TENDERNESS IN MARRIAGE
A Sermon by the Rt. Rev. Peter M. Buss
Heavenly conjugial love exists when a man, together with his wife whom he loves most tenderly, and with his children, lives content in the Lord. From this he has in this world an inward pleasantness, and in the other life heavenly joy. Arcana Coelestia 5051
The sermon this morning presents an idealistic view of marriage. Some people here this morning may not presently be married, or their marriages may be undergoing distress. To them it may seen that these teachings are not applicable. Yet true marriage love is born of a deeper marriage. The New Church teaches that within each individual human mind, there can be a marriage of truth with good, of high principle with the practice of it. This deep marriage is the origin of marriage love between two people. If anyone has it, then one day - before they enter heaven - they will also be given by the Lord a partner whom they will love - deeply, eternally, tenderly. These ideals are for people of all time. Every angel who comes into heaven will know the blessings of marriage, and realize its highest ideals.
So, let us turn our minds this morning to the subject of tenderness in marriage, and reflect that the principles which we hear will apply one day to every one of us. Indeed, they apply also to most other human relationships.
Tenderness is a word we often associate with helplessness. We feel tender towards a little baby, who could easily be hurt; or to someone who is aged or infirm, or sick. We may be tender towards certain animals because our neglect would hurt them. But we are less likely to think of this feeling with another human being, healthy and strong like ourselves, who seems perfectly capable of taking care of himself, or herself. Towards our married partners, it is natural to assume a somewhat harder approach (except in affectionate moments).
Often our marriages are based on a type of friendship typical of high school boys. Boys of teenage years develop a fairly rigid code of decency which they expect themselves and their friends to observe. It is a good code, based on fairness. Each person gets an equal share of rights and benefits. Each person is expected to look out for himself, and if he is not receiving his just portion, he will take steps to correct the situation. Each is fiercely protective of his personal freedom, and resists any attempts to get him to do things he does not feel like doing. As long as rules like these are observed, the friendship can be a rewarding thing.
Couples are tempted to adopt a similar attitude in marriage. It is a partnership, each person putting in a degree of effort, accommodating up to a point, but guaranteed a degree of freedom. Within those parameters, love is enjoyed, and shown; but if a partner steps over the bounds, then he or she has to be brought back to a sense of the limits, and this is often done by rebuke, threats, or quarrels. It is easy to slip into a pattern of marriage like this, feeling you must guard your rights, but being prepared to be kind and loving as long as they are recognized.
There is a practical side to this attitude, but it is far below what the Lord offers us. The Lord in the Writings for the New Church speaks of tenderness as the ideal in marriage. He asks us to rise above the schoolboy relationship of a reserve of love, of the threat of punishment and unpleasantness if our will is not done. He speaks of a tender love between husband and wife (Conjugial Love 321:7), which softens hearts towards each other, and breeds in time complete trust in one another, and a desire to do him or her every good (Conjugial Love 181).
This ideal is far above the normal concept of marriage. The cynic in us says it cannot be. The practical part of us looks at our own relationships and says, I won't be able to live up to that ideal. Perhaps that is why the Lord says in His new revelation that true marriage love is so rare that its quality is not known. But this is His promise. It is the true relationship between husband and wife. It is what every angel feels for her or his consort. It is what you will feel, when you enter heaven as one of a married pair.
The Writings speak in beautiful ways of the gentleness of love between a husband and wife. On one occasion Swedenborg was invited to a temple of wisdom in the other world, and the men talked about the beauty of the female sex. We must understand this to mean the internal beauty of womankind - the wondrous form of their minds. Some of the men said that of themselves men are harsh, and their hearts cold. Their understandings like a good fight and they are proud of them. But when love is added through marriage, they become gentled, and through tenderness they learn wisdom. The Lord took the beauty and grace of life from man and transferred them into woman, said one, and that is why a man not reunited with his beauty and grace in woman is stern, severe, dry and unattractive, and also not wise except for his own sake alone, in which case he is a dunce. On the other hand, when a man is united with his beauty and grace of life in a wife, he becomes agreeable, pleasant, full of life and lovable, and therefore wise (Conjugial Love 56).
