Thursday, 16 May 2013

Your ideal life partner.

This question is worth exploring: Will God find me a perfect mate? Or an ideal one?

Being a life-changing decision, every serious christian I know eagerly craves for divine endorsement of their choice of a life partner. It is like making a bee-line for God at the front and hoping to secure his autograph on the picture of your desired soulmate clutched tightly in your sweaty palm.

In fact, a friend of mine once listed, with uncompromising sincerity and almost as of right, more than 30 qualities she wished for in her future husband. I can imagine God eavesdropping and muttering, "Is she talking about men of the pre-fall or post-fall era?"

The truth is, and with much relief, we will never find a perfect mate - because the one and only good catch had risen two thousand years ago. What is therefore left on earth are “works in progress”. This is a fact most head-in-the-clouds spousal wannabes find difficult to accept. I call it the idealism trap.

Many of us do not marry into perfection. We don’t even settle for second best. We marry into imperfections and it is multiplied manifold when two imperfect lives are joined. We therefore have to work on our relationship and we do so by managing our expectations. That is common sense I know. But when you are caught up in the dead space of blind passion, common sense is the oxygen that is often lacking.

This brings me to what I have recently read about a lovely couple whose first name would sound off alarm bells in the religious circle. Ready? Here are the names. Charles Darwin and his wife, Emma Wedgewood.

I know Charles Darwin is a controversial figure. But if we put aside his theory of evolution and just focus on his love for Emma, we will find a man no different from most of us. At this juncture, it should be noted that Charles did not at any time publicly professed to be an atheist. In one of his letters in 1879, he wrote that at his most extreme fluctuations, he was never an atheist. He penned, "I think that generally (and more and more so as I grow older) but not always, that an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind."

My source of this beautiful marriage is from a book entitled "Charles and Emma – the Darwins’ Leap of Faith" by Deborah Heiligman. It is a heartwarming account of how Charles and Emma overcame personal differences to build a love that flourished for a lifetime.

Here are the quick stats. They married on 29 January 1839 and their marriage lasted for more than forty years when Charles passed away in 1882 and Emma in 1896. By any conventional standards, this is a very long marriage and a very loving one. What's so admirable about their marriage is that they were far from being “peas in the same pod”. If anything, the two pods were chasm apart.

You see, Emma, was a staunch Christian. She attended Church regularly and made sure her children attended with her. Her favorite passage in the Bible was in John thirteen when Jesus bade farewell to his disciples by washing their feet. It was an act of great love, devotion and humility that touched Emma deeply.

However, thanks to his groundbreaking book, The Origin of Species, Charles was the direct opposite. While his family attended church, he would take long walks in the park. Of course, Charles did not start out with such crippling doubts. He had in fact attended Cambridge to study theology. But along the way, in his famous Beagle voyages, he struggled with his faith and converted to a die-hard empiricist.

You would expect such fundamental differences to have threatened an otherwise blissful marital union. But on the contrary, their love grew by leaps and bounds. Reading about their lives together, you'd notice the tension between them with Emma praying for Charles to experience a change of mind and Charles trying hard to avoid the subject because of his deep respect for her.

Out of this mutual deep respect, and despite her devotion to Christianity, Emma wrote to Charles, "Don't think that it is not my affair and that it does not much signify to me. Everything that concerns you concerns me and I should be most unhappy if I thought we did not belong to each other forever." Charles actually cried when he read that letter and his commitment to both his theory of natural selection and his love for Emma torn him apart on many occasions.  He annotated in her letter these heartfelt words, "When I am dead, know that many times, I have kissed and cryed over this. CD."

If anything, despite her faith, all of Charles’ books, including the Origin of Species, were edited by Emma. She “commented, critiqued and amended them.” She even corrected his grammar and spellings, which was to her atrocious. She rewrote awkward sentences and talked it through with him so that Charles could write them in a more lucid manner.

Imagine this irony in the eyes of a Christian fundamentalist: A firm believer in the Bible helping Charles Darwin to write a book that directly or indirectly discredits it. But, however wide their differences, their love for each other took enduring precedence.

In fact, it thrived because of it. And it even thrived notwithstanding the death of three of their ten children. Two of them died just after birth and the most heartbreaking one was their third child, Annie.

Annie died at ten. Her death took a lot away from the Darwins and they missed her dearly. Charles and Emma never really fully recovered from Annie’s painful death. But they sought solace in the arms of each other and their love became the unshakeable refuge during such times of grief. Poignantly, Emma copied this poem by Hartley Coleridge as a fitting tribute: "She pass'd away, like morning dew. Before the sun was high; So brief her time, she scarcely knew. The meaning of a sigh."

One of their marital secrets is that they communicated with each other regularly. They shared everything, holding nothing back. They shared their joy, their pain and their hopes. Their romance ensued as Charles waxed lyrical in many of his love correspondences to her. These heartfelt letters kept their love alive, fresh and exciting.

In one letter, Charles wrote to Emma, “I wish you knew how I value you; and what an inexpressible blessing it is to have one whom one can always trust, one always the same, always ready to give comfort, sympathy and the best advice. God bless you, my dear, you are too good for me.

In his autobiography, Charles told his children that their mother is his greatest blessing and continued, “I marvel at my good fortune, that she, so infinitely my superior in every single moral quality consented to be my wife…She has been my wise adviser and cheerful comforter…She has earned my love and admiration of every soul near her.”

Indeed, what wondrous love can one find; a love that devotes unconditionally, a love that gives and not takes, a love that flourishes in differences, and a love that defies all to stay together for a lifetime. Sir Francis Darwin, Charles' son, once described his father's love as this, "In her presence he found his happiness, and through her, his life."

Truly, we can learn a lot from such marital devotion for it is said, “The easiest kind of with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one.”

Hands down, the hardest part of a relationship is to devote to one and to love her so deeply, consistently and completely that your life cannot be complete without her. This kind of love takes a lifetime and it lasts a lifetime. Cheerz.

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