— By JOHN PAUL CARTER
Toward the end of his life, Robert Frost, in a long poem entitled “The Lesson for Today,” summed up his life in these words:
And were an epitaph to be my story,
I’d have a short one ready for my own.
I would have written of me on my stone:
I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.
His friend, Louis Untermeyer, later wrote that no one would ever write “a more accurate summary of the poet’s spirit; a contemplation of the world which is free to question, even to criticize, but always with understanding, always with earnest love.”
Disagreements and differences of opinion are a natural part of life. They grow out of our varied backgrounds and individuality. But if fueled by fear and anger, our disputes can turn lethal. On the other hand, with care and determination, even strongly-held differences of opinions can be voiced and accepted in the context of love and mutual respect. A “lover’s quarrel” – difficult as it may be – is a special kind of argument that adds integrity and strength to our relationships.
In marriage, for example, conflict is as much a part of the relationship as its bliss. When we select a partner, we’re usually keenly aware of our similarities. But, subconsciously, we’re also choosing that person on the basis of our differences. Since we don’t live in Stepford, the success of the marriage often depends on how well we manage those differences. The abilities to fight fairly, to respect each other’s differences, and to use diversity to our mutual advantage are essential skills in a healthy marriage. A lover’s quarrel seeks win/win solutions, rather than win/lose.
Quarrels also occur within the church – the body of Christ. We confess with one voice that “Jesus is Lord.” But because freedom is a necessary part of love, we are incredibly varied in the individual interpretation and practice of our faith. My own Disciple heritage has always valued this rich diversity.
An early motto in our hymnal says: “In essentials unity; In non-essentials, liberty; In all things, charity.” Such a spirit allows us to be more honest about our disagreements and yet be “one in the Spirit” as we attempt to follow our Lord together. It opens the possibility that our differences of opinion can be “lovers’ quarrels,” differences within the circle of love – not only because of our love for each other, but, more importantly, because of God’s unconditional, inclusive love for each and all.
From the beginning of our nation’s history, honest differences of opinion have also been characteristic of our patriotism. In his book “Credo,” Sloane Coffin says, “There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with each other and with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with all the world.”
Lord, remind us that if our quarrels turn us into enemies, we will be in grave danger of destroying that which we all love. Amen.
John Paul Carter’s “Notes From the Journey” is a regular feature of Viewpoints.