I don’t suppose it really matters how love begins. What matters is whether the commitment to love another is genuine enough and deep enough to forsake all others, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death comes.
The following story from a bygone era illustrates my point. The year was 1944. The United States was involved in a world war. Lonnie Rowell was a 26-year-old pilot with the U.S. Air Force. Far from home, Lonnie and his comrades treasured news from the States and looked forward to mail call. Lonnie had a Georgia friend who often received letters from his “Georgia Peach.”
I imagine Lonnie and the other servicemen had a bit of envy in their eyes when those letters came to their friend. One day Lonnie’s friend suggested to him and one other man that they write letters to his girlfriend’s sisters.
So one day Earlene Wilson received an unexpected letter from a complete stranger serving in the military. She threw the letter in the trash. But curiosity got the best of her. She later pulled the letter from the trash and after reading it decided to respond. For the next year letters crossed the Atlantic and with each one a relationship grew between Lonnie Rowell and Earlene Wilson.
The next year, 1945, Lonnie received a furlough and was sent to Indiana. Earlene went there and they met face to face. Two weeks later they were married. Mrs. Earlene once told me she did not want him to get away. In time, Earlene’s sisters married the other servicemen with whom they had been corresponding during the war.
I wonder if a few eyebrows were raised as these couples exchanged vows. Probably. Every generation finds unconventional ways for men and women to meet that eventually lead to marriage. But Lonnie and Earlene’s successful marriage of over 50 years reminds me that how a couple meets is not as important as the kind of commitment a couple makes to one another and the depth of love they share over the years. Of course this doesn’t mean we should throw all caution to the wind in the search for a mate, leaving our heads to chase our hearts.
However, this doesn’t mean that love is simply a rational emotion, either. If love were only rational, then it could not be passionate. If love were not passionate, it could not be intimate. Love that’s not intimate cannot fill the deep void most people have to be known completely and to know another completely. To be known completely and be loved anyway is one of the greatest gifts one can receive in life. To know another completely and love the person anyway is one of the greatest gifts one can give in life. God created the intimacy of marriage for this very purpose.
In answering the question of a Pharisee who asked Jesus whether it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason, which was one interpretation of the teaching of Moses, Jesus carried the Pharisee back to the book of Genesis with his answer: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mt 19:3-6).
How such a one-flesh union of love begins is one of the mysteries of the universe. Though it has to have a beginning, it’s often difficult to pinpoint: a glance, an e-mail, a handwritten letter, a date, a kiss, a group outing with friends.
I don’t suppose it really matters how love begins. What matters is whether the commitment to love another is genuine enough and deep enough to forsake all others, for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death comes. For this to happen, the depth of love one has for another has to grow, for most of us don’t have a clue when we marry the kind of commitment we are making.
Love that doesn’t grow deeper will grow weaker.
Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie, Ga. A version of this column first appeared in The Moultrie Observer.