always” and a “you never” and a “you are” invade the conversation and someone just needs to end it, because it’s heading to absurdity, so when a boy knocks to ask about chores, you do. No resolution, just full stop.

But the mood is set. And so, she scrubs the shower with the guilty determination of Lady Macbeth, and he cuts down every offensive overgrown shock of grass, and the boys snap-to without complaint because none of them wants that directed at them, and it’s not til much later that you realize the why of it.

The why? She had too much coffee — maybe — before eating anything of substance, consumed by a story and a wish to see the world again. He started the day too early, to watch a soccer game with his boy who is spending a season on the sidelines, broken, and as much as they love to watch together it’s not the same as watching him, and disappointment permeates as his team loses just the very minute she is pouring the pancakes. And so, a simple, “Is this egg for me?” receives a sharp “I just made them. They’re not for anyone in particular.” And he wonders aloud at her rather than quietly conversing in vague metaphors.  Things must be sorted out, hashed out, resolved — now.

But the why remains dormant as the flurry of words takes on tone and expectation and below the flurry lies an unseen, unsaid ache.

These troublesome talking overs and unders and not hearing, knowing, loving perfectly, these are bits of rock and weed that surface no matter how many rocks, weeds you sift from your soil. No matter how well you till your garden, no matter how many rocks have been removed. Remnants of a curse. By the sweat of your brow. Two who are one and yet not — and at times it feels like the ground is opening between you.

But knocking has pulled you away from the abyss. And the work is gift. Here is something that can be made right. Soap scum is no mystery, grass does not ask to be understood.

And yet, there is romance. Even in a Saturday morning spat. Because your love has weathered so much more than pancakes and eggs. Rocks, weeds and thorns are momentary light afflictions, and you will laugh soon — later, over lunch — surprised how sometimes a game and a book can stir sensitive souls. And you know your longing for perfect understanding, perfect peace is merely deep desire to re-enter The Garden where she was once bone of your bones and flesh of your flesh, she, once so perfectly known he had no need for words.

We have laughter. And we have smart, sharp children who interrupt the absurd and are beautiful and daily reminders that our faults, our many grievous faults, can somehow be redeemed and blessed. And we know the silly, selfish spats will come again because we are not in The Garden. We are he and she in imperfection. And she drives the car til the tank is empty, and he breaks a sweat when it dips below half. And he likes to be there early, and she wishes people still determined time by the sun. She’ll snap, he’ll be too lenient, she’ll spend too much, he’ll punish the wrong kid, she’ll be needlessly strict because he suddenly seems to have no boundaries, she’ll swear, and he may even put a hole in the wall. Or she will.

And the truth, the romance, is that we are always learning to make allowance for each other’s faults…and it is glorious to overlook them. 

“No long-term marriage is made easily, and there have been times when I’ve been so angry or so hurt that I thought my love would never recover. And then, in the midst of near despair, something has happened beneath the surface. A bright little flashing fish of hope has flicked silver fins and the water is bright and suddenly I am returned to a state of love again — til next time. I’ve learned that there will always be a next time, and that I will submerge in darkness and misery, but that I won’t stay submerged. And each time something has been learned under the waters; something has been gained; and a new kind of love has grown. The best I can ask for is that this love, which has been built on countless failures, will continue to grow. I can say no more than that this is mystery, and gift, and that somehow or other, through grace, our failures can be redeemed and blessed.”

Madeleine L’Engle
The Irrational Season

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11

Make allowance for each other’s faults… Colossians 3:13a

the reluctant hostess: guest post at (in)courage

Excited to be featured on the incourage.me blog today.

I love to have guests, but I’m not much of an inviter.

Even when my heart is willing, acute self-consciousness creeps in and overwhelms my good intentions.

My nearsighted housekeeping, worn out furniture, fear of saying the wrong thing, and decidedly awkward inability to carry on a casual conversation stops me if I even have a minute to think about being a hostess.

