Lessons in Love from Mark Sanford

Unless you live in a bubble (and sometimes I wish I did), you’ll know that there are two things going on in the world right now. And, only two, judging from national news coverage: Michael Jackson is dead and Mark Sanford wishes he was.

Like the rest of America, I’ve got a penchant for scandal and voyeurism that I make a general effort not to indulge. Still, in a moment of weakness last night, I found myself reading through the exchange of emails released by the government between Sanford and his lover “Maria.” For the most part, reading them was like watching a train wreck, a rubber-necker’s delight: tragic yet titillating.

Having the requisite amount of star-crossed references and drooling over each other’s “glorious” qualities, they were run-of-the-mill as love letters go. (Or, at least as I imagine they go: I also seem to have a penchant for Northern men who aren’t “good with words.” At least the sappy kind). Run of the mill, that is, until I got to this paragraph by Sanford, which I had to re-read a few times to make sure my spiritual side wasn’t taking over and interjecting Bible verses where there was actually some illicit, scandalous phrase:

“I looked to where I often look for advice and counsel, and in I Corinthians 13 it simply says that, 'Love is patient and kind, love is not jealous or boastful, it is not arrogant or rude, Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right, Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things'.

In this regard it is action that goes well beyond the emotion of today or tomorrow and in this light I want to look for ways to show love in helping you to live a better — not more complicated life. I want to help (one of Maria’s sons) with film guys that might help his career, etc.”
Right. So, the guy is quoting Scripture and talking about what true love means to the woman he’s having an illicit affair with while his wife and sons are probably hanging out in the next room talking about what a great guy dad is. The irony is almost too much. Before getting to the end of the paragraph, I had already picked up my first figurative stone and was ready to cast away … when it hit me:

I’ve been rather Sanford-esque in my own life. And, recently.

No, I’m not about to admit to having an affair with an Argentinean named “Maria.” (While I'm known to have a propensity towards ethnic types, I hope, if I were to admit to such an affair, my lover's name would be “Mario” instead.) What I realized is that, to borrow a colloquialism, Sanford, like myself, was unable to see the forest for the trees.

He was determined to show “love” to this woman on another continent, presumably by directing the traits of 1 Corinthians 13 towards her and making her life “better," but while he talked of doing so, he was failing miserably at loving the woman in his own backyard.

Seems awful, right? But how often have I been willing to show “love” to those who aren’t close to me, while acting badger-like to those in my own backyard? For Sanford, I venture that it was easier for him to love “Maria” than his wife, as he had not had to live through the real world ups-and-down with her that magnify flaws and exacerbate tension. It’s easy to point out his hang-ups, think “I would never do something like he did,” and revel in the fact that at least if our lives aren’t perfect we’re not as bad as the next guy, especially when that next guy happens to be a governor. But while the temptation for that was there, I had to ask myself, “What about me?” Have I been guilty of the same thing, if not in practice at least in principle?

It seems I have been, and just this week.

As regular readers know, I spent the last week in Pennsylvania with family at my grandmother’s funeral. I drove up from Alabama with my sister and brother-in-law. (For anyone looking for a great recipe for civil unrest—three people with vastly different personalities spending twenty-eight hours straight in a 10-by-6 compartment is a great one.)

To say the least, my love fountain wasn’t exactly overflowing. And, it surprised me. I’m quick to share care and concern for random people I come into contact with at the grocery store, gym, etc., and I can’t wait to begin sharing in the lives and showing love to the kids in inner city Atlanta. But, stick me in a car with my sister and brother-in-law and suddenly it seems like someone has pulled the plug on my love generator.

I can imagine that’s something how Sanford felt. (Yes, I realize there are deeper issues of marriage, infidelity, etc, but I’m focusing on this one principle). It was easy for him to show “love” towards Maria but not as easy for him to show love towards those at home who likely tested his patience and ruffled his feathers.

I still feel mildly ashamed for having spent valuable time reading through his emails, but at least I was able to glean a life principle from the philandering governor. First Corinthians 13, isn’t about us just showing love towards those it is easy for us to love, it’s also about loving those in our own backyard (or in my case, front seat) who are usually harder to love.

Another life principle: if I ever have a love affair with that Argentinean named Mario, it will be only carrier pigeons and message-filled bottles for me.


  1. You make an excellent point. We would do well to remind ourselves to love those closest to us, and not just people who happen cross our paths.

    Speaking as a pastor, I would say it is easy for us to fall into that trap - the one you describe for yourself, but occasionally the one Sanford found himself in.

  2. Great point! It's easier to love those far away, especially if you resent those closest to you for not allowing you to openly love the one you want.

    Not saying his affair is right, but I enjoyed your post!

  3. I had some thoughts, after the roundup, here. When it comes to questions of infidelity, I note that, as early as Genesis, God held men more accountable.
    When you see what a gracious lady she was in the CNN clip Mark looks even more the doof.
    Granted, that was a tiny sliver of insight, but no amount of provocation is sufficient to rationalize sin, particularly on his scale.
    Best wishes to you, Suzanna.

  4. You've just taught (and learned) a lesson from Romans 1 & 2 as well as Matthew 5 & 6. We always underestimate the absolute holiness of our God as well as the evil in which our hearts wallow. Why would he save a single human soul? His goodness brings such glory to himself.

    Governor Sanford needs serious rebuking, but also prayer that God's goodness leads him to genuine repentance. All the while we should be guarding or own hearts.

  5. Very interesting perspective. I've been watching how people who don't know Mark & Jenny at all have opined about this issue. Many people I enjoy reading-- Malkin et al-- have written as if they have a stake in this. Mark has never run for national office and South Carolinians don't react well to people, especially New York/Washington types, telling us what to do. So, while everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, their calls for resignation or removal are empty if they are not from our wonderful state.
    What counts are their four wonderful sons, Jenny, and Mark-- not the Republican or Democrat national parties.