Monday, January 31, 2011
A Fear of Faith?
Celia and Rob are arguing about his lack of church attendance again. Celia’s faith is becoming more important to her with each passing week she works in the afterschool program at her church.
Celia and Rob had been at it for almost two weeks now and Celia was burned out. Rob watched football two Sundays ago, but he had attended church yesterday. Celia had been encouraged until he dragged his feet at saying hello to the pastor, her boss; and as she watched him from the choir loft during the service he had looked bored. He would stand up a two beats behind everyone else and hold open the hymnal, but without bothering to sing. In short, Rob seemed to be going through the motions, which made her even angrier than the lip service he had given on the phone when this issue had resurfaced.
Driving home from her last piano lesson, she reflected on the conversation she had had with Paul today. Talking to Paul helped and it didn’t help… on one hand he was pastoral and supportive, making the whole issue seem normal by suggesting that sometimes people aren’t interested in faith until they have children of their own. On the other hand, the kind of conversation she could have with Paul was exactly what she couldn’t do with Rob, and it only made her want what it seemed she could not have.
Celia was in no hurry for children and, anyway, she was not feeling the patience Paul counseled. As she pulled into the garage of their apartment building, she realized something about her anger. She did not care if Rob shared her faith, though that would be nice. She just wished Rob would wrestle with the issue and believe in something besides paying down debt as fast as possible and watching sports channels as much as possible.
She hesitated to go upstairs. Rob would be nursing a bottle of beer, watching whatever sport happened to be on this season. The issue would hang there while she got something to eat and he kept watching; while she sat next to him and he kept watching; when she got up to go to bed and he sat watching. It had been like this for two weeks. Celia hated basketball, that wretched game that seemed to be on all the time from the moment the NFL season ended.
Upon entering the apartment, she set down her things and joined Rob on the sofa. He looked at her with a nervous semi-smile and turned off the television.
“How was your day?” he said with a deer-in-the-headlights look on his face.
“It sucked,” Celia said. “All I could think about was this.” She gestured to the two of them. “Look, Rob, I don’t think I care if you come to church or not, but I just wish you’d figure out what you believe. I could tell how bored you were yesterday.”
“I wasn’t bored,” Rob said. “I was just”—-
How does Rob finish his comment?
Thursday, January 27, 2011
Hung up on church? (Joanne’s comment)
I am a loyal subject of Dear Abby’s. Check Dear Abby out for a wonderful suggestion from one of her readers that will increase the odds for lifelong, happy marriage. Could this help Rob and Celia this week? What do you think?
Monday, January 24, 2011
Hung up on church?
Celia asked Rob to attend church with her this weekend.
Rob realized that Celia was asking a question she considered significant seconds after he shot off a flippant, “Not this weekend. NFL playoffs,” and she hung up on him.
He swore under his breath as he redialed only to realize that his new cubicle mate, Lucy, had returned just in time to hear him. Rob, who preferred privacy in his personal life, disconnected the call.
“Hey,” he said.
“Trouble at home, Rob?” Lucy said in her pack-a-day voice. Rob didn’t know how she could possibly infer that from one curse word, but he did not want to discuss it.
“Just say you’re sorry and tell her you love her,” Lucy said as he walked out of the cubicle to call his wife in private. “It works on me every time.”
Rob was not sure he was sorry because he had no idea what had happened. This was one of those issues that seemed to come around periodically, when Celia would get a bug in her bonnet about church and he would have to deal with it. Typically, dealing with it meant ignoring it and it would go away. He had attended her choir’s Christmas concert and the service on Christmas Eve so he had hoped to be off the hook for a while.
He found an empty conference room, went in, and shut the door. He was about to dial Celia again when he sat down, aware that every second he did not call back was another second Celia was getting angrier.
He thought about it. Why do I resist this? he asked himself. What is so hard about getting up on Sunday morning, listening to some nice music and a short sermon, shaking hands with a few people, and making his wife happy in the process? It’s not like he didn’t believe in the same stuff she did. Or at least he thought he did. He didn’t know much about it, really.
His phone rang; it was Celia calling him back.
“Celia? What happened?”
“What happened is that I’m tired of being blown off every time I bring this up,” she said. He hoped she would say something else, but she didn’t. Lucy’s voice echoed in his mind.
“I’m sorry. I love you,” he said.
Celia hung up again.
Why did Celia hang up on Rob again?
Friday, January 21, 2011
Shared faith in marriage (Harold’s response)
The Christian faith tradition has long extolled the importance of spiritual parity between males and females who marry based on the biblical passage, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14, KJV).Many are taught the importance of sharing not on “a faith” but sharing “the same faith”. Some have interpreted this to mean that each spouse should be a Christian. More conservative Christians interpret this to mean that Christians should have similar denomination/organization affiliation. For example, a Southern Baptist should only marry a Southern baptist or someone from the apostolic tradition should not marry someone from the Methodist faith.
