John Prine has released a 20th Anniversary edition of his legendary duets album, In Spite of Ourselves. For Ali and I, the title song is “our” song. Below is an excerpt from my most recent book wherein I write about the song and how it’s a good lens into Christian marriage. You can get the book here.
The last black card we played for Cards against Humanity that long weekend away prompted us with: “This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with _____________.”
The whiskey glasses were empty and our heads were tipsy and the candles were burnt down to nubs. Gabriel had gone up to bed, smiling a goofy grin in his sleepiness; if only for a while he was just a boy again. Alexander had fallen asleep on the floor, flipping channels, one TV huckster preacher turned into another, different faces but the same fear.
Ali was again the card czar. It was her turn to choose. She turned over the possibilities we’d tossed onto the table. I looked at the answers the others had offered (“Tasteful Sideboob,” “Cud- dling,” “Letting Everyone Down”).
And I knew she’d choose mine: “Neil Patrick Harris.”
This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with Neil Patrick Harris.
Ali doubled-over, giggling, and couldn’t stop.
“It doesn’t really make sense, but . . . Neil Patrick Harris just makes it funny,” Ali said, pulling my card toward her with her long, thin index finger as her knowing eyes locked onto mine.
I could’ve played the other card I still had in my hand. It would’ve fit better, and it would’ve been perfect in a way, not to mention true. It read: “God.” This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with God.
For my money, I bet it ends with music.
I like to think the music for Ali and me is that John Prine song
about a wife at her wits’ end and an unimpressive, exasperating husband reaching their rainbow in spite of themselves and, by
sheer grace or dumb luck, discovering that they are, the two of them together, “the big door prize.”
And they have been all along.
Ali will tell you: it’s our song.
The end of everything is God, sure enough. But the God who
shows us his ass rather than his glory, who kills with words, and who hides behind suffering is a God whose end just might sur- prise us and sound like a corny country song about sinners sit- ting on a rainbow that they manifestly do not deserve.
In the meantime, I can’t predict what’s in store for us.
The house always wins. Sooner or later, the floor boss will come tell me I’m longer comped my stay here. I’ll lose this hand I’ve been dealt. But I do not fear what I believe another has paid for me, gratis. I fear what the wages of my end will mean for Ali and the boys, but I do not fear the end.
I worry now as a father, but Ali and I are free of the burden of needing our marriage to merit the temporary miracle we’ve been given. It’s not like make-up sex all the time, and it doesn’t have to be (nor, at forty, could I muster that much energy). In the process, we’ve realized just how, as a miracle, my temporary one doesn’t much measure up to the miracle that we found each other in the first place. And both miracles pale in comparison to the miracle that we’re learning, in fits and starts, to tolerate the person we’ve found and love.
The house always wins, but it’s sure as hell fun to play while you can. So why not play with the piled-high stack of free grace you’ve been given and stop worrying when your dice will run cold?
Ali and I are free now from the accusing oughts we felt in the days and months after my reprieve from death. We’re free to love one another in marriage and mess up along the way because, unlike the Bachelor, we both believe the Bridegroom has already given us the rose for his wedding feast from before the very foundation of everything. He has already outfitted us for it with the garment bestowed on us in our baptisms. So, we’re free to love and live, awaiting the end, unafraid.
We can spite the noses right off of our faces in stubborn love, but nothing we do to one another can frustrate forever the stub- born love of God who is the end to every one of our silly, sin- filled, choose-your-own-adventure stories.
Only a God whose glory is shame and whose grace often looks like the belly of a whale could appreciate the irony:
The trick to making marriage work between “I do” and death is trusting the good news that there is no work your marriage needs to do.
The hilarious good news of grace means your marriage is free to be whatever you want it to be. Your marriage is even free to fall short of what you wish for it.
Knowing we’re free to fail has made our marriage more suc- cessful than it’s ever been.
Whenever it comes for me, it’s true. This is the way the world ends. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with God.
But I didn’t play the card.
It would’ve been too serious. Ali would’ve rolled her eyes at the earnestness of it and not picked it exactly because she would’ve known it was my card.
I didn’t lay it on the table but, turning off the lights and turning down the bed, “God” was soon on both of our lips, his name taken not in vain, sacred not profane, for on the free lips of every married lover it is the very groaning and moaning of his new creation.