Then the wife of one angel husband came into the room and invited him to speak. In her presence the love that came from her softened his voice, and gave a gentleness to the thoughts he uttered. The life of wisdom from the wife was perceived in his speech; for the love of it was in the tone of his voice. So, it will always be with a man who loves his wife tenderly.
Tenderness is a property of love. Therefore, the Lord created it in women, and by it human life is made warm and loving. By it we escape from guarding our rights, and protecting our freedom, and getting our fair portion, into the security of a love which is innocent, and not proud. So the Writings teach: As woman is beautiful, so she is tender; and as she is tender, so she has the ability to perceive the delights of conjugial love; and because she can do this, she can look after the good of both people, fostering love, and inmost friendship. (Index on Marriage 2019).
The sphere of a wife who is tenderly loved by her husband is perceived in heaven most beautifully fragrant (Conjugial Love 171). Those who love each other tenderly on earth are certain they will live together forever. When they think they will be parted by death, they grieve, but then they are revived by the hope of an eternity in heaven (Conjugial Love 216). The Lord speaks directly to this hope when He reveals something new: Those who have lived together in love truly conjugial are not separated by the death of one, for the spirit of the deceased partner continues to dwell with the spirit of the one not yet deceased, and this until the death of the latter. Then they meet again and reunite and love each other even more tenderly than before because they are in the spiritual world. (Conjugial Love 321)
Yet tenderness seems to be a weakness! If you feel tender towards someone else, he or she can take advantage of you. Beware! Protect yourself. Weave a shell around you so you can't be hurt. Even wives in heaven fell into this error, for when Swedenborg learned that wives love their husbands tenderly, they asked him not to tell people on earth. They feared it was a weakness of women. Perhaps their husbands would take advantage of them, perhaps they would despise them for such a tender love. Swedenborg refused, saying that tender love is the greatest strength there is. It is goodness itself, and truth itself, he said (Spiritual Experiences 6110).
Tender love is amazingly powerful. It can accomplish more than any other kind. It is time that the world knew this!
There is another reason why tenderness is so important in marriage. In the internal sense of the Word, it has reference to loves which are just beginning to grow, which have not yet come to full strength, and so are fragile, easily hurt and destroyed (Arcana Coelestia 4377). Each of us is learning to love, and what we presently have is often in need of protection. The loves that belong to heaven are tender, newborn at first inside of us, and it is these growing feelings from heaven that we want to share with the person with whom we will live in heaven. We want to explore them, to have him or her rejoice with us in them.
We need to be tender with these growing feelings. If we do, our partners can open their hearts and share their new-found joys with us without fear of having them trampled or scorned, without being afraid that we will use them against them. May the Lord teach us this deeper gentleness towards the precious loves that He is giving our partners! In the communion of these inner joys there is heavenly happiness. They dwell together in all things of life, even to the inmost ones. They who so dwell together on earth dwell together as angels after death (Arcana Coelestia 2732).
Here are some examples. A couple has their first child. They want to be good parents, and they are aware how inexperienced they are. At times each will be tempted to criticize the other, partly to cover his or her own insecurity, partly because they want so much to do what is right for the baby. But this is a time for being gentle with the other uncertainties, for encouraging, not finding fault.
Perhaps a husband loses his job. His self-respect is threatened. He is hurt at what happened, hurt with others, angry perhaps at himself. The wife is hurt too. She is frightened for the future. It can easily be a time of recrimination - or it can be a time when they are tender with each other's feelings, and draw strength from each other.
A mother is trying to treat all her children fairly, but one of them is going through a difficult phase. She wonders if she loves him as much as the others. This isn't the moment, perhaps, for her husband to point out what she's doing wrong, but to be aware of her fears.
Then there are growing feelings which should be cherished, and not allowed to go unnoticed. The first Christmas you spent together, the first birthday of a child - these are wonderful memories. There is that time when you were in a crowd at a party, and looked across the room, and knew just what the other was thinking or feeling, and felt a rush of tenderness for each other. Or the time when you were apart, and remembered how much you love each other. Sometimes we let those moments pass, and don't recall them and share them. Those are the moments of great strength in our lives. Tender love is more powerful than any other kind. It is the wonder we feel, that the Lord could take two ordinary, simple, unpretentious people like you and fill your hearts with such amazing love. Deal gently with those feelings, and treasure them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.
