Years ago, before I had any sexual experience, I tried to read Song of Solomon for the first time. I didn’t understand most of it, but I remember thinking that it surely couldn’t mean what I thought it did. All my adolescent brain saw was romance and sex. Surely that wouldn’t be in the Bible, would it?
“You are like a private garden, my treasure, my bride! You are like a spring that no one else can drink from, a fountain of my own.” Song of Solomon 4:12
Ah, the romance of knowing I was a private treasure, that a man didn’t want to share me, that I was loved enough to be called a treasure! Sigh. This had to be true love—except that I was pretty sure it couldn’t actually be about love and sex because it was in the Bible.
I often imagined myself standing in a private garden, soft white dress gracefully blowing in the wind along with my perfect hair. The garden was surrounded by a white picket fence, filled with wildflowers and a canopy bed in the middle. The man of my dreams stood outside the garden, professing his love to me along with his promise to treasure me. I opened the gate and invited him into my private garden. We would kiss. And then he would carry me to the bed. I had no idea what came next.
Rapunzel could choose whether to let down her hair so her love could climb into the tower to be with her. The Princess Bride would tell the farm boy to fetch her water. The Beast tamed his inner monster in order to capture the heart of Beauty. The man would win the woman’s heart by performing tasks that demonstrated his character, his strength, his kindness, or whatever it was the woman wanted to see.
I carried this image of true love well into my marriage. I saw myself still standing in my private garden. Each time my husband approached me for sex, I would choose whether or not to invite him in to lie with me amidst the wildflowers. I would open the gate to let him in, or not. I was keeper of the gate, and I decided whether or not to let him in.
Even more, since it was my garden, I decided what flowers grew there. I wanted roses, lilacs, daisies, and tulips. I didn’t like lilies or marigolds or petunias. I wanted red and pink and purple, only small dashes of yellow, and no orange.
The bed was just where I liked it, too, right in the middle of the garden. If my husband wanted to move it to the side where we could enjoy the breeze that would gently lift my hair, I would point out that it needed to be perfectly centered in order to ensure that we were where no one would possibly know what we were doing. Not only was our actual gardening hidden, the fact that we even had a garden had to be kept secret as well.
It seemed that my husband was always knocking at the gate, always wanting to come in. I would roll my eyes, wondering why he thought he needed to visit the garden—again. He’d just been in the garden the week before, and I’d finally gotten the flowers to look perfectly positioned so they would hide the bed again. But no, he wanted to come trample the garden again. Who did he think he was? It wasn’t like he was the one who pulled the weeds. Couldn’t he go chop wood or something?
So I would give in, letting him into the garden, figuring that he didn’t deserve to be actually invited, since it was his idea to visit in the first place. And soon, simply being in the garden wasn’t enough. He wanted me to trade in my soft white perfect dress for a red one that was sheer in all the wrong places. What was wrong with the man? Couldn’t he see that in my perfect private garden, everything was already the way I wanted it? Why did he have to come in and mess things up? And really, why did he have to try to visit so often? It was my garden, after all, and I was the keeper of the gate.
“Oh, my love, don’t you know that this is my garden, too? Your hair is so beautiful, blowing gently in the wind. It is like a flock of goats descending from the hills of Gilead. I want to enjoy the myrrh and incense. Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.”
Did he forget that I didn’t like lilies? And why was he always wanting to comment on the fawns?
“How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume more than any spice!”
Why is it always about “love” with you? Can’t you go chop some cedar trees or a grove of nut trees or something?
“You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride.”
Didn’t you hear me? I’m the keeper of the gate! I’m supposed to be locked. It’s my job to keep you from spending all your time in the garden!
“Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.”
Rounded? Are you saying I look fat in my perfect soft white dress? And a mound of wheat? I better cut back on carbs.
“I will climb up into the palm tree and take hold of its branches.”
Do you see anyone else climbing into palm trees in their gardens? And who said we could have a palm tree in our garden anyway? That’s just inappropriate.
“But I like palm trees,” he said. “I don’t want to climb it every time. I just want to know it’s there.”
The keeper of the gate, I granted his admission at my will. He signed a waiver indicating that he understood the rules of the garden as well as the consequences for violating the rules.
Like many keepers of the gate, I controlled entrance to the garden. My husband needed to earn his admission. He could enter only in certain conditions, and he couldn’t change anything once he was allowed in. Like the other keepers, my attitude was one of irritation rather than love. Instead of celebrating the fact that my beloved wanted to be in the garden with me, I chastised him for wanting to be there at all.
Alas, I was so focused on the gate that I didn’t notice that the paint on my picket fence was peeling, getting weathered, falling down. I panicked. I told him he needed to repair the fence. While he half-heartedly worked on the fence (from the outside, of course) because he still sought to win me, I took a look at the garden. The colors were fading. The reds, pinks, and purples had become muted versions of themselves. In the twilight, they lost all color at all.
I knew then that I had kept the gate at the expense of the garden. My husband had stopped hammering and painting and just sat, forlorn, on the other side of the fence. I opened the gate and went to step out—but I didn’t know how. In keeping the gate, I had trapped myself in the garden and forgotten how to step outside.
My beloved held out his hand and smiled again. He looked at me. “You have captivated my heart,” he said. “You are so beautiful, my beloved, so perfect in every part.” And for once, I kept my mouth shut and didn’t make a comment about which part I was sure he meant. I was struck by the knowledge that I had his heart. Why hadn’t I realized that before?
I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me! When he knocked on the gate, I always thought he was after the fawns, or the myrrh, or the delicious pomegranate halves.
Without thinking about what I was doing, I took a step. I was outside the garden for the first time in years. “Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages. It isn’t that I want to be in the garden. I just want to be with you.” We can do that?
I glanced around at the world outside the gate. I saw that the colors outside were vibrant and lovely, with pleasing fragrance. I saw reds and purples and pinks—and even the oranges didn’t look so bad. I thought I might have even seen lilies. I didn’t mind. I took a deep breath. Come, my love, let us go out into the fields and spend the night among the wildflowers. He smiled.
We spent time in the fields and villages and vineyards, but we always returned to the garden. When I walked through the gate—with him this time, not granting him entrance from the inside—the colors burst forth in glory. And I knew we were where we belonged.
I knew…this wasn’t my garden alone. It was our garden, together. And I . . . I was my husband’s garden.
Let my beloved come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. “I am here in my garden, my treasure, my bride! I gather my myrrh with my spices and eat my honeycomb with my honey. I drink my wine with my milk.”
I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.
My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he browses among the lilies. Song of Solomon 6:2-3
It turns out I kind of like lilies after all.
Image courtesy of Rosemary Ratcliff at FreeDigitalPhotos.net