How I Learned To Love Love Stories
I’ve never been crazy about love stories. I’m thinking here of the Victorian sort, where Character A falls in love with Character B but, due to a series of mislaid letters and misinterpreted glances, does not declare said affections until 300 pages have elapsed and I have lost interest. The heroines in these stories always seemed to be losing their bloom and having it restored by fresh sea winds, while the heroes rode all over the countryside on horseback, doing good deeds in secret while outwardly looking gruff and unpleasant. I had little patience for that, or for the fact that so many love stories end with a wedding, when it’s only after the wedding that things get interesting.
That is how I felt about love stories three months ago. Then came a pivotal moment, ushered in by the birth of my third child, when I sat in a sunny back bedroom, nursing her contentedly and reading Treasure Island. Now, I love Treasure Island, but when one is nursing one’s infant daughter in a sunny back bedroom, one longs for something a little softer around the edges, with less swashbuckling and no rum. So I picked up Sense & Sensibility.
That’s when I noticed the change.
It wasn’t that I loved Sense & Sensibility—I didn’t—but that the story connected with a different part of my brain, a part that was actually up and running while the part that engaged with complex plots like that of Treasure Island had gone offline, derailed by hormones, upheaval and fatigue. Those Victorian glances seemed simple, and all the rules dictating who could write to whom and when, comforting. Jane Austen is the right sort of author for nursing a baby in a back bedroom. So, as it turns out, is L.M. Montgomery. (I read a dozen or more of her books in a month.)
Those were the taps that found the chinks in my armor, but it was North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell, that dealt the fatal blow: though the characters in North and South begin at point A and eventually arrive at point B, they do so only after traveling a route scenic and strange, marked by politics, economics and religious debate (not the usual stuff of romance). The love story there fit into a larger context and its final culmination seemed to give value to all of the struggle and grief that came before.
So, here is what I learned about love stories: as long as the story is not formulaic or contrived, as long as the burden of the plot does not rest on the question of “Will they or won’t they?” alone, there is something deeply satisfying about a romance come to fruition. That moment when the characters arrive at the point they’ve been traveling toward since page one resonates within us because the best love stories hit us in our softest spot—the place in our heart that can only be touched by the Gospel.
You see, our story ends with a wedding: “Hallelujah! . . . for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted to her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev. 19:7–8). No matter what obstacles the world throws in our way, no matter how Satan frustrates the plot with the equivalents of mislaid letters and misinterpreted glances, our story is written by the steadiest hand; the ending is fixed.
We cannot expect a perfect romance here, in the middle of the story. My own love story began with a snowy walk through a cemetery at dusk and culminated in a winter wedding, but when I stood on the threshold of marriage with my hand in my husband’s at last, it was not to watch the new heaven and earth descend while the heavenly hosts sang aloud (though in that moment, it felt like that). Ours was a small scene in a larger story—one that ends not with our wedding, but with nothing less than the wedding of Christ and the Church.
That was the realization that taught me to love love stories. If God doesn’t find it annoying to end his story with a wedding, then it must be an acceptable plot device and one that I can learn to embrace. In fact, it goes a long way toward explaining why so many of us are so satisfied with a good, old-fashioned romance, one that doesn’t treat the altar as the period at the end of a grand sentence but as a page break, implying that the best is yet to come.
“Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).