I want to invite, I really do. I know how loved I feel when I’m invited. I watch friends do it with ease and grace and admire them for their ability to fold people into their lives.

But I’m not wired that way . . .

Read the rest of my post today on (in)courage.

idylls of the cat, or, a brief study of self-centeredness

Sometimes, I think that’s the thing. It’s a base instinct: If I don’t fight for my space, if I don’t yell loud enough and long enough, someone else is going to get what’s mine.

I am compelled to write about my cats. Because it’s been that sort of day . . . well, month.

This apparent allergy to spring has dragged on for weeks and weeks — through some of the most amazing April weather we’ve had in all the 12 years I’ve lived here. [Insert sad face w/tear.]

One of my co-workers pointed out to me that I am a lot better on rainy days. And it is, unfortunately, true.

I even prayed for rain on my birthday.

What California-girl-living-in-Washington-who’s-never-quite-gotten-used-to-the-gray/coldness-of-spring-here actually prays for rain on her birthday?!?

However, good has come from this season of sneezing:

1. The discovery of Oil of Oregano. Which is, in a word, magic.

2. I am less likely to impulsively consider and buy a field. [A personal goal since college. See Proverbs 31:16]

That last point is important because the decrepit mini-farm short-sale down the road has been calling my name for months, much to Dave’s dismay. Which could be why, in addition to allergies, we’re getting the FULL dose of country living these days, complete with septic and well issues. God could very well be on Dave’s side on this one.

I can’t complain, because at least we have water. AND we aren’t likely to get typhoid since we don’t actually grow food in our yard [read: drain field]. Which is a good thing.

So anyway, as we look for a new dwelling place, I am now hyper-aware of the side of country life about which Eva Gabor so disparagingly sang-spake. Sadly. Because I idyllize country life. Yes. I am aware that is not a word. But idyllic is. And that is what the country is to me: Wordsworth, daisies, sunshine, chickens, apple trees, cows someone-other-than-me takes care of, and drafty houses. And cats.

idyll

Ah yes, back to the cats.

So, I have been at home quite a lot more than usual (because of sick), and I have noticed that cats are particularly self-centered. 

All they do, all day long, when they are not taking 7 hour naps, is cry to be fed. Or cry to be let out. Or in. Actually, only one of them cries. The other just stares at me until I do what she wants. She’s powerful, that one.

Also, both of them like my side of the bed. Which is fine, because really, it’s another sort of idyllism (again, made up word, but oddly appropriate) . . .

I sit in bed and drink a cup of coffee and read early in the morning and a cat cozies up to my toes. Or to the book in my hands. Depending on his/her mood.

But the cats can’t be on the bed together. Or anywhere really.

They actually hate each other. Well, she hates him. Her own offspring. 

Yesterday, we had a moment I was sure would end in me losing copious amounts of blood. She jumped onto the bed precisely where he had settled quite a lot closer to my face than my feet . . .

Ah, well. We survived. But it was yet another example of their innate self-centeredness. They have not a thought for each other and not a thought for me.

I’m convinced they bite and devour each other when we are out.

Well, at least she does. He’s a big fluffy oaf of a cat. I don’t think he hates her at all. Or maybe he’s smarter than he looks? That mama cat can be an angry little thing. So protective of her territory.

Is she afraid the oaf-cat is going to take her place?

And him? Does he think if he stops crying for a second I might forget he wants out?

[Insert Dave comment: Why do we even have these cats?]

Sometimes, I think that’s the thing. It’s a base instinct: If I don’t fight for my space, if I don’t yell loud enough and long enough, someone else is going to get what’s mine.

But then, cats are allowed to be self-centered. It’s their job.

Mine is to do their bidding . . .

. . . and be mom and wife and daughter and sister and friend and . . .

To love and be loved.

To give space.

To not demand my own way.

To let God do the making sure I get what’s mine. (To be honest, I’m not even sure I really know what “mine” is.)

Because self-centered can’t coexist with genuine love.