What many of these views seem to ignore is that not even people in the same faith tradition have the same faith experience. And, ultimately it is the faith experience that dictates how similar or different their worldviews are. In other words, what meaning do you ascribe to your faith and/or to God? How accountable as a couple are you to God for the relationship? What holds your relationship together when you really do not like each other at the moment? These are all questions oriented around the significance of faith to marriage. When couples do not share an experience of faith, they often struggle to be unified in these questions.
The 2 Corinthians passage really seems more concerned about contrasting the righteous and unrighteous rather than nuances of our faith traditions. Nevertheless, it is important that couples are able to converse about their respective meaning of faith and the expectations they have for each other in this regard. This is the point that Rob and Celia are currently facing. And, successfully navigating this discussion is an important milestone in this couple’s young journey.
In what ways are your faith expressions and expectations different than your spouse?
Monday, January 17, 2011
Shared faith in marriage
Celia and Rob are back to their routines following the holidays and her mother’s visit.
Celia was putting away the rhythm instruments the youngest children had been using. Over the holiday break Celia had missed her piano students and the children in the afterschool program. She was surprised how much she enjoyed being back with her church choir to begin to rehearse music for Easter. Most of all she realized she had missed Paul, the seminary intern who ran the afterschool program at her church.
She watched him in the next room, sitting next to a fifth grader and helping him with his homework. Celia had complicated feelings about Paul. Initially, she was attracted to him, which obviously she could not act on since she was married. As their working relationship evolved, Celia focused on the genuine respect she had for him. He was passionate about articulating the faith he claimed and “putting feet to it” in concrete ways. He had started the afterschool program because of that and challenged himself regularly to put other aspects of his faith and theology into practice in small ways. This often led to discussions with a theological bent as he brought Celia into his thinking, seeking her ideas.
She enjoyed this. Celia’s training as a music teacher had been highly practical and the chance to engage heady theological and philosophical topics was a nice change of pace. Paul complimented her on taking his airy-fairy ideas and envisioning and enacting the concrete expression of them with the children. In many ways, Celia provided the “feet” to Paul’s ideas. They were a good team, and his esteem felt good.
In fact, she missed those conversations when she was with Rob. Rob was not a particularly theoretical person, being much more comfortable with spreadsheets, sports, and sex – all of which were concrete; rather black and white.
Rob did not mind that Celia was involved in her church, but the longer they were married the more Celia minded that Rob wasn’t involved in her church, for himself. Religion and faith were no more part of his life than music was, and while he was willing to participate in them at times, he did not bring his own passion to them.
Looking away from Paul, she walked into the kitchen of the old house in which their program resided and called Rob. Sometimes, the world she inhabited here seemed almost at odds with her married life. It helped her to touch base with that life sometimes while she was at work.
Rob answered. “I have a new cubicle-mate,” he said in response to her inquiry about his day. “She’s dressed like a Christmas tree. And smells like a perfume counter. She’s at a meeting with HR right now so I’m taking in as much oxygen as I can before she gets back.”
Suddenly Celia realized how much she wished Rob shared her Christian faith with her. “Rob, would you come to church with me on Sunday? I miss having someone to talk to about theology and things like that.”
How does Rob answer?
Monday, January 10, 2011
Rob and Celia began 2011 feeling close and connected after a year that included Rob’s father’s heart attack and its impact on his family, Celia’s new role in the church’s afterschool program and its impact on her schedule, and how these and other external issues impacted their marriage. They have grown in their ability to address uncomfortable feelings by talking about them, and they have learned to be thoughtful about their “digital” marriage – a relationship embedded in a time and place that allows little time for reflection.
It was tax season again, Rob’s busiest time of the year at work. It was also a drab Ohio post-Christmas winter, in which the snow was gray, the sky was gray, the trees were gray, and the pavement and buildings were gray – a time of year in which it was hard not to get “down in the dumps” as his mother would say.
Rob had livened up his office cubicle, though. Celia had created a bejeweled scrapbook-style, poster-size collage from his family photos with everything from his baby pictures to their wedding and honeymoon, and even one them from their night at The Nutcracker a couple of weeks ago. He hung this on one gray wall of his two-person cubicle. The infusion of color had immediately lifted the tone of the space, which was feeling particularly gloomy since his cubicle-mate had changed departments and he was alone. Celia also sent along a small lamp with a colored glass shade, insisting that even though he did not need additional light that it would “warm” the space. She had been right, as she had been about playing quiet music on a playlist she created for his iPod. Rob knew he could be self-denying to a fault – really quite the disciplinarian about duty and such – and he appreciated her efforts, because they worked. He would not have thought of them himself.
So Rob worked his spreadsheets on a cloudy Tuesday in January, his space warmed by lighting and music and good memories. He was feeling pretty content with his lot in life when suddenly there was an overwhelming infusion of perfume into his space. No sooner had he sneezed in response than he heard a throaty female voice:
“Are you Rob?” the voice said.
