The Fireplace: A Parable

The Kingdom of Heaven is like this:

There was once a woman who lived alone in a house. Along with electricity and running water, the house had a gas stove, oven, water heater, and fireplace–all gas-powered! The woman used her stove, oven, and warm water without giving it the slightest conscious thought. She bathed herself daily, cleansed her hands several times a day, and prepared marvelous food with the stove and oven.

But she only used the fireplace when she had company—just for show. When her company would come over, the woman turned the fireplace on and off with a remote control. Her house was kept neat and tidy and in order, spotless, in case someone should walk in expecting to find a mess.

But one day, while she had company over, just as the people are leaving and she was trying to quench the fire with her remote, the fire did not go out—but kept blazing! Terrified, the woman rushed to the controls to the gas for the whole house, and turned the gas off to choke out the flame. Now unable to cook or clean properly, she left the house, too afraid of the fireplace to turn the gas back on and resume even her normal activity.

In her place came a young man and his wife, who had lived their entire lives in the country, where utilities were subject to the weather, and any fire had to be prepared ahead of time by chopping and seasoning wood for a brief and temporary blaze.

The young man’s wife was constantly chilly, hungry for heat. The owners of the house kindly reset the house’s gas so the young couple could bathe and the wife could cook amazing food. But still, the young man’s wife craved heat. They had been told that the fireplace was just a decoration, that it had served a purpose once long ago, but no more.

Unsatisfied with the answer they had received, and determined that if the fireplace had been of use then it would be no different now, the young couple got on hands and knees before the fireplace. They began to move aside one heavy stone log at a time, dirtying their hands and their clothes with soot. But they hardly noticed the mess they were creating, for how excited they were!

At last, they finally uncovered the pilot light’s wick. The young man struck a match to light the flame, and the couple leaped back in alarm as the fire roared to life! Overjoyed, the young man and his wife haphazardly threw the stone logs back in place, enjoying their new source of heat in light while being cautious of the majestic flames.

The young couple had no idea of the remote control, nor would they have dreamed of using it. The fire blazed night and day. Before long, outsiders began knocking on the door, asking to come in—some out of curiosity, and some shivering with a hungry look in their eyes. The former had never seen anything like the flickering light that had drawn them to the house from outside, while the latter, constantly seeking, remembered it as a distant memory.

The young couple graciously accepted these people into their home to warm themselves, and they accompanied each one back to their own homes to show them how to light their own fireplaces. Before long, the whole neighborhood—the entire city!—was alight from within.

Storytime with Hannah

Hello, everyone! I got this crazy thought in my head earlier this afternoon, and this crazy thought said that it would be an excellent idea to write a rather long little short story and tell you all to read it! First of all, I encourage only the boldest, the most daring, and stout of heart to read on; this is not a story that you can just skim and quit in the middle. I invite you into the comfy couch of the recesses of my mind; sit down, relax, and let it sink in. This is powerful stuff. 

Marria’s Story 

Once upon a time, there was a man and a woman.

Like any other man and woman, they met and fell in love. Like most men and women who fall in love, they had a child not too long after. They named the child Marria, and for many seasons they both adored and cherished her, placing her in the center of attention and at the top of all other priorities. The man and the woman were inseparable, both of them fierce in their love and protection for each other and little Marria.

As time passed and Marria grew older, the man and the woman had two other children. With more mouths to feed and expenses to pay, the man ambitiously pursued a promotion at his job, taking him away from the house every day for hours at a time while the woman stayed at home with the children to clean house, make meals, and pay the bills. The man and the woman hardly ever saw each other, except occasionally at the dinner table, and every night when they both collapsed into bed, exchanging embraces and whispering loving good nights.

In this season, Marria lost some of the color in her cheeks and didn’t dance or sing or color in her coloring books as much as she used to; her parents chalked it up to Marria getting older and, while they grieved a little and were nostalgic for the old Marria, they shrugged it off as normal and continued on.

