J. R. Miller
This hour ought to be with her a time of deep thoughtfulness. It should be a time of fearlessness. Perfect love casts out fear. No girl is ready to announce her engagement, if she is anxious and afraid in any degree concerning the matter. She must have perfect trust in the man to whom she has pledged her love. If she has not, she should wait longer until she is sure.
In her thought of what she is about to do, she must think much on the question, whether the man who asks her hand will meet all the needs of her nature. It is not enough that he is able to provide a home of comfort for her to live in. This is not all that is requisite for her happiness. She may have a palace of luxury and may not lack anything that money can provide—and yet be miserable.
It is not enough, either, that he is a man of ability and rank. He may stand high among men and may appear to be in every way noble and worthy. He may be gifted, talented, and brilliant. He may seem to have in him all the essential qualities of manliness. He may be brave and strong and true. Women are attracted by greatness. They worship the heroic. They admire men who can do great things. Weakness and timidity they dislike. They are not won by cowardice and inefficiency. The man who is bold, fearless, who is not intimidated by danger, whom no difficulty can daunt and no obstacle can defeat, appeals to them irresistibly.
But strength is not all a woman needs in the man to whom she would commit herself for the keeping and cherishing which a husband promises in the marriage contract. He may be brave and powerful, and yet may lack tenderness. Strength and tenderness are united in the ideal life—but strength without gentleness will make no woman happy. She craves love. Her heart needs tenderness. There will come days in her life when her heart is hungry, when she is in sorrow, when she is suffering, and when even the noblest strength will not be to her, all that she craves. The most brilliant natural gifts will not then satisfy her. She wants then to be loved. She must have the gentle word, the kindly sympathy, the soothing touch. Courage is a fine quality—but courage may be brutal. It may be crude, tyrannical, and pitiless. True, manly courage—is as gentle as a mother with her child.
Jan Carlyle said, "I married for ambition; and my husband has exceeded all that my wildest hopes ever imagined of him—but and I am miserable!" She married a genius, and got a husband who broke her heart by his churlish tyranny. The world praised him, and wrote his name high up on fame's column; but what comfort was that, to the gentle woman who was crushed by his miserable ungentleness, and never heard a kindly word from his lips? The ideal man is brave. He is true. He is strong. He is upright. But if a man is brave and true and strong and upright—and yet is crude, unfeeling, and ungentle—he is not going to be a comfort to his wife through the varying experiences of her life. There will come days when amid all the luxury and splendor her husband will provide, her heart will cry out for simple tenderness. There will be hours when she would give all the wealth, the honor, the brilliant name, the world's adulation, which her husband brings to her—for something of the sweetness of common kindness. The girl should think of this when she is planning for her marriage.
She must ask another question—but whether she is able to fulfill her part in the marriage compact into which she is about to enter. Can she meet the needs of the man who asks her to be his wife? Can she inspire in him the latent qualities of nobleness and power which wait for the touch of a woman's hand? Can she do her part in making him the man he ought to be, the man he may be? It will not be enough that she has the expectation of fine social position, of a brilliant marriage. If she has in her mind the true thought of the matter, that which will press most heavily upon her heart will be what she is going to make of herself, the woman she is going to be. She is loved, and love should wake up in her all the slumbering powers of her being.
In one of the Psalms there is a suggestive prayer: "Awake, my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp. I myself will awake right early." There is a glory in everyone of us, some power of nobleness, some hidden beauty, some possible worth, some seed which may grow into a heavenly plant, and some bud which may open into a wondrous flower. The commonest life has glory in it—but it may yet be sleeping. It is a holy moment when we become even dimly conscious that we have any measure of glory in us, and begin really to pray that it may be awakened. It is a blessed hour when a young person for the first time prays, "Awake, my glory," and then declares, "I myself will awake right early." In too many, the call to awake is never heard and the glory sleeps on.
Love is an experience which, if allowed to work itself out freely, calls for the awakening of the best that is in the life. It stirs the whole being. The prayer in the old Psalm reveals the consciousness of music slumbering in the soul, and calls for its awakening. "Awake, psaltery and harp." There are strings with marvelous capacity for music which have never given out a note. The poet calls upon these to awake. There is music in our lives which is sleeping, and never has been awakened. Love should awaken every sleeping chord. When love has come into a girl's heart, she should become aware of a thousand possibilities of beauty, of sweetness, of noble character in herself. She is not yet the girl she may become, and ought to become. Love is waking her up, and she begins to feel a thousand longings for the lovely things she sees in her vision. The revealings she has, are glimpses of what she may be, of what God wants her to be, and she should strive at once to reach them.
