I laid on my bed twirling the newly placed diamond ring on my finger. I was ecstatic. Michael and I had only dated a few months but I had admired him at a distance for years (sounds a bit creepy I know). Our love story up to this point had been magical, almost too good to be true. Of all the girls in the world he had chosen me, I was overwhelmed, delighted and mortified.
Of course I had tried my best to be honest, to show him my true self, but how much of that can you really do in three months (and we weren’t even living in the same country, though only a few hours away, he was in Mexico and I was in medical school in San Antonio)? Was he really prepared for this, to take on my mistakes and faults and all of it? My soul ached with the nagging thought, I don’t deserve to be the one, will he really be able to love me?
We are reading Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk in the Liturgy of Life Reading Group. In it she recounts the story of Mary of Egypt, the patron saint of the penitent. Mary spent her early years as a prostitute. One day she was stopped by God’s presence as she tried to enter the temple in Jerusalem. Suddenly her eyes were opened to all the filth and pain and wrong in her life. She knew she had a choice to make. She could either admit her failure, die to herself, accept that God loved her and live in the hope of The Resurrection, or continue in her current life and die all the same but hopeless.
(I want to insert here that by sharing this story I don’t mean to imply that being a prostitute is any worse than anything else. Certainly there are many prostitutes who love Christ and are repentant to Him in all sincerity whether or not that have left that lifestyle, and many more who are enslaved and would love to be free and don’t have the opportunity. This is just a story about a real person and it happens to be that Mary was a prostitute, but as far as I’m concerned she could have been banker, or a teacher or housewife. We are all broken and living in a fallen world.)
The hope that Mary encounters in the presence of Christ isn’t simply a release from a lifestyle of prostitution. It is a hope that frees her from the despair or her soul. It is hope that lets her believe that repentance is real and that there is a love even greater than her failure.
I had a similar encounter as a young woman (you can read more about it here). Amidst the turmoil of my own chaotic life God appeared, His presence was as real and heavy as a rain cloud that sits overhead soaking you with its heavy drops. The weight of the choice before me was suffocating. To use some of Norris’ words, I could either refuse Life, refuse repentance, refuse Love and instead continue as I was, calling death life. Or I could choose to believe in Him knowing it would require a radical change in my life.
I imagine I felt very much like Mary. Choosing Him was terrifying but the only thing more terrifying was not choosing Him. Accepting Him flooded my spirit with peace and at that moment I knew for certain that none of us are so far from Him that we can’t be brought back.
As a young bride no one told me that the intimacy of marriage would require a life of repentance (or maybe they did and I just didn’t pay attention), that I would re-live daily the same decision I made those few years past. Maybe it is impossible to explain to a newly wed how often she will stare into her husband’s face after yet another disagreement, seeing the hurt in his eyes, feeling wounded beyond repair, realizing we can only move forward if we believe in forgiveness and if we are certain that there exists a Love bigger than our pain.
Marriage is a mystery. And somehow in this tangled up, intimate, beautiful, broken relationship God is showing us the love that Christ has for His Church. It is through our marriage that God speaks, not just to us, but He reveals to all of creation that we are chosen, and defies the ache in our hearts that say we can’t be loved. His love is one that never gives up hope, but that goes to the point of death to revive us. His is a love that says change is possible.