After a while, the man and woman’s youngest child was finally old enough to attend school. The house was (or appeared to be) empty, with the man almost always at work, and the woman with little to do but cook and clean up after her busy family. Marria stayed home as well and made herself mostly scarce, seldom saying anything, though she joined the family at dinner and accompanied her parents to occasional social gatherings and other outings.

With the children in school and no one needing her immediate attention during the day, the woman started to turn her attention to Marria more. She suggested doing fun things like going out and putting projects together, or just sitting and talking to get to know her more. Marria, however, refused to do anything unless both of her parents were involved.

The woman was greatly alarmed, as she noticed how lethargic and thin Marria had become. She began to express her concerns to her husband, who was likewise alarmed—but what could he do? He was at work all day to provide for his family. He suggested that the woman take Marria to see a doctor—but again, Marria stubbornly refused to go unless both her parents were with her.

The man took as much time off from work as he could to take Marria to doctor’s appointments once a month with the woman, but often what ended up happening was the time he took off from work went into dividing attention between the other two children as well, and so Marria made little improvement.

Some years later, the younger two children became interested in sports and extracurricular activities. While permission was asked at the dinner table to join these activities, both parents enthusiastically encouraged them. But the man and woman met later to discuss how they could afford to give their children the things their hearts desired. The woman volunteered to give up staying at home in exchange for working to bring in income alongside her husband. They agreed upon this, and the woman soon began working out of home.

At first, the woman absolutely loved it. She felt confident and powerful, and she felt unity with her husband that both of them were sacrificing so much for their home and their children.

But the euphoria was short-lived. The woman quickly became burnt out physically and emotionally. The things that were once therapeutic to her—cleaning and cooking and taking care of the children and other things around the house—soon became a chore that she dreaded doing. She realized how much needed to be done around the house, and how little of it was actually getting done now that she was working.

So she confronted her husband as he was relaxing on one of his days off. The woman, hurt and angry that her husband wasn’t pitching in to pick up the slack of things around the house since she had started working, behaved in a way the man had never seen her before. She used words that were harsh and unforgiving, presenting her case as an accusation rather than a suggestion.

The man was shocked at his wife’s behavior, and hurt at how she suddenly viewed her feelings and opinions as so much more important than his. Where before there had been a sense of mutual partnership, and where their arguments had been structured around finding a common ground and never leaving the foundation that they deeply loved each other, now it seemed that the wife only wanted to fight him.

In a desperate attempt to strike some sense into the woman, the man reminded her of how hard and how long he had been working to provide for the family, and stated in his defense that he deserved to relax on his day off.

Both the man and woman had valid points in their argument, but now there was a cycle that had started as the result of the woman feeling unloved and disrespecting her husband, who in turn responded without love. This provoked a disrespectful response, and so on and so forth.

The thought entered one another’s minds simultaneously: “This isn’t the same person I fell in love with.” Each of them reacted to the other ‘new’ person with distaste and anger, and tempers continued to rise.

Meanwhile, Marria began sneezing and coughing horribly. She was pale and weak, and could barely speak. She begged for her parents to be with her, to comfort her and heal her, but they now refused to do anything together.

The time at the dinner table was filled with cold conversation and blank facades of blasé from both parents. Everything the man said was filtered by the woman as insincere or spiteful, and vice versa. When the man and woman slept in the same bed, it was no longer together; the line of the bed was clearly drawn, whose blankets were whose was communicated, and sweet goodnights were exchanged for snide remarks and bitter silence.

The man became numb and the woman grew hard.

And all the while, Marria just grew weaker and sicker.

Several months of barely speaking later, when Marria’s coughs were too much to ignore, the woman brought her to the man, desperate to reconnect with him in hopes that it would make Marria better. She pled with him to take Marria to see someone. The man, feeling helpless and still deeply hurt by his wife’s apparent hatred of him over the past several months, responded, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

This erupted in another fight as Marria erupted into a breathless coughing fit.

