I have something to confess...
I absolutely adore “Bridget Jones' Diary.”
Yes, I know it’s raunchy and silly. I know it contains gratuitous sex and foul language.
Still, it remains one of my all-time favorite tragi-comedies.
One of my kids got this the other night. She and her sister were watching it on the tube in LA, while I was back in Athens doing fun things like voting, getting a flu shot (hear that, Mother?), and a mammogram. That particular daughter and I had exchanged some ‘difficult’ words the night before I left LA, so I was elated to receive the following text (verbatim) from her:
“we’re watchin Bridget jones.....It’s true....I LOVE YOU just as you are. what would i do without you? xoxoxo.”
(Oh, the charming complexities of the mother/daughter relationship!)
But back to Bridget: She is the archetypal Everywoman. (And –man, actually.)
She’s a mess. Bridget sets self-improvement goals which she can’t keep. She makes vows and breaks them. Her daily fare is a foot sandwich, chagrin on the side. Her psyche teeters torturously between delusions of grandeur and abysmally low self-esteem. But even though her best is never quite good enough, she keeps trying. She ‘gets knocked down, but she gets up again.’
She is the secular embodiment of Romans 7. In some ways, I’m a lot like Bridget.
All she really wants in the whole wide world is what we all long for: to be loved just for who we are, warts and all. She wants someone who thinks she’s worth it...someone who believes in her potential whether or not she ever comes close to reaching it. Bridget wants a man willing to fight for her. She wants someone who just wants her, thick or thin. (Pun intended.)
Being a lit-freak, I appreciate author Helen Fielding’s clever transposition of some of the early 19th Century characters (or types) from Pride and Prejudice into 20th Century London. Quite a cultural contrast...yet ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same,’ as the French say.
Just as Elizabeth Bennett is shocked to find true love where she least expects it, so Bridget is obliged to lay aside the prejudice of an initial bad impression and the pride which might force her to cling to it. Faced with a “You can be right, or you can be happy” dilemma, she wisely chooses happiness. (At least for a while.)
The pivotal exchange of dialogue between Bridget and the 20th Century Mr. Darcy:
Mark Darcy: I like you, very much.
Bridget: Ah, apart from the smoking and the drinking, the vulgar mother and... ah, the verbal diarrhea.
Mark Darcy: No, I like you very much. Just as you are.
JUST AS YOU ARE.
And that, my friends, is the bottom line of the Good News.
We are loved just as we are. More than we can possibly imagine.
(...because that kind of love is a rare gift among human beings.)
In the past 6 months, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing this kind of love lived out to the extreme.
A cherubic young man with a boy’s face can’t contain his grin. The sparklingly beautiful bride beams. Handel’s Chorus majestically pours from the church organ, rattling the tall windows of the elegant antebellum structure.
Flash to the reception. It is an absolutely gorgeous day. A too-good-to-be-true Hollywood set day. The November Georgia sky is a brilliant Carolina blue. Heaven’s weather. Delicious breeze. Gorgeous flowers everywhere. Clink of glasses. Tempting aromas. Family. Friends from around the globe. Mellow music outside, rockin’ vibes inside. Uncontainable electric joy ricochets off the columns and floats up into the pale sapphire sky like an escaped balloon.
Laughing and waving wildly, Barbie and Ken are whisked away in a limo to their assured happily-ever-aftering.
The DVD ends.
The mothers of the bride and groom exchange quick glances.
I get up off the sofa and go into the bathroom.
The contrast is so breathtakingly extreme.
I, (name), take you (name), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
But this is not what the boy in the DVD signed up for.
The girl he fell head-over-heels in love with was not the kind of girl who needed a man to hold her up. A young man would consider himself lucky if he could even catch up with her. The girl in the DVD was the kind of girl who inspired songs. The lyrics to a particularly catchy one written in her honor (/at her expense) by a college band included the line, “Hold on, Katherine, you’re movin’ way too fast...” That girl was a mover and shaker. She made things happen.
That beautiful young bride was a force of nature. Heads turned when she entered a room. People listened when she spoke...which was in a loud, clear, articulate voice. She was a passionate, motivating speaker. She was a compassionate, empathizing friend. She was the aroma that drew people in, the glue that kept them together.
