Editors Note: This week I am on vacation visiting T.S. As such The following is a guest post by my friend D.W. Syme.
There is a film that is often inflicted upon dutiful boyfriends or husbands. As the credits role, he sits there with one arm around his sniffling wife, the other holding her box of tissues and tries desperately not to look too relieved that movie has mercifully ended.
Actually, there are a lot of movies like that. But there is one forged by Nicholas Sparks in the saccharine sweet fires of Mount Cheese to rule them all. That film, of course, is The Notebook. To every man who ever pretended to care about this plot hole ridden mess of a movie, I salute you. But as awful an experience as watching a film like The Notebook is, there is at least one small moment that I like. I suspect I am not the only man to sympathize with this particular scene, as it may have applicability in many relationships. In the scene Noah becomes frustrated because Allie can’t seem to make up her mind, so he resorts to repeating, with mounting exasperation, the phrase, “what do you want?” Of course, for all that, he does not get a straight answer from the tearful Allie.
This has become something of a joke between my wife and I as she is sometimes indecisive about everything from career paths to where to eat dinner. In her moments of indecision, I put on my best Ryan Gosling impersonation and begin to repeat, “what do you want?” Sadly, though we have a good laugh about it, it has never worked out for me any better than it does for Noah in terms of helping my wife make up her mind. I guess, at the end of the day, the question is just not that easy to answer. And not just for Allie or for my wife, but for all of us. We all feel a longing within us. A need that is desperate to be met. Often when we pursue other things (love, a career, entertainment, a cause) we think we are fulfilling that need. We think we are giving ourselves what we want. But we’re not. Because we can’t give ourselves what we want. Because, as Solomon the wise put it in Ecclesiastes 3:11, God has placed eternity in our hearts. And there’s no amount of pleasure, ambition or anything else under the sun which we can amass to fill that eternity. If anyone could’ve done it, it would’ve been Solomon. So when he says it can’t be done, well, he should know. This is because we are finite creatures who exist in a finite world, yet eternity springs up inside us and begs to be filled by the infinite. So, while we husbands can go on and on trying to give our wives what they want, there is a sense in which we will always be a failure. If I am meant to be everything to my wife or she to me, as love is sometimes portrayed in the movies, then defeat is inevitable from the outset because our love is not eternal. It isn’t meant to be. But we are meant for an eternal love. Though we often forget, that is really the answer to the question, what do we want. We want to be loved. And we want to be loved in such a complete, eternal way, that we would never be in jeopardy of losing that love. So, in one sense, the eminent sage John Lennon wasn’t wrong to tell us, “all you need is love.” Yet, a cursory look through his sordid romantic history will tell you that he did not have the right kind of love in mind when he wrote it. Real love isn’t about the warm fuzzies my wife feels when we watch The Notebook (okay fine, I feel them too, how can you not root for those two crazy kids?). No, real love is, in a word, unconditional. It is a choice on the part of the lover, not the loved, that no matter the cost to themselves, they will seek the good of the one they love.
Recently my wife picked out another film that I enjoyed quite a bit more than The Notebook. It was a documentary called, Bombshell about the life of silver screen actress and part time inventor, Hedwig “Hedy” Lamarr. At a young age, Hedy began to be recognized for her uncommon beauty. She had many admirers, many men making promises. Hedy believed she was meant for the screen, so she pursued acting from the age of sixteen and it wasn’t long before she had a string of small roles. But it was two years later that she gained international acclaim when she appeared nude in the notorious film, Ecstasy. A film so salacious even Adolph Hitler had it banned. Later, she would say in interviews with the American press that she had been tricked by the director into taking off her clothes, and she now regretted it. From then on, Hedy was seen as a sex icon. A body. Throughout the documentary an elderly Hedy is heard in recordings of a phone interview for Forbes in which she has many insightful and heart wrenching comments about what was like to live life that way. “The brains of people are more interesting than their looks,” she says, “you never knew if they loved you or their fantasy of you. A man does not try to find out what is inside. He does not scratch the surface. If he did, he might find something much more beautiful than the shape of a nose or the color of an eye.” But the men of her day were not interested in the Hedy inside, only in the body which housed her. Her most disheartening confirmation of this fact came when Hedy, who was a constant tinkerer, created a form of unjammable communications which she believed would allow U.S. torpedoes to find their targets with greater regularity (today this concept is used in communications from WiFi to Bluetooth). Yet, when she presented her invention to the U.S. Navy, she was laughed off and told to use her body rather than her brain if she really wanted to help the war effort. So, she did. Hedy forgot about her patent and instead employed her sex appeal to sell war bonds to drooling audiences at scintillating shows. At sixteen, Hedy may have enjoyed being admired for her beauty. She may have believed that she would be beloved by the public because of it. But in time she realized that real love could not be found in the lustful hearts of men or the envious eyes of women.