Rob swirled around in his office chair to face a woman standing in the entrance of the cubicle. She was carrying a cardboard box.
“I’m Lucy,” she said. “I’m your new office buddy.”
She was probably in her twenties, like him, but wore heavy make-up and big hair that made her seem older. Rob stood up to greet her as she dropped her box onto the other desk. She unwound a scarf and took off her coat, dropping them on the desk as well.
She was wearing high-heeled, thigh-high black boots that skimmed the hem of her short skirt, and a low-cut, tight red sweater over what must have been one spectacularly engineered bra. Clearly, Lucy had not looked over the office dress code yet. Rob at once appreciated the view while wishing she had a nice silk scarf to drape over her cleavage, which was distracting to say the least. Lucy pulled out her chair and sat down, which hiked her skirt up another several inches. She crossed her legs, kicked back and looked at Rob, smiling. His quiet music suddenly sounded thin and tinny in the background.
What does Lucy say to Rob?
Friday, January 07, 2011
Starting the New Year Right (Harold’s comment)
Joanne's reference to the article is a timely one to consider at the start of a new year. The author uses the term "self-expansion" to identify the manner in which spouses need to be stretched by their spouses. While this article does not spiritualize the process in any way, I immediately think about the manner in which God uses the differences between spouses to push each other closer to the design that God has for us. Rather than "self-expansion" I might use the term "God-expansion" as I think about the ways that God positions couples to achieve His purposes.
Rob and Celia have certainly expanded each other over the past year. They have pushed beyond their comfort zone. They have learned to prioritize one another's needs. They have learned to use the appropriate language to get the desired response. And, they have grown to be better people. And, that is what marriage is about!
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
Starting the New Year right (Joanne’s comment)
Have Rob and Celia ended 2010 on a sustainable note? Sunday’s New York Times featured “Sustainable Love: The Happy Marriage is the ‘Me’ Marriage by Tara Parker-Pope, which suggests that happy marriages (and not just lasting marriages) are ones in which individuals become self-expansive by way of experiences from and through their partners. Marriages in which you can’t grow with and through your partner are more likely to be marriages that do not survive. Celia not only took the lead in ministering to Rob, but she created new experiences and memories to share that, we can hope, will serve this purpose. Take a look at the article and think about ways of injecting expansive opportunities into your relationship. It may be a worthy new year’s resolution.
Monday, January 03, 2011
Starting the New Year Right
Rob’s frustration with Celia’s mother and Celia’s response to it had turned to despair as he faced the New Year without having spent quantity time with his wife for months.
In the early morning winter dark, Celia lay in bed and listened to the running water and squeaky plumbing that heralded Rob’s morning shower. This was his first day back to work after the holidays and Celia hoped she was sending him off on a high note. She had done her best.
Clearly, by the end of last week, Rob’s screws had been loosened by too much mother-in-law. Celia had been enjoying her mother’s visit, their outings and sewing projects – there were new curtains and matching throw pillows in the living room and pretty placemats and napkins for their dinette. Most importantly, Celia had shared the afterschool program with Mom, who volunteered two days, and Mom saw Celia conduct the church choir on Christmas Eve.
Mom had been proud of Celia, complimenting her on being a “leader” in the choir and in the afterschool program. This felt good, because Celia had never felt like much of a leader anywhere.
In light of the compliment, Celia ironically turned it back onto her mother.
“Mom,” she had said in her most leadershipful voice. “I need to ask you a huge favor.” She spun the situation not as one of Rob being frustrated and angry but as one in which she and her mother together could give Rob a fabulous gift in light of what a good, dedicated son he had been this fall after his father’s illness.
With Mom’s help, she planned a special date night. Convincing Rob to leave work an hour early on the 30th, she took him to tour the Ohio statehouse, which was lit and decorated for Christmas, to hear the carolers. This was free. Then they had dinner at a known-for-its-ambience Mexican restaurant, with margaritas. This was reasonably priced. Then Celia led a tour of the streets with the best Christmas light displays (according to the internet) while she played a selection of “their” songs in the car.
Best of all, as Celia and Mom planned the date, Mom herself came up with the idea that she should leave a day early, on the morning of January 1st, so Rob and Celia could spend the final weekend together. Which they had, including great meals from the leftovers of Mom’s cooking and punctuated by several episodes of noisy lovemaking.
Celia had awakened early this morning to initiate one final holiday lovemaking session.
“Celia,” Rob had said in its midst. “I don’t think there was a better way to start 2011 than everything you did. I love you.”
And as Celia recalled that, the bathroom door opened and Rob, warm and damp, hopped back into bed with her.
“Just one more for the road,” he said, snuggling in.
What happens to Rob and Celia in 2011?
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