She seemed to be uniquely blessed. She won awards she didn’t seek, accolades she never expected. She was a “winner.” She provoked intense loyalty in some, envy in others...as those who run outside the pack always do. She was a klutz who won beauty queen titles, a prude who was adored by the frat boys who chose her as their sweetheart. She was loved and respected by professors and given prestigious responsibilities. She was a bright and rising star, with potential reaching to the skies. She had everything the world considers of value...brains, beauty, talent, popularity, ambition...the whole package. And in spite of all that, she was even a nice person.
So she headed to California to pursue her dreams, which seemed easily within her reach.
The young man said, “Whither thou goest, I shall go...”
Little did he know where that would lead them.
They had to cut her wedding ring off in the emergency room.
Last week, for her fourth anniversary, her husband gave her another one. This one is even more beautiful than the original. It is an “eternity” ring....a circle of diamonds set in white gold. The fiery furnace of adversity has unveiled the true gold of eternal, selfless, unconditional love. The diamonds sparkle as a reminder of the secret treasures they’ve found hidden in the darkness. The circle, of course, represents love without end.
The wife is now very altered from how she appeared in the wedding DVD of four years ago. I know that there must be times when her husband misses her as she used to be...the sound of her clear, strong voice...her laugh...her infectious energy...her zest for life...her efficiency at solving problems, her ability to make everything okay. But the love he evidences now seems deeper, stronger, richer than before. There is an amazing gentleness as he takes care of her basic needs. There is actually even joy...as he fills her feeding tube, bandages her damaged eye, wipes her nose, helps her with a shower on onto the toilet....as he cooks and cleans and does the laundry and changes diapers....as he plans 1-year-old birthday parties and fields phone calls and emails and fills out grocery bags full of insurance forms.
I have been greatly moved in witnessing the mature love that has grown out of this seeming tragedy. The boy has become a man of whom I am very proud, and for whom I am extremely grateful. At an age when many of their peers are still ‘not over’ college, the love that Katherine and Jay bear for each other has ripened to a degree that many marriages never attain.
Shortly after Katherine’s surgery, a friend sent me back a present I had given her years ago. At the time, my friend was going through a very dark period and feeling unlovable. She was acting out of her pain. I gave her a silver locket with a line from a Shakespearean sonnet engraved on it to assure her that I still loved her no matter what. Now I have this locket hanging from the lamp next to my bed in LA. It is a wonderful reminder for me. The quote was taken from Sonnet 116:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Oh yes, there have been impediments...and alterations...and terrible tempests in the lives of this young couple.
The love of which Shakespeare writes is a love that remains constant no matter what “alterations” occur in the beloved or in the relationship. But as appealing as this romanticized ideal of courtly love is, I don’t believe it is really possible to love that way unless we have first received and accepted an even greater love ourselves.
In The Four Loves, Lewis introduces the concept of “need-love.” I think the majority of what passes for love in this world falls into that category. ("I love you because you meet my needs in some way"... "I love you because of the way you make me feel"... "I love you because of what you do for me")
But in coming to a more mature and complete understanding of how totally, unconditionally, and sacrificially we are loved by our Creator (and always have been), we are set free from the bondage of our needs. Only then are we are free to love with abandon, and in doing so, we set others free from our expectations. Human beings simply cannot meet each other's deepest needs.
When we allow ourselves to be filled to the brim with the love of God, that inexhaustible love flows out of us in a steady stream. My son-in-law knows that kind of love. That love gets up at midnight to walk his wife to the bathroom or change a stinky diaper. (The baby's, not hers!) That love finds her more beautiful with a crossed eye and a shaking hand than he did on the day he looked into her gorgeous aqua blues and put a ring on her finger. (Plus, he's still just flat out crazy about her, as she is of him.)
I thank God that my 26-year-old son-in-law is so "rooted and established in love, that he has received the power to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that he may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:17-19) And from that place of fullness, he is able to live out Christ's call to love my daughter selflessly, sacrificially, and unconditionally:
"A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another." (John 13:34)
If Bridget had just known Jesus, it might have lasted.....forever.
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." (Ephesians 5:25)