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Wendell Berry’s Story about Marital Faithfulness

In his novel Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry tells the story of a gentle barber who opens his shop and then spends the rest of his life in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. Soon after arriving in Port William, Jayber Crow falls in love with a beautiful young woman named Mattie Keith. Jayber would wistfully recall, "The brief, laughing look she gave me made me feel extraordinarily seen, as if I might be visible in the dark."

A few years after this love-at-first sight experience, Mattie ends up marrying Troy Chatham, a lazy bum who mismanages and then ruins the beautiful farm he inherits from Mattie's parents. Mattie's respect for her oafish husband unravels at the same time that Jayber realizes he's still in love with her.

Jayber pondered the situation: "For a long time I did not know what to make of it. What business had an ineligible bachelor to be in love with a married woman?" Near the end of the novel, Jayber wrestles with whether he should act on his feelings or not. In the end, he vows before God that he will love and cherish Mattie as he would his own wife, but he will not act on his feelings, and he will not tell her of his continued love.

Jayber concluded, "Sometimes I knew in my mind and heart why I had done what I had done, and I welcomed the sacrifice. But there were times when I lived in the desert and felt no joy and saw no hope and could not remember my old feelings. Then I lived by faith alone."

Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting, retells Berry's story and then comments:

This was the price of faithfulness for Jayber Crow. He willingly accepted the pain of living without Mattie for the sake of a higher commitment. He chose not to tell Mattie of his love, not to sleep with her, in the slim confidence that such fidelity would one day make sense and be repaid somehow.

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