“A Severe Mercy” For My Marriage


While away during my mini retreat, my husband encouraged me to read “A Severe Mercy,” by Sheldon Vanauken.

Curled up in my bed, my heart swelled, and tears fell as I followed the true story of the lives of Sheldon and Davy, their love and Davy’s heartbreaking early death.

When I quipped to my husband that he shouldn’t have suggested I read it while separated from him—because all it made me want to do was be near him—he joked, “My plan worked!”

But all joking aside, the book gave me a lot to reflect on in my own relationship with Adam. Not long after Sheldon and Davy met, they decided they needed to do everything in their power to protect their love. They created what they called “The Shining Barrier.”

“The Shining Barrier – the shield of our love. A walled garden. A fence around a young tree to keep the deer from nibbling. A fortified place with the walls and watchtowers gleaming white like the cliffs of England. The Shining Barrier – we called it so from the first – protecting the green tree of our love. And yet in another sense it was our love itself, made strong within, that was the Shining Barrier.”

Because of this agreed upon barrier, this protection, they ended up rejecting separate activities and hobbies, opting to share everything together, recognizing that if one person liked something there must be something in it for the other to like, too:

“That way we shall create a thousand strands, great and small, that will link us together. Then we shall be so close that it would be impossible – unthinkable – for either of us to suppose we could ever recreate that closeness with anyone else.”

Their desire for union, oneness, a total sharing of their lives is admirable. It’s my goal, as the wife of Adam, to become more united to him each day. Some of that comes from living through common experiences, the sharing of memorable moments. But oneness also comes from learning from one another, from incorporating the other’s dreams and hobbies into your own.

It makes me think of when Adam and I met, he wasn’t interested in football or basketball. But as we began dating, he agreed to watch some games with me, and then some more games. When March Madness rolled around, we filled out competing brackets, placing a small wager on the loser cooking a meal for the other. In turn, I began attending wrestling meets with him, something I had absolutely no interest in. But as I slowly learned the rules of the sport, I found myself actually enjoying the meets.

Six years later we both enjoy watching these sports together, even to the point that Adam was whooping during the Broncos and Patriots game today, and I now get excited about attending wrestling meets.

But that’s not all. “A Severe Mercy” helped me realize that there’s always more to learn, always more ways that we can build our own “Shining Barrier.” As I discussed the book with Adam, I learned that one of his desires was to have even deeper intellectual conversations with me. He rarely doesn’t have a book in his hand and he shared that he’d love for us to read more of the same books in order to dive deeper into one another’s hearts by discussing their ideas and topics. From my side I’d love to share my love of cooking with him so that we can cook side by side in the kitchen, making it a more date-like event.

I’m sure as the years go on we’ll continue to learn more, share more and become more united. Hopefully it will be a love that resembles many aspects of that of Sheldon and Davy. Adam and I will have created our own one thousand strands that bind us together so tightly that we won’t know where one of us ends and the other begins.


Flickr/Viviana Calderón

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