Since Marria refused to go see a doctor without both the man and the woman taking her, the woman desperately sought outside help from a confidant. Marria would not let herself be seen with just one of the parents, so the woman had to explain everything to her confidant, whose diagnosis was bleak: Marria had a fatal disease. She was going to die, and it was only a matter of time. The confidant explained that she had seen it time and again in countless families. As soon as Marria died, the entire home would have to be split.

This alarmed the woman greatly, and she was filled with grief for her Marria. She took this information to her husband. When the man heard that Marria was going to die, a deep sadness came over him. He was dismayed that his wife seemed so resolute about the fact, but he masked his emotion with the shell of nonchalance he had learned to protect himself with since he and his wife had begun this spiral.

The woman in turn was deeply hurt by her husband’s seeming complacency. Her hurt boiled as anger to the surface, and she decided that it was no longer worth it to try and cure Marria’s sickness, or to just wait for her to die. Why not prolong the suffering, or set herself up for more failure and disappointment?

She could see no way through the trouble, so the only way to survive it was to get out of it. Yet there was still a part of her that hungered for her husband’s kind words and strength, something that was certain he was the man she had fallen in love with. Surely, if she said something radical enough, she could get him to immediately change back.

So she said, half in contempt and half in desperation to get her husband to respond: “Let’s kill Marria. If she’s dying because we refuse to be together, then let’s just separate to get it over with.”

The man took this as the final blow; there was no way of changing her mind, he decided. So he conceded defeat. “If that’s what you want,” he said.

The man and woman announced that evening at the dinner table that they were separating to kill Marria. The two children reacted in alarm and panic; they could not (and should not) understand the matter at all. Later that night, when their parents had gone to bed, the children got up and knelt at the side of their bunkbed and prayed for help.

And God heard their prayer, and immediately responded. He came at once and comforted the children, reassuring them that everything would be all right. He tucked them in and gave them both sweet, peaceful dreams. Then He left their bedroom and scoured the house noiselessly for several minutes until he had found what he was looking for. He placed the two objects at strategic locations where He knew the man and the woman would find them. Then, before He left, He did one last thing.

He went into the man and woman’s room, walked to their bed, and touched them both gently. The woman, curled into a fetal position and pillow stained with silent tears, relaxed and sighed softly in her now restful sleep. The man, snoring gently, rolled over and extended an unconscious hand to touch his wife’s shoulder.

Marria was shivering violently in her place between the man and woman, occasionally coughing and sneezing. God leaned over her and breathed on her, and her shivering subsided. Then God faded back into the invisible; the air, the pounding heartbeat of the earth shifting beneath them, the yawning of the moon as it danced with the stars in the cloud-mottled sky.

The next morning, the family got up and resumed its normal routine. The children got up, made themselves lunch, and got on the bus for school. The man was roused with the sun shining in his eyes, and jerked awake as he realized his alarm had not gone off and he had overslept. As he bolted upright in bed, his wife stirred from the sudden movement of his hand leaving her shoulder. The man gazed at her in wonder; she was so beautiful. As if she caught him staring, the woman’s eyes opened and locked with his. A sleepy smile stretched her lips as she noticed how handsome her husband was.

Marria’s fluttering heartbeat grew stronger.

Then the woman recalled the events of yesterday, and the smile vanished. She stared coldly at the man, then rolled away from him and swung her legs over the side of the bed. The man’s heart sank.

Marria started to shiver again.

Before the man could speak, the bathroom door slammed, signaling the woman’s ownership of the shower for the next half hour—it didn’t matter that the man was already late for work. He sighed wearily and got dressed as fast as he could in yesterday’s wrinkled work clothes, then went to the kitchen to collect his work shoes, jacket and wallet. As he opened the front door to walk out to his car, he listened for the sound of the water running for his wife’s shower, but didn’t hear it. A surge of anger flashed through him as he realized she had probably gone into the bathroom just to spite him because she knew he was already disheveled and late.