* * * * *

Sometimes, there are reasons for self-centeredness.

Painful reasons.

The picture of love can be as idyllic as a country house or reading a book in bed with a cat.

But that is for another post.

Also, cats return your love by cuteness. And that is why we tolerate their selfishness.



IMG_20140508_073433_999PicsArt_1399555472231

 

 

of pride and pompousness, part one

maybe love does not boast means I don’t need to prove how much I deserve love

“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

* * * * *

The cat and I found a bit of sunshine this morning. I, to trim an overgrown bush, which is bent on blocking my porch swing view of the trampoline, she to watch me wear out my arms.

We have learned, the two of us, to bask in sun while it is sun. Already, the spotlight has made its way across our patch of woods and shade covers all but a sliver of the sparkling grass.

Perhaps I am avoiding the house. It is all at sixes and sevens — a phrase for which, out of curiosity, I have now had to consult the OED . . . or rather, the Wikipedia, as it appears there is an annual subscription rate of $295 for the Oxford English Dictionary.

And so, Wikipedia must suffice this morning for the meaning of the phrase, which is derived, roughly, from: a French dice game (6 & 7 being unlucky). Chaucer. Shakespeare. Gilbert & Sullivan. Which is pretty much the evolutionary path of all English words.

I suppose I am in an especially English mood this morning. Sipping tea because I’ve had far too much coffee. Imagining petticoats pant legs six inches deep in mud if I follow my flight of fancy down to the beach (which smells particularly of sulfur this morning). Wishing I had housemaids to right my messy house. Counting hours til I see my daughter in Whitworth University’s Pride and Prejudice. . . . and pondering one’s opinion of oneself

* * * * *

I wish I knew classical Greek. Really knew it. Lexicon skills only take you so far. Because I think there is a depth of poetry to the Love Chapter, and I am only skimming the surface.

Saul of the New Testament was a Jewish scholar. A Pharisee. Memorizer of the entire Torah. Expert in the Law of Moses. But God chose him, Luke says in the Acts of the Apostles. Chose Saul specifically to take the story of Jesus — whose followers he had persecuted to death — to the Greeks.

I read somewhere that the church at Corinth, to whom St. Paul wrote love is had become competitive. They bragged about their gifts and knowledge and enlightenedness. Exalting self — just like their city’s vain goddess, Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The worship of Aphrodite makes you realize why the Christ followers in Corinth needed a full, detailed explanation of love . . .

Which brings me back to Greek. St. Paul used a word here that most of us read in our Bibles as brag or boast. But this particular Greek word is used no where else in the New Testament, not even in any of St. Paul’s other epistles. It’s a word used by Greek philosophers and historians of gods and goddesses — translated into the English language (making the usual trek through Chaucer and Shakespeare) originally as vaunteth:

  1. a self display, employing rhetorical embellishments in extolling one’s self excessively

Vaunteth puts on a parade of self. 

In vaunt, I see the actions and words of the king of the humble brag — Mr. Collins (Pride & Prejudice), the pompous and stupid Mr. Eliot (Persuasion), the name-dropping Mrs. Elton (Emma), the preposterously selfish Fanny Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility), the vain and aristocratic Aunt Norris (Mansfield Park). Ridiculous, boastful caricatures.

I would like to leave boasting in an arrogant Aphrodite’s court and in the pages of Austen. I know vaunteth doesn’t belong in real life love.

Oh, but it’s there.

“Boasting is often a sign of my deep insecurity and need for others to validate me with their approval.”**

Maybe, sometimes, we pat ourselves on the back because no one else ever does. Maybe we were starved of praise by parents, teachers, coaches who didn’t want it to go to your head. Maybe we flaunt our accomplishments or beauty or talent or possessions because it’s the only way we’ve ever received attention. And maybe, sometimes, we’re entirely unaware that by inflating ourselves, we’ve eclipsed someone we love.

