“Christ at 33” (detail) by Hofmann

There has been a great deal of talk for many years now about individual rights in our society. It is nothing new, but this idea does seem to have reached a fever pitch in the past few years. People are demanding their right to do as they please. Everyone is demanding to be free. Unfortunately, many people are working with a completely false understanding of the word freedom.

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14)

This reflection includes a story. Many readers may be familiar with this story, as it has floated around Christian circles for some time, and was even adapted to a movie, but this is a slightly modified version. The story is about relationships, love and freedom, the kind of freedom that is a consequence of our loving. As scripture tells us, the person who is the most free, is the one who is not enslaved to anything except the service of love.

The reader should be aware the following story involves issues surrounding a failing marital relationship. And though it uses the institution of marriage, it could just as easily have presented the challenge of a failing relationship between parents and children, siblings, or even dear friends. The message is not about marriage. It is just an unfortunate reality that some marriages do fail. But if we are to be truly free human persons, then there is something in all our relationships that can never fail.

This following story reveals that unfailing virtue.

“When I got home one night my wife had served dinner. I held her hand and said, “I’ve got something to tell you.” She sat down and ate quietly. I observed a pained look in her eyes. Suddenly I didn’t know how to open my mouth, but I had to let her know what I was thinking. “I want a divorce.” I spoke calmly. She didn’t seem to be annoyed at my words, instead, she just asked softly, “Why?”

“I am in love with someone else,” I said. “And I want us both to be free to do what we want.”

This made her angry. She threw her plate on the floor and shouted at me. “You know nothing about love or freedom.”

That night we did not speak to each other again. I could hear her weeping and I knew she wanted to understand what had happened to our marriage, but I could not give her a satisfactory answer. She had lost my heart to another woman, that was all. I did not love my wife anymore, I only pitied her.

With a deep sense of guilt, I drafted a divorce agreement which stated that she could own the house, the car and half of my business. The next morning she glanced at it and tore it to pieces. The woman who spent 20 years of her life with me had become a stranger. I felt sorry for her, and for the time she had wasted on our relationship. But I could not take back what I had said, I was in love with someone else, and I wanted to be free to love that person.

The next day I came home late and found my wife reading something at the table. I didn’t have supper but went straight to bed. When I awoke, my wife was still reading. When I grabbed my coffee she looked up and explained to me her divorce conditions. She did not want anything. All she asked was that we wait a single month before telling anyone. Her argument was that our son was about to take his high school finals and she did not want him upset by talk of a divorce. She asked that for the next month we both try to live a normal life. But then she asked for something else.

My wife asked me to remember how I had carried her over the doorway of this very house twenty years earlier, on our wedding day. She requested that every morning, for the next month, I carry her from the bedroom to the front door, where she would then head off to work.

I told my new love, the woman I had been seeing, about my wife’s terms, and that for the sake of peace, I had agreed. She only laughed and said it sounded like indentured servitude. “Eventually,” she said sarcastically, “your wife will have to accept the divorce.”

My wife and I had not had any bodily contact for some time. So that first day carrying her to the door was a little awkward, but I recalled I had agreed to this minor cross. Our son watched, smiling and even clapped as I set my wife down on the front step of our house. My wife only whispered softly, “Remember, don’t tell our son about the divorce.”

On the second day, both of us were a bit more comfortable with the process of the long carry to the front door. She actually leaned on my chest and I could smell the fragrance of her blouse. I also realized I had not looked closely at my wife for some time. There were fine wrinkles on her face, and her hair had begun to gray. It was clear our marriage had taken its toll on her. I began to feel a sense of guilt for the things I had done or failed to do over our twenty years together.

By the fourth day, when I lifted her up, I began to feel a sense of ease about having her in my arms. We were not strangers, I thought, we just stopped getting to know each other.

On the fifth and sixth days, I realized that our sense of intimacy was growing. On day ten, I paused for a second before placing her down, and we both laughed a nervous laugh at my hesitation. I also noticed she was becoming lighter, easier to carry. I thought perhaps I was getting into shape just doing this little exercise each day.

On the fifteenth day, I noticed her struggling to select a dress to wear for our little walk. She tried on a number of dresses and complained that they were all too big. I looked and suddenly realized she had grown thinner. I now understood the reason she was so much lighter in my arms. It pained me to realize that she had buried so much hurt and bitterness inside her heart that it had begun to affect her weight.

My son came in at that moment and reminded us that it was time for the morning carry. He seemed to have become quite pleased watching our daily ritual. My wife pulled him close to her and hugged him. She looked my way and shrugged her thinning shoulders as she acquiesced to my lifting her off the floor and moving to the bedroom door.

By the last day of the month, my wife’s significantly lighter weight made me sad. I looked into her eyes as I set her down by the front door. I told her I was not sure what had happed to us, why it was that our marriage seemed to have lost its intimacy. She raised herself on her toes and whispered into my ear, “We forgot that it was our love for each other that made us free.”

I did not wait to see my wife leave for work. Instead I kissed her goodbye and raced to the office. As soon as I got off the elevator I went to see the woman I thought I had fallen in love with. I told her the relationship was off, I couldn’t possibly get a divorce. I loved my wife. She screamed and cried that I didn’t know anything about love. I knew what she said had been true for a long time. But I thought that I was at least beginning to understand. I also knew the only way she was going to find love was if I let her go.

I left the office and ordered a bouquet of flowers from the lobby flower shop. The girl asked if I wanted anything written on the card. I said, “Yes, just write – I will carry you every day for the rest of our life together.”

I also stopped to make dinner reservations at my wife’s favorite restaurant and stopped by a travel agent to inquire about plans for a trip a month away. Then I went home.

I went up into the bedroom planning to change and surprise my bride with the ideas for our new life together. My wife was lying on the bed, very still. As I took her hand I realized she was gone. It was only then that I noticed on her night stand the papers she had been fumbling over that one night only a month ago. It described her diagnoses – cancer, life expectancy 30 days.

My wife knew she was dying. And as her last great heroic act of love, she had decided to give me one last chance to rediscover what love was all about. She knew that if she just let me go, which might have been easier, considering how much I hurt her, that my son would hate me. She also knew that if she told me her condition, I would not respond with love, but only with sympathy. So she took the ultimate risk and gave me one last chance at real love, one last chance to find real freedom.

As this story painfully portrays, it is not our temporary circumstances that make us free. Freedom means we always have the option to love. And despite our modern culture’s efforts to redefine freedom, the only truly free person is the one who loves. Indeed, it is only to the degree that we do love that we are truly free. That is the difficult lesson God is so often trying to teach us. He set the example for us by carrying His own cross, our sins, to allow us to become free to love, and free because we love.

“For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:13-14)

coverBe sure to check out Mark’s new book from Westbow Press: A Family’s Journey Back to Union: Reflections on One Family’s Celebration of Faith in God and One Another.

This is the story of one extended family’s journey back through the lost years and distant miles to rediscover their union with one another. It is the story of four generations who came together to respond to each other’s trials and tragedies, and to celebrate their victories and blessings. So many forces today are imposing themselves and tearing families apart; this is the story of one family’s response to that reality. It is about their resilience and reliance on prayer, God and one another. You will be blessed by reading the brief stories of what brought them back together and how they maintain their connection to each other. But the real blessing will be found in the spiritual reflections and material for prayer and meditation that have served to grow and keep this community of family and friends together for over a decade.Readers are encouraged to use the reflections in their own prayer life and to share them. But more importantly, we hope readers will make the effort to establish communities of prayer among their own families and friends. We promise if you do, you will experience God’s healing power and His blessings in ways you could never have imagined.

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