One of my daughters, who was divorced three years ago, is to be married again next month. She has just called to ask me to share some Bible readings at the wedding and say a few "appropriate" words.
"Anything you like," she said. "It'll be easy for you. I know you have a lot to say about love, but keep it short and unsoppy."
"Easy! After all she's put me through in the last few years," I thought. And something "appropriate." If only she knew how many nights I'd agonized over her high school courtship, seven years of marriage, and her protracted, heart-rending divorce.
I found myself churning over the three years my daughter had battled to cope with two children under 6, two dogs over 6, a house, a yard, and a full-time job. Not only was her faith severely tested, but my own as well.
In the stillness of many sleepless nights, I was reassured by the words of the prophet Isaiah in the Bible: "He shall ... gently lead those that are with young" (40:11). And, "A bruised reed shall he not break" (42:3). What extraordinary promises those are. Instantly comforting. Powerfully healing.
Somehow, sustained by those and other Bible messages, we all survived, and now, after many months of prayer and mental repair work, I'm grateful to report that my daughter has found a man who unquestionably loves her and her children and can't wait to show them just how much.
Also, they both want a church service that will leave no one there in any doubt about the healing power of love. And in this first public declaration of my position, I know how important it will be for me to show that I have been healed of resentment and bitterness toward my former son-in-law.
As I look back, I can honestly say that the one constant factor in the turmoil has been a knowledge of the changeless, everlasting love of God.
I've learned that when human love has worn thin and has been replaced by verbal abuse, I have to think afresh about divine Love, which brings only good, and does it generously.
Even when a human relationship is harmonious and gratifying, I have found it helpful to remind myself that this is not the most important part of the deal. It is only God's love that holds people clear of the roiling waters of the human predicament and keeps them peaceful and contented.
I'm learning that no matter how solid a partnership is, we are never the originators of the love that sustains it. We love others because God first loved us - and feeling loved ourselves, we are enabled to love our brothers and sisters, husband or wife.
This love is pure, unconditional, selfless, joyful, lasting. It calls for nothing in return. When we express this brand of love toward others, it becomes our way of saying thank you to God for what He unstintingly gives to us.
What if the man who once seemed to love my daughter in that way has strayed from his commitment to be faithful and true? Do I love him less? Do I allow myself apparently justifiable little schemes for revenge? Is it my job to manipulate circumstances so that I can tell him what I really think of his behavior?
No, no, and no. I'm convinced that when challenged in these ways, we are required to stop rehashing the evidence. Ratchet up the love. Reach beyond the vindictive, inexplicable behavior patterns and rediscover the essence of the love that cannot change.
That's how it is that the first words that come to mind as I plan my readings for the wedding are God's words to all the families of Israel, "Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee" (Jer. 31:3).
In that environment of love, there can be no room for doubt, regret, disillusionment, despair. Only joy. Imaginative reshaping, rebuilding. Steady progress. A radiant future.
That is the spirit of the message I think I'll share at the wedding.
May Christ, Truth, be present
at every bridal altar to turn
the water into wine and to give
to human life an inspiration by which man's spiritual and eternal existence may be discerned.
Mary Baker Eddy
(founder of the Monitor)