* * * * *

I’ve paraded myself with my own lips. More times than I care to confess . . .
Maybe love does not boast means you don’t need to prove how much you deserve love . . . because you are secure in the love of a God who loved even the formerly murderous St. Paul. You are loved because you are the beloved.

I think it’s lovely that don’t boast comes right after don’t envy. Love doesn’t try to make people jealous.

Sometimes, in this day of posting words everywhere, our boasts and milder “humble brags” are in our friends’ faces all the time. Things we used to keep to ourselves so quickly typed and out there . . . Sometimes, just asking ourselves why we are saying it stops the me parade.

Sometimes, though, we’re too sensitive, taking outbursts of joy as vaunting. I know I have. And I have to ask myself if I am envious because I’m competing, comparing gifts, discontent . . .

And I have to stop myself from getting up and taking a turn — my turn — about the room so that my figure may be seen to the best advantage.

* * * * *

** Dr. Ralph Wilson, Jesus Walk

22 ordinary kindnesses to keep a marriage going

Maybe it’s not the once a week, once a month, once a year date that glues a fractured marriage together.
Maybe it’s the every day . . .

22 years ago, we were 22 . . . and we got married on a day that only “exists” (as one of my boys says) every four years.

And we’ve done a lot of the shoulds of marriage wrong.

Like date night . . . we rarely did/do date night. We were put-the-kids to bed-at 7-so-we-can-enjoy-the-evening people — before they all became teenagers. And now, it seems everyone has something going on always, and the nights we aren’t going five different directions, we’re so tired that going to bed at 9:30 is far more appealing than dinner out. (We do have date days now, now that we both have Fridays off — which is awesome.)

But somehow, as of the non-existent February 29th, we’ve now been married half our lives . . .

So, maybe there are more important things than a regular date night to make it in marriage?

Maybe it’s not the once a week, once a month, once a year date that glues a fractured marriage together. Maybe it’s the every day. And there is nothing more every day – more ordinary – than kindness.

But kindness is a thing you have to practice, I think. Because it’s all about tone, about truth and sincerity . . . and timing. Especially when you’ve had bitterness, selfishness, anger, and resentment between you.

And sometimes, the practice looks a little rough. You make mistakes. You misunderstand.

Like with helping . . . there’s a “let me do that” that’s genuinely kind and there’s a “let me do that” that’s frustrated and snarky. And sometimes, a tone isn’t there at all but just a figment of our own anger. So we hear a gentle “Why don’t you let me do this” as “You’ve failed so miserably as a mother, it’s best if I take over.”

We’re still learning, too, that sometimes you need to let it pass and let it be. That not everything has to be corrected, confronted, discussed. That it’s wise to overlook an offense. To make allowance for each other’s faults. That sometimes, it’s just better to not say a word til a mood has passed.

And that sometimes, kindness is simply doing the unexpected from your heart, sincerely, expecting nothing in return. 

Lately, I’ve been noticing the little kindnesses that are mending us. I’ll give you just 22:

1. Cleaning up the cat’s hairball mess in the middle of the night so he doesn’t step in it when he gets up early to make the coffee before he takes the oldest boy to zero hour.

2. Getting up early to make the coffee fresh even though the pot has a timer.

3. Driving the oldest boy to zero hour this year so I can sleep longer, drink coffee longer, or write longer before the day begins.

4. Putting down the book to listen while he divides errands for the day, promising to at least get the baggies we’re out of if I can do nothing else.

5. Going to the store late at night on his way home because I forgot the sandwich bags for the third day in a row, and the boys are tired of wrapping their food in parchment paper and packing tape.

6. Leaving him alone while he works on his car, letting him mutter without asking for clarification or doubting his skills.

7. Noticing my tire — because he’s like that about cars — and changing his early morning alone-time plan to take my car to town and fix the tire before I am even out of bed.

8. Sharing his hashbrowns even though I should have ordered my own –because I actually kind of did want them more than a pancake — but I always order poorly, and we both know it.