Marria’s breathing stopped.

The man grumbled on his way out to the car. As he jerked the car door open, he almost missed the scrap of paper that fell onto their driveway that had been wedged in the door. But it caught his eye and he knelt to retrieve it, flipping it over to see what was on its front. His breath hitched as he registered what it was, and without bothering to shut the car door he bolted back into the house.

He rushed into the bathroom to find his wife on her knees on the floor in front of the sink, clutching something in her hands and shaking with sobs. The man fell to his knees beside her.

In his hand was the photo that had been taken of the two of them at their wedding, when Marria had been born. There had been so much hope and joy and strength and confidence and courage in their eyes…and so much love. He remembered how he had felt on that day. He had made a promise before God and before all who witnessed that he would have his wife forever to love and cherish for as long as they both lived.

She was clutching the paper she had written her vows on. It was simple, heartfelt, honest and humbling. She had hardly been able to grasp words that gave justice to the depth of her love for the man at the time, but she had done her very best. She had promised to endure everything and stay by her husband’s side for better or for worse, come whatever storm or valley. She had made vows to protect and preserve the union they had. And she had meant it, with every fiber of her being.

As the man wrapped his arms around his wife, she didn’t resist. She melted into him.

Marria’s heartbeat started again, faint but steady.

They both wept.

The man and woman exchanged forgiveness and renewed their vows on the bathroom floor that morning.

They both took the day off from work to take Marria to see a doctor, who proudly announced that Marria was cured. The concerned, protective couple asked what they could do to keep Marria from getting so sick again, and the doctor prescribed a number of exercises and practices to keep the man and woman firmly grounded and united.

Much to everyone’s relief, Marria didn’t die, but rather grew stronger and stronger as the man and woman passionately reclaimed their love for one another. Their children learned from their parents’ example and created beautiful Marria(ge)s and families of their own.

For the countless generations following, the threat of divorce was thwarted by the wisdom of the man and woman who had overcome it. All it took was one choice to not only change the spiral of devastation, but affect history to the benefit of the next hundred years.
One choice changes everything. Nothing is irreversible. Love conquers all.

If you made it to the end, congratulations and thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Being a victim of divorce, I try not to bring up the topic often because I don’t want to seem as though I’m not compassionate for those who struggle with or have had a divorce.

The man and woman in my story had a tipping point that turned everything around and reclaimed their marriage for the better, but I know that not every couple who has considered divorce has ended that well– and for those of you who are in the position of having had a divorce, I would like to propose to you that nothing, and I mean nothing, is irreversible. God can take our ashes and make beauty. He takes our dirt and creates life. 

For those of you who are  facing this dilemma in your marriage, I beg you: don’t. I took an extreme route of personification in this story, portraying marriage as a living, breathing child. I know we sometimes don’t take our relationships that seriously, but marriage is so real and so vital and so beautifully fragile. It must be protected–if not for the sake of covenant itself, then for the sake of what inevitably comes out of it. If your marriage has yielded children, then it’s worth fighting for. Period. Why? Because you’re setting an example or the rest of history. Proverbs says a wise man stores up an inheritance for his grandchildren; what do you plan on giving yours? It’s worth it. It’s worth being vulnerable and opening yourself up to be hurt and disappointed again. It is very dangerous to love deeply, because the extent that you love is the extent you can be hurt–but it’s so worth it. If you made that commitment to be bound to someone for the rest of your life, it’s worth it to fight to protect that promise. Love conquers all. No ifs, ands, or buts–love conquers all. 

For those of you who have fought through every obstacle  of your marriage, living out “for better or for worse” to hell and back, you are my light and my examples. I want to be like you. I want to leave my great-great-great-great grandchildren a legacy of love and unity and sacrifice. I want to love fiercely. Thank you; not only have you left your descendents an inheritance, but you have passed the baton also to me. And someday, when my great-great-great-great grandchildren inherit the promise of a marriage destined for eternity, they will have you to thank.