...though we stumble, we shall not fall headlong, for the Lord holds us by the hand. -- Psalm 37:24
Last week I wrote about being "Open to Correction" thinking primarily of my husband and myself. Most of the time we get along relatively well with each other, but every once in a while we have a major blowup. One of us expresses grievances about the other, and the other one gets defensive. Our grievances are usually the same ones, again and again. Either he wants me to work harder, especially around the house and yard, or I want him to talk more politely to the kids and me.
A few years ago, I read "The Five Love Languages," and recognized that my
husband feels love through "Acts", and I feel love through "Words". To my husband, working hard and getting things done is very important; it is an act of love. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to put housework and yardwork at the
bottom of my list of things to do, or forget them altogether, which
means stuff doesn't get done, which means that he does it -- feeling
very much unloved and unappreciated as he does so. To me, speaking politely to one another is very important; it is an act of love. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to yell and be rude when he's unhappy, which makes the kids and I feel very much unloved and unappreciated. We each need from the other what the other finds the most challenging to give.
Now, I'm writing in hindsight, when things are on the mend, but last week, without going into the petty details, we were in the thick of the storm, and very unhappy with each other. While I recognized the need once again for improvement on my part, I was also certain that my husband could use some "correction" once again, too. Figuring out how to do this, without making things worse between us, however, is something I find very difficult. It is so difficult that I am sometimes tempted to flee from it. I wonder, "Is this really what God intends for me -- this very difficult marriage?" I think, "Oh, wouldn't it be so much easier to live separately?" Then we wouldn't have to try so hard to please each other. We could just please ourselves.
Quite perversely, the lectionary readings every day that week were filled with admonitions against divorce. "Really, God?!" I kept asking. "Really? What about in extreme cases of irreconcilable differences?" Unfortunately, that didn't seem to be a good enough reason in biblical times. The only exception for divorce, according to everything Jesus said, was adultery. Well, that's one thing I have no interest in -- figuring out one man's quirks is challenging enough! I trust that my husband is too honorable to do that either.
It wasn't just in the Bible that I read words to this effect. Kierkegaard, who speaks so eloquently about individuality, and being "an individual" before God, wrote: "In truth, it is not divorce that eternity is aiming at, neither is it divorce, that eternity does away with the difference between man and woman." ("Purity of Heart," pg. 188). Yes, the differences between us would still be there even if we were to get divorced. I know this. I would still not get the required work done, and he would still not speak politely. And there would be no one to remind us to be any better. Divorce is not ultimately to our advantage as human beings. Our only hope is to teach each other a better way.
Last week, I met a man and a woman who in a moment's conversation taught me many things. The man was very spiritual, very biblical, a free spirit, living on the streets, traveling from place to place, writing a book, like a modern-day prophet, following the path of Jesus as he saw it. Much of what he had to say about eternal life lived in the now resonated with me. But I questioned his belief that only he out of everyone in the world today knew what Jesus was truly about. "Isn't that a bit arrogant?" I asked. The woman, his companion, whom he had met on the streets along the way, nodded in agreement with me about the arrogant attitude. Upon which, he described their relationship as similar to that of Paul and the woman who followed him from place to place. I thought he must be referring to Thecla, whose story is described in an early Christian, though non-canonical, writing called "The Acts of Paul and Thecla." This woman in front of me, however, seemed to be somewhat mentally unstable. And though this man provided for her, he saw her as more a "thorn in his side" than a partner.
These people were very curious to me. I kept thinking about our conversation. In one moment of contemplation, I recognized in the man an extreme version of myself. For, if left to pursue God to my hearts' content, I too might loosen myself from all ties, perhaps occasionally help a person in need, but form no closer bonds, in my pursuit for unity with God. What would I lose, and what would I miss, if I lived this way? Perhaps, I too might think I knew better than everyone else what Jesus was about. I was once again reminded of why the second greatest commandment is tied so strongly to the first. Unity with God means living in community with our neighbor.
So, I began to wonder if God pairs us up with exactly the people who can teach us about
ourselves, if only we are willing to listen. Sometimes, depending on
the people involved, this is a very easy process. Sometimes, as in the
case of my husband and I, it is very challenging. Perhaps, all
of those relationships we have in our lives work the same way. We come into each others' lives to learn from each other. Some
relationships are easier than others, but just because there is
opposition, that does not mean we have nothing to learn. Perhaps, that
is when we have something extremely important to learn. If only we are willing to listen to that which is in opposition to us.
God, it seems, does not want lone rangers. God, it seems, wants communities, even if only very small communities, in order to teach us what it is we most need to learn. For example, my husband and I cannot learn these most important things from anyone else. Speaking politely is very important to me, and getting
things done is very important to my husband. And deep down, we both realize
that they are each important to us as a couple. And not only to us, but
to our children as well. Our kids
need to know that keeping a house and yard requires consistent work, even though they
may not enjoy this kind of work. They need to know that speaking
politely to each other is essential, even when they are unhappy. They also need to know that sometimes they will need to offer a word of correction to another person, and accept correction, in order to help them grow in necessary ways. And they also need to know that forgiveness is paramount, in all of our relationships. For just as God continually forgives us for our inadequacies, so too must we continually forgive each others' inadequacies.
I read in "Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion," by Abraham Joshua Heschel, picking up where I left off months ago, "The child becomes human...by becoming sensitive to the interests of other selves. Human is he who is concerned with other selves. Man is a being that can never be self-sufficient, not only by what he must take in but also by what he must give out...Always in need of other beings to give himself to, man cannot even be in accord with his own self unless he serves something beyond himself...To serve does not mean to surrender, but to share." (pgs 138, 141)
In yesterday's Gospel reading, Jesus asks the sons of Zebedee if they can drink the cup that he must drink. For me, the cup is unity. Unity was important to Jesus. I believe unity is important to God. So, the question becomes, "Can I drink this cup of unity?"
Only with God's helping hand.
May God bless you in all of your relationships with growth towards maturity and abundant life. Love always, Pam