Every time I walk down a certain hallway in our home, I see, among the family pictures hanging on our wall, a picture that nearly arrests me. A stunning woman looks askance at a handsome, proud young groom. Her eyes show the anticipation we normally associate with weddings, but they also betray a look we don’t expect: a nervousness which is closer to fear than wedding jitters.
She had only met her would-be husband two times, yet she was walking to the altar to vow a covenant of lifelong love to him. No wonder her eyes revealed mixed emotions.
My parents-in-law, as was the custom in their culture, were arranged by their parents. The decision was prayerfully and carefully considered. Each set of their parents saw in the other a good match for their children.
The concept seems foreign to me, one raised in a culture where there is no need for a descriptive adjective before the word marriage. When all marriages are love marriages, chosen by the marrying parties (and often blessed by the parents), there is no need to distinguish between” love” marriage and “arranged” marriage.
As an outsider looking in for the past fifteen years of their long marriage journey, I am astounded at the depths of their relationship. I am humbled by the way friendship and romance grew out of covenant and choice. I am deeply indebted to their marriage, not only for producing my husband, but also for painting a realistic yet regal picture of covenant love.
Their marriage exemplifies what Thomas Hardy so poetically and powerfully captured in his classic book Far From the Madding Crowd.
“Theirs was that substantial affection which arises (if any arises at all) when the two who are thrown together begin first by knowing the rougher sides of each other’s character, and not the best till further on, the romance growing up in the interstices of a mass of hard prosaic reality.“
A mass of hard prosaic reality is an understatement. They worked hard to move their family to a foreign nation where they had only tertiary contacts and tenuous hopes. They weathered losing jobs, raising children, and moving multiple times. While there marriage is neither dreamy nor perfect, it is weathered and well-woven.
The strength of their covenant love has been highlighted by over a decade of being tested by the slow, steady decline of Parkinson’s disease. Amma serves as Appa’s primary caregiver, bathing him, feeding him, managing his litany of interventions and appointments. She rarely leaves the house. She has to steal a few moments away for a relaxing trip to the grocery store. Her world has shrunk considerably to match the needs of her hurting husband.
Yet, there are still moments when the two laugh together over Appa’s less-than-lucid thoughts. Playfulness pops out in the midst of the plodding perseverance. Watching her serve him so steadfastly with all of her life literally brings tears to my eyes and refines my view of marriage.
If what C.S. Lewis says about romantic love lighting the slow coals of covenant love is true, their marriage is even more astounding. Their covenant coals were lit only with the fire of promise and trust. They give my husband and I a moving, real-life picture of the love between Christ and His bride.
Covenants and Coals
If romantic love is flame
Lighting covenant coals,
Their love is hard to name:
The arrangement of souls.
Barely more than strangers,
They vowed longterm love,
Trusting their arrangers,
Depending on God above.
As they walked through life,
True companionship grew.
As they navigated strife,
One formed out of two.
After a decade of slow decline,
Years of suffering and serving,
They stand with covenant spine
In their tested love unswerving.
Coals without first fire lit
Still offer steady heat,
God by His hand has writ
A lifelong love still sweet.
To God be the glory, great things He has done!