I, Issac, Take Thee Rebekah: The Will to Do
- Tuesday, February 10, 2004
I have heard it said that the longest journey in life is from the head to the heart. Others say that the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Yet another aphorism of our time is that beginning well is a momentary thing; finishing well is a lifelong thing. All of these point to one reality-our knowledge and our response are not always in keeping with each other. We put asunder what God intended to remain joined together.
Solomon proved this centuries ago. He made a fascinating statement in the Book of Ecclesiastes. He relates all the areas in which he searched for meaning-pleasure, riches, power, fame, and everything else one could imagine. Through all of these forays into a search for fulfillment, he says, "My wisdom stayed with me" (Ecclesiastes 2:9). How is that possible, we ask, when his day-to-day life was a colossal mess? I understand him to mean that in the midst of his duplicity, his theoretical knowledge of right and wrong never left him. He knew how to discern. But he was volitionally weak and unable to resist the tug of attraction into wrong behavior.
I have shared the following story many times over the years. Those from parts of the world to whom this is foreign shake their heads in disbelief, wondering how this can even be theoretically plausible, let alone practically workable. But read the reasoning first and then I will try to explain.
I give you an example of my older brother, who lives in Toronto, Canada. The story dates back to the late 1960s. At that time he was a systems engineer with IBM. Since that time, he has gone on to do several very mentally impressive things in the world of computer software. In other words, he is mentally all right. He doesn't have any major problem as far as his IQ is concerned. I say that because you may begin to wonder as I tell his story.
When he was in his mid-twenties, my brother came to my father and said, "You know, Dad, I've always maintained even when we were in India that I'm only going to marry the girl you choose for me. I guess I am ready now. Would you please begin a search for a girl for me to marry?"
I really didn't believe he'd go through with it. We were living in Toronto, thousands of miles and a cultural planet away from the land of our birth. But this was his choice. He wanted my parents to help in "The Search." My father and mother said, "Fine. Tell us the kind of young woman you're looking for." He gave his "ideal partner" speech and proceeded to describe the kind of person he would choose to marry.
Thus began his quest and what I called our family entertainment hour every night around the table. My father wrote to his sister in India who was doing the ground work, and in response came numerous letters with suggestions, photographs, and information sheets ad nauseam. Oh! The jokes that would fly! The unsolicited advice from every member of the family was profuse.
He narrowed the "applicants" to a short list and, finally focusing on one person, began to correspond with her. Then they advanced to telephone conversations, but not many because that was "too expensive." One could tell that reality was closing in. Finally, believe it or not, they both felt this was it. The dates for the engagement and the marriage were set with these two never having met.
My brother and my father flew from Toronto to Bombay. More than one thousand wedding invitations were sent before my brother and his bride-to-be had ever seen each other. Two days after his arrival was the engagement date and a day or so later was the wedding date. He would then bring his bride back to Canada, all within a week, and they would live "happily ever after." That, at any rate, was the plan.
I thought to myself, Oh my! You know, this is faith. Maybe it is even less than that. This is credulity! I began to get really concerned, so before my brother left for Bombay I mustered up the courage to caution him. I said, "I don't want to challenge anything you're doing, but I do have a brief question. What are you going to do when you arrive in Bombay, come down the Jetway and see a young woman standing there with a garland in her hand, and say to yourself, Good grief! I hope that's not her. I hope that's somebody else! Or she looks at you and thinks to herself, I hope that's not him, I hope that's his brother! What on earth will you do? Are you going to take her aside, talk it over, and then make an announcement saying, 'We have met . . . we will not be proceeding with our plans'? Will you get on the telephone or write letters to everybody and say, 'Folks, we've met. The wedding is off.'"
My brother just stared at me. He said, "Are you through?" I told him that for the moment I was just awaiting his answer. Then he said something that was absolutely defining for him: "Write this down, and don't ever forget it: Love is as much a question of the will as it is of the emotion. And if you will to love somebody, you can."
That statement brought our conversation to a sudden stop. That was thirty-five years ago. My brother and his wife now have three children and make their home in Toronto. Has it been easy? No. Marriage never is easy. But the challenges do not come from the absence of commitment.
The first thing to bear in mind is that we exaggerate the separation of the emotion and the will as two distinct faculties of operation-some kind of misshapen two-headed monster. Think, for example, of the caricature we make of one difference between men and women. We seem to think that women are more emotionally driven and men more cerebrally driven. If that caricature were true, why is it that more men fall into infidelity after marriage than do women? If women are more emotionally driven, should it not be the other way around? I think it more appropriate to say that women in general recognize the emotional ramifications of their acts better than men do. Men do feel emotion, but they do so selectively and fail to face the consequences of reality. Betray a man and you find out that his emotions surge to the top. I believe that a legitimate understanding of what is happening here can preserve the grand union between emotion and will.
Without the will, marriage is a mockery; without emotion it is a drudgery. You need both.
We like the side dealing with emotion, not the will. I have now been married more than thirty years. I often look back at the time when I was on the other side of the marital line and remember how I thought about marriage then. One particular conversation stands out. A year before I was married, I was sitting in a Christian education class when the professor quite dramatically started to philosophize about life. Commenting on the home, he said, "I want you students to know that love is hard work."
I leaned over to my classmate and whispered, "I wouldn't want to be married to anybody who goes around telling everybody how hard it is to love me."
He said, "I agree with you. Why don't you ask him about it?" Like a fool, I did.
I stood up and said, "Excuse me, sir . . . I am not quite comfortable with your categorization of love as 'hard work'."
The professor stared at me, evidently not taking too kindly to my challenge, and demanded, "Zacharias, are you married?"
When I responded, "No, sir," he said, "Then why don't you just be quiet and sit down? You don't have a clue what you are talking about." I sat down.
One year later I was married. After being married all these years, I can unblushingly say, he was right. Love is hard work. I would carry it one step further. It is the hardest work I know of, work from which you are never entitled to take a vacation. You take on burdens and cares. You inherit problems. You have to feel beyond yourself. You have to think of things other than yourself. You are now multiplied in your responsibilities and are trusted with greater commitments.
Chivalry in love has nothing to do with appearance. It has everything to do with the tenderness of a heart determined to serve. That is the first hard lesson to learn. You do not act under the impetus of charm but out of a commitment to make someone's life the joy you want it to be. In the early days of marriage, joy precedes the act. Tragically, as the years go by joy can be severed from the act until finally, the act itself is no more. This ought not to be. Over time it is the companionship that brings joy and service is the natural outworking of the joy of commitment. Failure to act kills it.
But this kind of care does not come easily. Only if it is taken seriously does it become a sheer delight of the heart. I will also add that this kind of care is not seen much in the times in which we live. The reason we have a crisis in our gender relationships is not that we are culturally indoctrinated but that we would rather be served than serve. We would rather be the head than the feet.
The Christian faith stands unique in pointing out that the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. The Son of Man came to serve. This means that the service He gave to humanity was given even when we least merited that sacrifice. There is a joy in service that transcends emotional temporariness.
Excerpt from I, Isaac, Take Thee, Rebekah by Ravi Zacharias. ©W Publishing Group, 2004, Used with Permission
Click here to read a Q&A with Ravi Zacharias.
Recently on Singles
Have something to say about this article? Leave your comment via Facebook below!
Listen to Your Favorite Pastors
Add Crosswalk.com content to your siteBrowse available content