A cousin told me about her friend, a widow for twenty years, who was just beginning to open her heart to the thought of a new love. This woman prayed, “Lord, if you want me to remarry, you’ll have to drop him in my lap.” While buckled into an airplane, ready for take-off and reading her Bible, someone took the seat next to hers.
After she put her reading down, the man politely introduced himself and they began a conversation that ended in marriage. Not exactly dropped into her lap. But assigned a seat next to her on an airplane. Headed in the same direction in life. With so many things in common. And actually, their conversation didn’t end in marriage; they are still happily conversing with each other.
This story caused me to think about how a second, later-in-life marriage would be significantly different from a young love. In a first marriage, the couple is starting from scratch—building a home and family and traditions and setting life goals together. In a later-in-life marriage, we enter into a partnership with someone who has an already-established career or calling, kids and grands, perhaps a house in a particular neighborhood.
In her book, Bread & Wine, Shauna Niequist wrote about a wedding she attended of two adults who already owned homes and businesses and had families and traditions: “Where there was naiveté, here there is sobriety. Where a young bride leaves her family, an older bride brings hers with her. Where a young groom hopes all goes well, an older groom knows what to do when it doesn’t.”
It took three years after getting used to widowhood for me to even begin thinking about maybe, perhaps, possibly going out on a . . . (gulp) date. And then it was several months before I actually went out with anyone.
It was fun. But then it wasn’t. I enjoyed the companionship, the conversations, the shared humor. But I didn’t care for the guessing games, wondering if a guy was going to ask for a next date, dealing with rejection. So I decided I would never date again. Because I had started giving a little bit of my heart away each time.
I began stacking up bricks around my heart. Just in case. Because it’s what we do, this brick-stacking thing that’s supposed to protect us from pain.
Except it doesn’t. Instead, it isolates us. It limits joy. It doesn’t allow anyone else in.
Keeping our hearts open is risky business. But when we think about it, so many of life’s positive outcomes involve risk. Without stepping out—cautiously, courageously—cool things don’t happen. Cool things that involve expanding our reach of love: fostering or adopting children, providing respite care for hospice patients, rocking babies in the NICU. Cool things that impact our corners of the world: volunteering for that medical mission trip, cooking/serving meals at the homeless shelter, providing clerical support for the organization that rescues women and children from human trafficking.
These words of Jesus, spoken on this earth a couple thousand years ago: “[When] a grain of wheat . . . is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” — John 12:25-26, The Message
I want to be reckless in my love. Which really means I want to be so trusting of God that I don’t care if my recklessly-loving heart is broken wide open.
“That night felt sacred and beautiful,” wrote Shauna Niequist about the wedding. “It was a hard-won celebration, a willingness to re-believe in love, to fall again, to teach and be taught, to enter through a door both had believed was closed forever.”
Hearts were designed for risky living, not guarded living. And you better believe it will be painful from time to time.
But unopen-hearted living is no living at all.
You know those bricks we stacked as a protective measure? I’m thinking God wants us to take down the barriers and lay the bricks as a pathway that leads to our hearts.
A cancer widow, speaker, and award-winning writer, Marlys Johnson would rather lace up hiking boots than go shopping. She has a passion for repurposing old junk into cool new stuff, and an even deeper passion for showing people how God loves to scoop up the shatters of our brokenness and create new purpose. Marlys blogs at www.RenewRepurpose.com.