Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A Coincidence of Opposites

"The fruit of education... was the activation of that inmost center, that scintilla animae, that 'apex' or 'spark' which is a freedom beyond freedom, an identity beyond essence, a self beyond all ego, a being beyond the created realm, and a consciousness that transcends all division, all separation....  This realization at the apex is a coincidence of opposites.... The 'spark' is not so much a stable entity which one finds but an event, an explosion which happens as all opposites clash within oneself." -- Thomas Merton*

I have made no secret of the fact that my husband and I are fairly opposite in many ways.  Some of these differences are benign, some compliment each other, and some clash.  For example, he likes to be the center of attention, I do not; he likes to tell jokes, I couldn't tell a joke to save my life; I believe in God, he does not; he likes to get things done, I like to procrastinate; I like to question, he likes being decisive; he likes to talk about doing, I like to talk about being; he's a computer guru, I'm always, somehow, getting computer viruses; he likes a sink to be free of dishes and doesn't see the messy counters; I like clean counters and am not bothered by dishes in the sink.  I could go on.  Some of these differences are laughably minor, but at one time or another they have all been the source of aggravation between us -- usually when I wish he was more like me, or he wishes I was more like him.

Now, I've described, in an earlier post , that the way we met was definitely a God-moment.  But we also met on April Fool's Day.  So either these opposites are there for a reason, or the whole thing has been one cosmic joke.  Only time will tell.

Many of our differences we have learned to accept as unchangeable parts of our personalities.  The only difference between us that we can't accept, and which has been a continual stumbling block for us, has to do with how we want to raise our children.  We, of course, what to raise them in the way that we know best, the way we were raised.  Yet, the way we were each raised is about as different as you can get.  My husband was raised in a caring family, in which you did what you were told without question because a person in authority over you said so, and you were rewarded for your achievements and punished for your mistakes.  I was raised in a caring family in which you were expected to figure things out for yourself and you were never rewarded for achievements or punished for mistakes.  His parents emphasized success and my parents emphasized personal happiness.  It's as if the elder brother and the prodigal daughter got married and had kids -- think law vs. gospel.

Being a parent isn't easy, but when the parents are on opposite ends of the parenting spectrum, there is an extra dimension of difficulties.  We both want our kids to be successful and happy.  However, accomplishing that when we have such different parenting styles has been a challenge, to say the least.  We have, in turn, tried his way, then my way, then his way, then my way, getting more and more frustrated in the process because neither way worked completely:  either there was too much unhappiness, or too little success.  It's been so challenging that, more than once, I have considered divorce, thinking that parenting would be so much easier if I could just do it my own way!  I wouldn't be surprised if my husband thought the same, on occasion.  The thing is, however, since we both love our children, and because our kids are thoroughly a mixture of both of our personalities, they really need both of our parenting styles.

After about fifteen years of parenting, we are finally learning to lean toward each other rather than to see-saw back and forth when it comes to parenting.  We are finally figuring out the right balance, a happy medium, between his way and my way, that also works for our children.  Four essential ingredients have made this possible.  First, we want the same things for our children:  success and happiness.  Second, we love each other and are committed to staying together, despite the differences between us.  Third, we have learned to talk to one another calmly, face-to-face, about our concerns.  And fourth, we are willing to acknowledge both the negatives and positives in our individual styles.  That last ingredient was the hardest to find.  For both my husband and I can be fairly obstinate.

Related to all this, as I hinted at above, is the idea of Law and Gospel.  I used to not understand the Lutheran emphasis on Law and Gospel.  Why do we need the Law?  The Gospel is good enough for me.  Back then, I associated Christianity with the Gospel, and Judaism with the Law.  For I used to think the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, was all about the Law -- ordinances, statutes, rules, and rewards and punishments -- and the New Testament was all about the Gospel -- forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and unconditional love.  But after studying the whole Bible, I know that while the emphasis in the Old Testament is on Law, and the emphasis in the New Testament is on Gospel, there is both Law and Gospel throughout, from beginning to end.  Wrapped-up in the Law of the Old Testament is a God who loves his children and who continually forgives them despite their transgressions.  And wrapped-up in the Gospel of the New Testament is a God who show his children how they should live and who continually warns them to change their ways.  It is actually impossible to separate love from the Law and the law from the Gospel in God's word.  The prodigal needs to learn right from wrong, and the elder brother needs to understand mercy and forgiveness.  For the father loves them both, equally.

So why do we, especially as faithful people, try to separate them?

I think we must all be fairly obstinate people.  We all like to do things our own way.  So we emphasize the wrong-doings of the other, and forget to understand, love and forgive as God understands, loves and forgive us.  And, none of us likes to be corrected.  So we emphasize understanding, love and forgiveness in order to avoid correcting the wrong-doings of the other. 

Somehow, if we are all going to live successfully and happily in this world of six billion different people, we are going to have to figure out how to marry both Law and Gospel.  And the only way I know how to do this is, first, to seek common ground; second, to stay in community with one another, despite the differences; third, to speak calmly, face-to-face; and finally, to acknowledge both the positives and the negatives of each party.

You know, everything I have learned about unity in the midst of diversity, about loving our neighbor as much as we love ourselves, a matter that is the foundation of God's will, has been learned in this one relationship.  The rest is just repetition and practice.  And for that, I thank God.

May the Peace
which passes understanding
be with you 


*from "Love and Living," (Harcourt ed.), pg 10

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