I grew up thinking true love was just like the Cinderella story: I’d meet some dashing prince who was completely enamored with me and he would place me in my flowing, train-bedecked dress on the back of his gleaming white warhorse to gallop off into the golden sunset to his glorious castle on the hill, never to have another worry crease my alabaster brow. I’m starting to think that might not be completely accurate.
I met the handsome prince, but the horse, the castle, the balls have never materialized. Children and unending work were not a part of my visuals.
So is this it? Did I win the prize and my greed won’t let me see it? How do I know what real love is?
There used to be a test: “If you love something, set it free… If it comes back, it’s yours; If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be.” Really? Just like my dog, if after feeding him, my man comes home at night, it’s proof of his love? Seems a bit shallow for a covenant relationship. And while it sounds secure, it doesn’t inspire me to songs of praise. There has to be more to Cinderella’s smile than that the Prince came back.
Love for my children is the easiest to see and analyze: care and commitment are keywords. Will I be available in the middle of the night, for anything great or small? Will I take care of them even when they’re dirty and grouchy? Love for them boils down to reliability and availability for whatever, whenever. It is also intensely gratifying to watch them grow and see my fingerprints on their lives become apparent. I will put their needs before mine until I have nothing left to give….and still give more. This has to be a clue to what true love is, because Jesus mentioned that we need to die to ourselves. This kind of commitment definitely requires dying to my selfish desires.
He also said that whoever became as a little child would be the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. I have yet to meet a child that doesn’t give a lot more than he expects in return. My little ones have overflowed with gifts for me, for no other reason than that they want to express their love for me. My glance lights up their days, they sing songs about me, and they make and build me things. If they’ve been grouchy, they quite often vacuum my room or create beautiful cards to make it up to me. Am I this genuine? Generosity of this sort has to be a part as well.
So now what does all this mean in the context of marriage? The relationship of Christ and the church is supposed to be reflected in the marriage of a man and his bride. In that perfect union, it does look like Cinderella. I’ve even heard that the original tale was designed to teach that – selfless, cheerful service is rewarded with subsequent redemption and living happily ever after. We, however, are imperfect humans. I must face the fact that, just as I am no Proverbs 31 woman, I may not see Christ clearly in my husband’s life, either. We are both clearly in need of redeeming.
I am a mop-maid, scrubbing endless acres of tile on my knees. Calloused knees and dishpan hands have replaced the hope that’s looking more and more like a fairy tale. I know I must be lovely in spite of my surroundings, but I can’t seem to help myself. I still want to be singled out, made new and clean, so I may join the masses of beautiful taffeta and lace on the dance floor.
And then the simplest thought occurs to me: Cinderella’s allure comes precisely from what flows out of her. Although she runs quite low at times, she manages her home and resources well. She finds beauty and encouragement in the lilting songbirds nesting on the porch, the soft gray mice scampering in the barn, and the delightful fragrance of the trees outside her window. She finds a certain satisfaction in caring for the wicked, useless stepsisters who are so wrapped up in themselves they don’t even realize how much they need her.
Cinderella has spent time soaking in an eternal source of joy. Her generous father taught her well before leaving her on her own. Her love for him bubbles over in work done as for him; she would serve the devil himself cheerfully from that well. And whether anybody notices her or not, her inner beauty has a softening effect on all around her. She loves everyone in her path like a child and a mother combined, and there isn’t a soul who doesn’t want to be in that path of pure devotion.
In spite of her sequestered position, truth and love always shine forth, and she is noticed by the most influential man in the kingdom – the future king. The one her father prepared her for. He sees that she is clearly the only woman qualified to be his queen because she loves and cares for his people just as much as he does.
If I become disheartened with the evil around me, it is a sign that I need some more soaking in what my Father left me. I need to read his writings, steep in his values, and hope in his promises. I must seek out the glories around me, care for those in my sphere, and do what needs done as he did. I need to know that I’m not invisible. The secret to true love is within me: it is his spirit, worked out. I would do it all anyway for him. The Prince will someday carry me off to our castle and surround me in everlasting love and joy. I will spin and float around the ballroom, laughing and singing with him. And all that I do is merely appreciation in advance for the invitation.