I love Sara and Yali! And I know you feel the same, you love Sara and Yali. My love for these two is the kind of effusive, shameless love that gets middle-schoolers teased on the playground. My love for these two is the kind of love that compels sophomoric young boys to taunt, “if you love them so much, why don’t you marry them?!” Well, I am, marrying them, so there.
The reason I love these two so much, the reason I suspect I’m not alone in my adoration, is that Sara and Yali, both together and individually, bring this feeling out in me. When I am with them, I feel more like myself, like the version of me I want to be for the rest of the day. When I’m with them I’m happier, I’m funnier, I’m more animated, I’m more attentive, I’m more generous. In short, I’m more alive. You’ve felt it too, haven’t you?
The quality of aliveness that I’m talking about isn’t an accident. If I wanted to be really sentimental (as if I haven’t been already), I’d tell you it’s the love between them that evokes this, but that’s not entirely the truth. It’s what they do with their love, not only of each other but of the life they’ve been given.
This couple treats their life like a gift that matters. Like King Monobaz from the Talmud reading, they invest themselves shrewdly in people and causes that have the potential to change the world. The wealth they are creating is not measured by the size of their home, or the prestige of their job titles, or the value of their combined accounts. It is measured by the communities they have created over a lifetime of action and activism. It is the measured by the scope of the vision they have for a world where poverty is met with generosity, where workers are treated with dignity, and where peace is established on the basis of justice.
To be in the presence of two people for whom the gift of life is understood as best spent tending to the lives of others, neighbors known and unknown, both near and far away, is to stand on sacred ground. I suspect this is what drew them to each other as well, the sense they each have that when they are with each other, they are standing on holy ground. On days like this, when the sky is blue and bright and the air is crisp, as we gather around these two as living signs of the communities that birthed them, that befriended them, that shaped them, that gave their lives purpose and meaning, we can all tell that this ground is holy.
But not all days are like this. Not all skies are blue and not all gatherings are this beautiful. We are not always this beautiful, are we? And sometimes the ground beneath our feet feels like nothing more than mud. Sometimes the person to whom we’ve pledged ourselves feels like nothing more than an obstacle. Sometimes we succumb to the allure of low expectations, the temptation to fail.
The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4) However, he immediately follows his exhortation to joy with encouragement that God’s people be disciplined in their outlook on life:
Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Phil. 4:8)
When Paul wrote these words, he was in prison awaiting death because of his commitment to a vision of the world that called for an overthrow of the empire in service to the commonwealth of God. I hear in his advice to others the very real struggle that he himself must have faced as he approached the end of his life.
It is hard work to be hopeful. It is exhausting to keep on behaving as though the world might someday be more than it is today. In our efforts to amend society, in our struggles to reform ourselves, it is so easy to become jaded. Our heartbreak can so easily degrade into resentment.
Our marriages are especially vulnerable. Who better to lash out at than the person who has promised to stay? Who better to neglect than the person who has vowed “from this day onward”?
So we are called to discipline, Yali and Sara and all of us. To set our minds on that which is true and honorable, just and pure, pleasing and commendable. To constantly be looking for what is excellent in one another, not out of some naïve denial of our inevitable flaws, but because we know that what we attend to will flourish. That if we want a more excellent marriage, a more excellent world, then we must commit ourselves to being students of all that is excellent in them.
In this, Yali and Sara, you have picked well. You are each inexhaustible students of creation. In the course of a single day you have been known to ride your bikes down to the lake, to spend hours lost in a book, to gather friends for another incredible meal, to pick up your fiddle or strap on your dancing shoes and practice your crafts. You consistently demonstrate such an awareness of the gift of this life, and you do not squander it.
I love this about you. I love that you are committed to a world made better not only by right politics and right policies, but by rich food and irresistible music and a full-bodied enjoyment of God’s good creation and everything in it. It is the marriage of Nina Simone and South African freedom songs. It is the ability to enjoy the present even as you work for the future, which is as good a definition of marriage as any.
With gratitude that God has given you to each other, and the two of you to all of us.