Love and beauty

Yesterday at Telkwa CRC, I spoke about how love is not only an emotion, but also a decision, a choice that God calls us to make every day even if it’s costly.  Frederick Buechner defines love as “an act of the will.”

I like this story of one man’s costly love for his fiancée and its beautiful consequences.


Johnny Lingo lived on an isolated Pacific Island. The custom on his small island was this: When a young man found a girl he wanted to marry, he paid his future father‑in‑law a certain number of cows for the daughter’s hand. Two or three cows could buy you an average, perfectly adequate wife. Four or five cows could get you a highly satisfactory one.

Now, Johnny loved a girl named Sarita. Sarita had always been very plain. She was thin, her shoulders were hunched over, and she walked with her head down. Yet Johnny paid Sarita’s father eight cows.

The islanders said to one another, “Eight cows? This is ridiculous. He got cheated.” It was the talk of the community.

A visitor who had heard of the eight‑cow betrothal came to Johnny’s house to do some business with him. As they were talking, Sarita entered the room to set a vase of flowers on the table. And it seemed to the visitor that the flowers weren’t nearly as beautiful and vibrant as the wife of Johnny Lingo. She was not at all like the Sarita he had heard about. She was one of the loveliest women he had ever seen. There was something in the lift of her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, and the sparkle of her eyes.

Johnny noticed his guest’s wide-eyed response to his wife. When Sarita left the room, Johnny said to his guest, “Have you ever thought about what it must mean to a woman to know that her husband had settled on the lowest price for which she could be bought? Did you ever wonder what it must feel like to her, when the women talk and boast of what their husbands paid for them? One says, ‘four cows,’ another ‘five cows,’ or maybe even ‘six cows.’ How does she feel, the woman whose betrothal cost one or two?

“I decided this must not happen to my Sarita,” continued Johnny. “I wanted to marry Sarita. I loved her and no other woman. I wanted Sarita to be happy, but I wanted more than that. I wanted her and everyone else to know that she is worth more than any other woman to me.”

What a wise man. Because of his love, Sarita became the most beautiful woman on the island.

Credit and more:
Adapted from Ron Mehl’s telling of this story in his book
The Ten(der) Commandments: Reflections on the Father’s Love, p. 182-183.  You can read the Frederick Buechner quote its context here.

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