9. Greeting him with a happy hello and a kiss when he gets home (in the middle of dinner making) no matter what I have in my hands, unless it’s a knife, and then — he has informed me — I should probably put it down.

10. Taking the boys to get pizza because I’m working on something creative and meals have completely skipped my mind.

11. Doing the dishes because the one who makes dinner shouldn’t also have to clean up.

12. Dropping everything to wash the dishes 15 minutes before he gets home because I let the boys skip chores and it makes us all feel less stressed when there is actual counter space on which to eat when the dining room table is covered in projects.

13. Making the phone call about the bill because he knows I hate phone calls — especially about bills.

14. Surprising him by being ready on time for once so we can all ride together to church.

15. Getting to know the mood cycle but not letting me know he knows.

16. Giving him the benefit of the doubt that he did not mean it that way.

17. Hugging me gently and telling me it’s okay and when I’m ready to talk, he’ll listen.

18. Holding my hand while we walk down the street (even though we are still awkward hand-holders after 22 years . . . but it’s our anniversary so we at least have to try).

19. Smiling patiently for the twenty-seventh time because this picture is really important to me.

20. Indulging my whim and making homemade ice-cream when it’s so, so much less work for him to just go buy it from the store.

21. Keeping my I told you so to myself (which has maybe never happened, but I think he’ll appreciate that I at least think about it).

22. Appreciating his efforts to think of me more than of himself, and letting him know I do by being generous with the thank yous.

Ephesians 4:31-32 * Proverbs 19:11 * Colossians 3:13

22nd Anniversary

Kindness is needed in every relationship. 

What ordinary kindnesses are you practicing?

when patience is a kind of suffering

I wonder whether there is anything that requires more patience than waiting for someone to become . . . “patience” seems inadequate for that sort of waiting . . .

Patience is a word we toss at small things.

Waiting for dinner, for traffic to move, for the phone call, for the slow walker, slow talker, slow thinker. . .

A commonplace patience. Spoken in just a minutes. Implying an end to the wait . . .

I wonder whether there is anything that requires more patience than waiting for someone to become . . . Patience seems inadequate for that sort of waiting. Sometimes, the old words are better.

Love suffers long . . .

Long-suffering*
a. to not lose heart, to persevere patiently and bravely in enduring misfortunes
b. to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others

This word? This word is a love story.

Long-suffering is a covenant. The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness . . . 

Long-suffering allows time. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity . . .

Long-suffering is generous mercy on the sinner begging forgiveness of foolish debts: Lord have patience with me and I will pay thee all . . .

Compassion, grace, mercy, forgiveness intertwined, woven through God’s long-suffering sort of love over and over and over through laws, through lifetimes, through generations, through priests, through kings, through prophets, through Jesus, through the pen of St. Paul: love suffers long.

This is God’s love. The love a parent has for a precious child. The love that waits an eternity for us to catch up. The long-suffering love that outlasts our foolishness.

Oh friend, this is a hard kind of love to do. 

I know.

I quantified waiting in days, weeks, months — not years, not lifetimes.

I measured forgiveness in chances.

I made threats, ultimatums, behavior checklists, demands.

I expected too much too soon . . . the perfect dad and husband should emerge from the years chained to addiction.

I didn’t want to wait for God to work His wonderful long-suffering ways. I wanted Dave to be the person he was supposed to be today.

God, you are too slow . . .

I don’t know when a Dave clean and sober for real finally became enough for me. When I realized this honesty was laying a strong foundation for an entirely new way to live.

Love is patient.

Maybe, then, patience is a prayer. A sacrifice. A letting go. Not my timing, but God’s.

Patient while layers of deception are peeled away.

Patient while demons are exposed and destroyed.

Patient while life is relearned.

Patience must be a forgiving grace. A grace that works both ways.

There came a time when Dave had to learn to be patient with me.

Patient while a tightly wound knot of pain is picked apart til undone.

Trust is not rebuilt overnight, even by the most earnest and true. Too many lies, too many promises, too many words, too many times, too many years.