Yet such feelings can't grow if we are too often inconsiderate or harsh with each other. We know how often precious moments are spoiled. One person wants understanding or sympathy or consolation, and receives instead coldness or impatience. A partner may feel excited about something that happened in the day and is squashed because the other feels aloof or bad-tempered. One partner is considerate all day, and then is berated over some tiny bit of neglect. Negative feelings like these hurt the gentle, growing loves in the mind, and cause them to shrivel up and form a protective layer against further hurt. Hearts become hardened and draw apart. Each feels, If I can't trust him/her with my normal feelings, how can I share the precious ones?
When we look at our own relationships, we may easily feel hopeless. How often have we been harsh? How seldom tender? What hope is left? Why not relegate tender love to some other lucky people, and go on with our schoolboy relationship, protecting ourselves, fighting for our rights, and being loving now and then? It's a practical relationship - the most we can feel on this earth. Wave blown our chance for tender love. We might even think, If I tried to be tender now, he or she would wonder what I wanted.
Human life is not about being faultless from the beginning. The love of marriage is tiny at first. Often it is going to forsake us when the strong, robust love of self rears its head, and we will be anything but tender. But the Lord doesn't condemn us if we have slipped, and neither in time will our partners if, and only if, we admit that such harshness is not good! The path to true married love is also the path to heaven. They are the same path. It is beset by many pitfalls, shadowed by many regrets. But a couple who keeps walking forward leaves those things behind as the Lord's mercy softens them through the years.
The important thing is to admit that tenderness is essential, and that harshness is wrong. Don't justify ourselves. Don't excuse hardness. Don't suggest that the other person deserves to be treated less than kindly. Believe, with all your hearts, no matter what the failures of the past, that the Lord can build a beautiful, gentle, sensitive love in your hearts. Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool (Isaiah 1:18).
Perhaps the most difficult thing in all of life is to admit that your own anger was wrong. Everything in us fights against it, because that admission is the beginning of repentance! The Lord asks us, when our hearts feel hardened towards our partners, to look at this person whom above all others in life we love, and force ourselves to admit the wrongness of what we feel, to admit that the negative feelings we have at the moment are against the deepest hopes of our hearts. We can make ourselves do that, and resist the temptation to hurt, and pray and work for the return of tenderness. It is hard, sometimes very hard; but not impossible, for with God, nothing shall be impossible. It is hard because hell fights against tender love between partners more than against any other feeling, and glories in combat and strife in the home. It fights tender love because it knows that it is the most powerful love of heaven.
We know it too. In our moments of tender love, we know that we can overcome hardness, that for the sake of a love which will soften us eternally, the effort, and the apology are worth making. For whatever the right or wrong of an argument, we are being untrue to our bond of love if we are not gentle. For what married couple does not feel, sometimes too deeply for words, that their greatest happiness will come when never again will they hurt each other?
And the Lord promises that it will be so, because it is from Him that love truly conjugial, with its tenderness, inflows into two hearts. Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them; and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes, and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God (Ezekiel 11:19,20). Amen
Matthew 19:1-11; Spiritual Experiences 6110; Conjugial Love 330; Conjugial Love 216; Conjugial Love 321; Conjugial Love 171; Arcana Coelestia 5051
Women have a twofold beauty, one a natural beauty having to do with their face and figure, and the other a spiritual beauty having to do with their love and demeanor. These two kinds of beauty are very often separated in the natural world, but they are always united in the spiritual world; for outward beauty in the spiritual world is an expression of a person's love and demeanor. A woman's beauty lies in her gentle tenderness and in her consequent keen sensitivity of feeling. That is what occasions a woman's love for a man and a man's love for a woman. Conjugial Love 330
Those who have lived together in love truly conjugial are not actually separated by the death of one; for the spirit of the deceased continues to dwell with the spirit of the one not yet deceased, and this until the death of the other, at which time they come together again and are reunited, loving each other even more tenderly than before, because they are in the spiritual world. Conjugial Love 321:7.
The atmosphere of love emanating from a wife who is tenderly loved, in heaven is perceived as sweetly fragrant, considerably more delightful than the one which is perceived in the world by a newly married husband in the first days of marriage. Conjugial Love 171.