Veronica Zundel refuses to run after the thrill of the ‘new’, but values hard-won, deepening relationships
Many years ago I strung together several short poems to make a long one (it was the only way I could write a long poem at the time). It was essentially a potted history of my romantic career up to the last boyfriend before my husband. The title I eventually landed on for it was: ‘The girl who loved beginnings’.
What can equal the thrill of discovering that the person you are attracted to reciprocates those feelings? Whether you are 17 or 70, there is nothing like that first excitement. It is easy to get addicted to that buzz – even to end a relationship just to experience the fizzing feeling of the next one starting.
I wonder whether that is why, when you are part of a couple and you are introduced to a new person, often one of the first questions they ask is: “How did you two meet?” It’s as though they want to participate vicariously in that opening gambit, that emerging landscape of a new romance. We are in February, month of St Valentine’s Day, month too when we can sometimes get a tiny foretaste of spring on the way and we all know where a young woman’s fancy, and sometimes an old woman’s, turns in spring.
Lured by the thrill of the new
I wonder whether we are too wedded (or at least engaged) to the allure of new beginnings. There is, I think, a spiritual equivalent, where we feel obliged to tell every enquirer how we began to follow Jesus, and the feelings that accompanied that first flush of faith – feelings, if we are honest, that may be rarer now decades have passed (over five decades in my case). Why focus always on the honeymoon, as it were, and not on the marriage? (My honeymoon by the way was a nightmare and I wouldn’t go back to it for anything…)
Surely it would be a better witness, and a stronger declaration, if we talked about and demonstrated the joys of a long walk with God, where faith, hope and love have ideally become natural rhythms in our lives? A faith journey, like any relationship journey, can become like an old pair of slippers – a little frayed at the edges, bald and faded in colour. However, those slippers are still the most comfortable you’ve ever had, as they’ve adapted to your feet or your feet to them, and you wouldn’t part with them for anything.
After 33 years of marriage, many storms and many reconciliations, my husband and I still don’t really understand each other and probably never will. We have, through sorrows and joys, built a relationship that is far from, but far stronger than, the flowery but fragile bower of a honeymoon period. We have raised a son, we have buried three parents, we have lived through illness and challenge and endless misunderstandings and somehow, miraculously, we are still here. Isn’t that worth celebrating?
Standing strong as Christians
Perhaps the same can be said of our relationship with God. I believe, though sometimes with difficulty, that God understands me thoroughly. But I will certainly never understand God. If I thought I did, what I ‘understood’ wouldn’t be God.
I suspect that when we are new Christians, needing affirmation, God sprinkles miracles on us like fairy dust, just as a new partner may give thoughtful gifts, compliments and unexpected kisses. Later, to coin a metaphor, God takes the stabilisers off the training bicycle in order that we may learn to balance by ourselves. Something similar may happen as a human relationship weathers. And it is precisely by these apparent setbacks that we grow stronger, more able to support others and to stand for what we believe in, until (and I for one am still a long way from this) we grow into what Paul calls the full ‘stature’ or ‘maturity of Christ’ (see Ephesians 4:13).
So maybe as Christians we should stand in contrast to the ‘everything new’ culture around us, and fly the flag for old love, for old faith, for experience and hard-won wisdom and everything that is sidelined in our world. We should stop our adulation for the latest new singer or speaker, and honour those who have fought the fight and kept the faith, who are nearing the end of their travels and have much to tell about what they have learned along the way. Because, paradoxically, it is when all things end that God has promised to make everything amazingly, thrillingly new – and it will stay new for ever (see Revelation 21:5).