Patient . . .

while I grilled mercilessly

while I ranted angrily

while I hurled wild, wounding accusations

while I hid

while I let go of defenses

while I healed in places addiction leaves ugly scars

while I learn how to deal with myself after so many years of blaming my faults on him.

Maybe that’s it — the key to patient love — realizing there might be a tiny bit of suffering long involved in being married to me.

* * * * *

Sometimes, no matter how imperfect I know I am, I forget my flaws.

But God is patient with the impatient.

His love suffers long, waiting for me, without a list of demands, without unreasonable expectations.

He rewrites in His own hand what I have smashed in anger.

He dispenses endless forgiveness when I’d rather pout on a hillside under a plant.

And His kindness leads me to repentance.

Just as it does with Dave.

* * * * * * * * * *

*Thayer’s Greek Lexicon

1 Corinthians 13:4
Exodus 34:6
Romans 2:4
Jonah 4:2
Matthew 18:26

when you don’t know what to do, try love

Determination only gets so far in the day in day out.
And romantic stubbornness turns cold.

“A friend of ours, Hugh Bishop of Mirfield, says in one of his books:
‘Love is not an emotion. It is a policy.’
Those words have often helped me when all my feelings were unlovely.”
— Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

There were other reasons I stayed through addiction:

  • Sheer stubbornness and pride. We were not going to fail.
  • I wasn’t going to let some future woman reap the benefit of my struggles. I suppose that’s jealousy.
  • If anyone was going to leave, it was going to be him. I would not be the bad guy.

Not exactly pure motives.

But determination only gets so far in the day in day out. And romantic stubbornness turns cold.

It’s in the hard places of weighing stay or go, of what’s best for me, best for the kids, of even what’s best for him, of what is faith and what is fear . . . of listening, hard . . .of straining to hear the voice of God more than anything, of pleading for the heavens to open and send down a Gabriel to say: Rise and take your children to California, stay there for two years until David gets his act together.

But answers were not delivered to me by angel, by fleece, by burning bush.

A decade ago, there wasn’t much out in the world to tell you what to do when you have a spouse who was a non-abusive, high-functioning, repentant-when-caught, migraine suffering, prescription drug addict . . . chronic pain complicates things.

I needed words.

We had made a sacred vow: for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, for better or worse, so help me God . . .

. . . I wonder how many nights I sat up late, unable to sleep, praying to God, begging Him to speak words to me. Just wanting to do the right thing. The thing that would make it all turn out for good.

But my responses to Dave were harsh and angry more often than not — justifiably, much of the time . . . But rage accomplished nothing. Except to produce more pain.

Now and then, there were good days. Arms around our children, reading stories, playing games, digging gardens. Soothed by routine, lulled by exhaustion. Encouraged to persevere just because four children (who were not completely oblivious to their mother’s broken heart) needed me to do so.

So, I turned to the only place where I knew I could find God’s voice.

And I found words . . . forgive, compassion, mercy, grace, restore . . .

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. — I John 4:11

This sort of love — a love that is not so propelled by what’s best for me — is not a thing that is do-able in our own strength . . . but it is the mark of Christ on our life. By this shall all men know that you are my disciples. (John 13:35)

* * * * *

I have never been very good at this love.

But in the end, I think it won. In spite of me, in spite of my failings. Because this love is a plan. Every word an action. Something to do: believe, hope, endure . . . And when I finally, mostly quit trying to fix Dave and began to at least really try to love him way God loves me, everything changed. And answers came. Hard ones. The leading out of bondage is not pleasant. And even when it begins, you don’t really know it’s begun because it began just that way in so many times past. You know only waiting, watching, praying. Minutes. Hours. Weeks. Months. Years.

And so, this love begins with a word for waiting . . .

Love is patient . . .
I Corinthians 13:4

* * * * *

a funny Valentine: love and fear and staying

If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

CS Lewis, The Four Loves

“What made you stay?” 