Life thus grows serious to the girl to whom love has come. She must set herself the task of becoming the woman God wants her to be. Love is calling for her best. Life is trivial and unworthy, if it calls her only to an empty happiness such as sometimes young people think of as life's best. If she is worthy, and if she has any true conception of the finest possibilities of life, the vision which love wakes in her soul is of the blossoming out of all the richest things until they have reached their best and highest. One writes, "The only conceivable thing that can be named as the object of life is character; for the simple reason that it is the only thing that lasts—but to take this self, made up of heart and mind and will, and train it in the line of its creative design, bring out all its powers, train it away from its faults and defects, make it strong and compact and substantial—but a real thing, harmonious, true, the very thing that it was designed to be." Nothing less than this should be the aim of the girl who is dreaming of her marriage.
This is the call of the deepest heart of every true man to the woman he has chosen to be his wife. This is the vision that rises in his soul when he thinks of her. No less radiant and lovely should the vision in her own soul be, as she thinks of the woman she would be when her marriage day comes.
The girl who has accepted love, and announced her engagement, should consecrate her life anew to Christ and commit herself to him in a very special and sacred way. She has always needed Christ. She has needed his protection. Through the days of her childhood and young girlhood, her life has been like a sweet flower exposed to danger and harm of every kind, in peril of being spoiled and crushed, and only the shelter of the strength of Christ has kept her. The warmth of his love has been the summer of her life. The shadow of his might, has been her defense. All that she is and has become she owes to his gentle care through the years of her childhood and youth. But she never needed Christ before, as she needs him now. Life is growing more and more serious to her. New questions are coming to be answered. New responsibilities are arising before her. She is preparing for marriage, and marriage will bring her into new relationships where great wisdom will be required, where mistakes will be perilous, and where only God can do for her, what she needs.
Marriage is thought of by most people entering it as something very beautiful and very happy. It is thought of as a dream of delight—but ofttimes as too much of a dream, with not enough reality. Very soon the two who have begun their wedded life with this dream vision in their minds, find that after all marriage is something very serious. No matter how sweet the happiness, how exalted and ethereal the experiences, they cannot live in the skies—but must come down to common earth—the man to business, tasks, wages, regular hours, unreasonable people, complications, competitions; the woman to housekeeping, meals, domestic cares and frets, questions of income and expense, clothes, neighbors, society, and a thousand things which may be so tactfully met as to make the daily life a beautiful song—or may be so untactfully experienced as to result in the worst kind of discordance.
Wedded life has in it splendid possibilities of happiness—the dream continuing amid all the confusing realities of mundane affairs—but it has in it also distressing possibilities of wrangling, disputing, frets, tears, unhappiness, and all manner of bitterness. Those who marry need large measures of patience, good nature, gentleness, and self-control. It requires only a few minutes to go through a ceremony and to be pronounced married—but it takes a good while to be really married—married through and through, so that two lives actually blend in one.
The lesson of self forgetfulness has to be learned—love that wearies not, that is not provoked, that thinks no evil, that suffers long and is kind that never fails. Almost never do young people enter the wedded life with no further discipline necessary to prepare them for living together in complete happiness. The time never comes when patience, self restraint, and love in its spirit of mercy, humility, and endurance—are no longer required in living together in unbroken peace. Happiness in marriage is not the result of a ceremony, the putting on of a ring, a honeymoon tour, a beautiful home, and a circle of delightful friends; it is a lesson which must be learned in joy and in sorrow, a lesson which only Christ can teach.
All this the girl who is planning to marry needs to think of, in the days before the wedding day. She sorely needs Christ in those days. He alone can give her the love which will make her ready to do her part. If she is wise and thoughtful, therefore, she will take Christ into her life, into every phase of it, and will learn to live so sweetly that when she enters the experience of marriage, there will be no fear that it will fail of happiness.
These are only a few suggestions that looking at the engagement ring on the hand of a happy girl, start in the mind. Of course an engagement ring is not the only preparation a girl needs to ensure a joyous wedded life; it is not a charm with magical power; she needs a preparation of mind and heart. She needs a self discipline which will bring all the powers of her being into harmony and under a self-control which will make her safe from all impatience, whatever the experience may be. She needs an assimilation of her life and character to Christ's—so that in her soul the image of Christ shall shine. She needs a trust in Christ which will lead her to him for strength in every time of need or of danger. She needs a consecration to Christ which will keep her faithful to him in all her life. If she thus consciously belongs to Christ—she will take him into her home as her abiding Guest; and where Christ lives—love will live.