Hedy also tried to find love in romantic relationships. She was married six times and each time it ended in divorce. One of those interviewed in the documentary mentioned that Hedy found herself thinking that the greatest love she had ever known was the love of her father. Why? Because he had known her before she was beautiful. Thus, it was the closest thing she had known to unconditional love. He didn’t want or need anything from her, he just loved her. That’s when it hit me. She was looking for God. What she caught a glimpse of in her earthly father is only truly manifest in the Father of all. Only the one who truly needs nothing can truly love unconditionally. God doesn’t love you because of what you look like, he doesn’t love you because of what you can give him, he doesn’t even love you because you followed his rules. He just loves you. 1 John 4: 10 tells us, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Ephesians 1 tells us that he predestined us for adoption as sons and daughters before the foundation of the world. His love cannot be bought, bartered or earned. It is freely given. And here’s the real kicker, it can never be lost. Not only is our God a being without needs, he is the same yesterday, today and forever. There is no shadow of turning with him. His immutability means that he isn’t going to change his mind about you. God does not say, “oops.” He does not play takesies-backsies. You are his son. You are his daughter. And there’s nothing you can do about it.
So, what do you want? Admit it, as sappy as it is, you want to hear, “I love you.” And you want to believe it. That’s why we cry when we watch The Notebook. That’s why we pursue the approval of the crowd. That’s why we are devastated when, like Hedy, we find out that the world didn’t truly care about us but only sought to exploit us after all. Well, worry not friend, because someone does love you, and he has proved it. He has written it in his own blood. On Calvary, he showed once and for all his undying love for you. Romans 5:7-8 spells it out plainly, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God is pleased when we do right, and he is displeased when we do wrong, make no mistake. He is a good father, what did you expect? Hedy’s father was heartbroken to see what the sleazy directors had made of her. But, like a good father, God’s love remains constant. It is not based on performance and thank God it is not. All he asks of you is to believe it.
If only Hedy Lamarr had believed that truth. Instead, it seems that over time she came to believe the lie that Satan had been telling her nearly all her life. That all she was good for was looks. That her self-worth was inextricably bound up in her beauty. But of course, as Solomon tells us, beauty fades. And Hedy was no exception. As she aged, she went under the knife many times for plastic surgery in a vain attempt to retain her youth. Before long, she needed surgery just to correct what been botched in previous surgeries. In the end, she became a recluse, refusing to be seen even by her own children and grandchildren because she believed the world did not want a Hedy Lamarr that was not beautiful. Even when her contributions to the field of communications were finally recognized and an award was to be given to her at a ceremony, her son was forced to accept on her behalf.
Satan wants you to think that your worth is bound up in things that are passing, things that can be lost. Things like beauty, fame, fortune, intelligence, skill. Don’t you believe it. Satan wants you on a hamster wheel working for approval. He would love nothing better than for you to spend your whole life looking everywhere for love except the one place you can get it. He wants you to work your fingers to the bone and shed every ounce of dignity you have for a taste of love, all the while never knowing that a flood of unconditional love flows freely from the wounds of the one who died in your place. Don’t mess around with lesser things. Look to Christ. He has what you want, and he’s giving it away for free.