The answer is so simple and yet so complex it would take time to explain to anyone’s satisfaction.

I’ve been asked so often lately — to the point that I should probably respond. So I will. This spring, starting now.

But before I do, I think I should explain why I hesitate to publish my thoughts:

First, people ask this question, most often, to find a rule, a principle, a plan. My answer is disappointing, I think. Like when you notice a co-worker’s amazing weight loss, ask their secret, and the answer boils down to “diet and exercise.”

Second, although we praise the result of endurance, we tend to call the process foolish. When I attempt to write my simple truths, I can hear mocking crows as they circle above my head. Anyone who would stay with an addict for so long is a sick co-dependent.

Third, the past casts a hint of a shadow across every sunny day. Last week, an addict clean for a decade ends up dead in the headlines. Five days ago, I write up a woman’s story — nine years clean, she relapsed after her brother’s tragic death, got clean again and was now in recovery. Two days ago, I’m told she quit the program. And, in addition to the millions of addicts thrown from the wagon by trauma, we lose a Philip Seymour Hoffman every 24 minutes in this country . . . 100 people a day die of an overdose.

Sometimes, I’m afraid if I feel too sure and secure, if I rest in this new life, I’ll jinx it and the six years of clean and good will be gone. There are no guarantees . . .

But the answer to the question is, and always is, in its purest form: love.

And here is a beginning:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own, is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

I Corinthians 13:4-7

And here, an explanation:

In words which can still bring tears to the eyes, St. Augustine describes the desolation into which the death of his friend Nebridius plunged him. Then he draws a moral. This is what comes, he says, of giving one’s heart to anything but God. All human beings pass away. Do not let your happiness depend on something you may lose. If love is to be a blessing, not a misery, it must be for the only Beloved who will never pass away.

Of course this is excellent sense. Do not put your goods in a leaky vessel. Don’t spend too much on a house you may be turned out of. And there is no man alive who responds more naturally than I to such canny maxims. I am a safety-first creature. Of all arguments against love, none makes so strong an appeal to my nature as “Careful! This might lead you to suffering.”

To my nature, my temperament, yes. Not to my conscience. When I respond to this appeal, I seem to myself to be a thousand miles away from Christ. If I am sure of anything I am sure that His teaching was never meant to confirm my congenital preference for safe investments and limited liabilities. I doubt whether there is anything in me that pleases Him less. And who could conceivably begin to love God on such a prudential ground — because, so to speak, the security is better? Who could even include it among the grounds for loving? Would you choose a wife or a friend — if it comes to it, would you choose a dog — in that spirit? One must be outside the world of love, of all loves,  before one calculates. Eros, lawless Eros, preferring the Beloved to happiness, is more like Love Himself than this.

I think that this passage in the Confessions is less a part of St Augustine’s Christianity than a hangover from the high-minded Pagan philosophies in which he grew up. It is closer to Stoic “apathy” or neo-Platonic mysticism than to Charity. We follow One who wept over Jerusalem and at the grave of Lazarus, and who, loving all, yet had one disciple whom, in a special sense, he “loved”. St Paul has a higher authority with us than St Augustine — St Paul who shows no sign that he would not have suffered like a man, and no feeling that ought not so to have suffered, if Epaphroditus had died.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.

I believe that the most lawless and inordinate loves are less contrary to God’s will than a self-invited and self-protective lovelessness. It is like hiding the talent in a napkin and for much the same reason ‘I knew thee that thou wert a hard man.’  Christ did not teach and suffer that we might become, even in the natural loves, more careful of our own happiness. If a man is not uncalculating towards the earthly beloveds whom he has seen, he is none the more likely to be so towards God whom he has not. We shall draw nearer to God, not by trying to avoid the sufferings inherent in all loves, but by accepting them and offering them to Him; throwing away all defensive armour. If our hearts need to be broken, and if He chooses this as the way in which they should break, so be it.

CS Lewis, The Four Loves