Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story.
–Sweet Land (PG, 2005)
I tease my husband (the poor introvert!). Because whenever I write about him—he, who washes his hands of anything to do with internet attention—readers eat. It. Up.
But honestly, we’re all suckers for a good love story. Even if the characters are, say, a couple of anthropomorphic animated trolls with psychedelic hair. Yes, even guys, from Marvel comics to Jason Bourne.
We don’t just dig the attraction, gee-whiz-you-happen-to-be-exactly-the-Prince-Charming-I-was-keening-for stuff. We watch (or read, or listen to the top 40) for two hours straight, or a whole TV season (or six), our spirits pressing the two together through everything life or a team of writers can throw at them.
Whether it’s Mark Antony and Cleopatra, This is Us, or Gru and Lucy in Despicable Me 2, they’ve all got something in common: death to self. Sacrifice. Overcoming. Novelist Suzanne Wolfe pens, we touched each other in passing as if we always had to bridge the gap that separated us, no matter it was only air. The love stories that rivet us are those where the two will do anything to be together–but more than together. To be unified; to be one. It’s what author Paul Miller, of A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships calls “stubborn love.”
Love is…transfixing. As M. Night Shyamalan has written, The world bows to love. It kneels before it in awe.
I reflected on this as I thoroughly enjoyed the new Beauty and the Beast movie last night, despite a CGI-created beast and an actress I thoroughly associate with Harry Potter. I understand the concerning issues the Christian community has with this movie. But aside from that—and in my own efforts to see God in technicolor display in culture—I was overwhelmed the story that played out before me. Perhaps my favorite scene, there in the theater with the 3-D glasses bigger than my face, was when the entire castle transforms breathtakingly, radically, not just back to the way things were, but even better.
Living the J-Curve
Miller writes, “almost every Disney animated movie is a death-resurrection story—a gospel story of sorts…No story is more powerful than a gospel story. In fact, if you want to write a book or a movie script, you’d better make it a gospel story, or it likely won’t sell.” He describes the “J-curve” of a good story: when the “J” begins, things are good; happy—but then they descend (the bottom of the J) into some form of loss; of death. Yet in any good love story, this is followed by a “resurrection”–the long, upward arm of the J–hands-down better than before.
See, inside any love story…is the real Love Story. Of a God unrelenting to get us back; willing to lay down His own life so we could be brought close again. Miller elaborates that our own love requires living a J-curve.
As we go downward into death, we are active: active in seeking humility, in taking the lower place, in mindless, hidden serving. This is the journey Jesus took…We can do death. But we can’t do resurrection. We can’t demand resurrection—we wait for it.
Perhaps love stories are so compelling because they echo the story we’ve always wanted. And the one that God’s already playing out: His relentless pursuit. His bridging the gap. His restoring everything we ever lost.
Adventure Love Story
Honestly, when I began typing this post, I felt hypocritical. My husband—the man of my love story–and I had an argument a couple of hours before; hadn’t reached our reconciliation yet. But perhaps that’s what propels us all, swiveling our eyes to that couple who, despite the inevitable arguments and morning breath and toddler years and in-laws and naked selfishness, chooses us.
Miller insists that death is at the center of love. Sometimes that death is as simple as throwing your arm around your mate as you drift off to sleep after an argument. Sometimes it’s forgiving after something unspeakable. Sometimes it’s deciding your mate will be more important than the thing between you.
As for the two of us: death to self looked like my husband stepping through the doorway, arms frothy with a bouquet of white flowers I did not deserve (check out the photo of some of them!). Flowers that said, No matter what divides us, I choose us. He took our conflict, and made it an opportunity for us to continue even stronger than before. (As Ligon Duncan has said, “People don’t fall out of love. They fall out of repentance and forgiveness.”)
In every story of true love played out around the world–every grand proposal or small armful of unwarranted flowers, every angry word bitten back or dirty sock picked up out of generosity–God is retelling His own love story.
How’s that for a happy ending?
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