Monday, March 28, 2011
Can entertaining strangers help your marriage?
Rob recognizes that he needs to show an interest in Celia’s faith as a matter of partnership even if he does not believe in it the way she does.
Rob was pleased with their decision. Celia put him on the email distribution list of a “daily devotional” – Rob tried not to wince at the cornball Christianese label – with the idea that they could read it on their own in the morning and discuss it by phone at lunch, via email or text, at dinner or before bed, depending on Celia’s schedule on a given day.
So sitting at his desk in his cubicle on what finally appeared to be a spring day, Rob clicked open the file. He had waited until his cubicle buddy Lucy had gone to get her coffee, which usually gave him ten minutes of relative peace.
Lucy was inclined to ongoing commentary of whatever she saw on Rob’s screen, which he did not want to have to explain.
There was a Bible verse about showing hospitality to strangers – a reasonable sentiment for anyone, Rob thought – along with a story by the woman who wrote the devotional about a time when she was on a “mission trip” in a foreign country and a strange woman on a mo-ped stopped, picked her up, took her to her home and offered her a meal. Then too, the goofy parts of the Bible were well exemplified in the verse, with a “do not,” a “let us,” and a “remember,” with a good dose of judgment about fornicators and adulterers. But Rob was pleased that neither the verse nor the comment said a thing about Jesus or even God for him to wrestle with on this first time out.
Lucy’s perfume announced her return to the cubicle a split second before she arrived. Someone in HR had given her a talking-to about her wardrobe, which had been less appropriate for the office than for a nightclub when she had started work, but she still favored big hair and heavy make-up and this morning had at least three layers of color on her heavily outlined lips to disturb with her coffee. Rob knew he would witness the re-application of paint later this morning.
Rob clicked his screen closed as Lucy sat down with her mug and a bagel, and got out his iPod to shut out all external input as he returned to his spreadsheet.
Then he thought, surely I could be as kind to Lucy as I could be to a stranger. Maybe it was rude to insert his ear-buds as often as he did, even though they did help him concentrate – but what if she was an angel, as the verse had suggested strangers might be? The perspective was intriguing to say the least.
Rob chuckled to himself. OK, if this devotional thing was intended to be an exercise in marital harmony, he would have plenty to talk about with Celia.
He took out his ear buds and swiveled his chair toward Lucy.
“So, your boyfriend. What’s his name again?” he said.
What does Lucy say?
Friday, March 18, 2011
If you care, I care (Harold’s response)
God designed marriage as a journey of spiritual formation. As each spouse is able to open up and trust someone who is often quite different from him or her they both are refined into Jesus' likeness. Too often, however, our spiritual maturity is stymied by our selfishness. In a sense, we stand in the way of what God is trying to do in us. We have to prioritize what God prioritizes. We have to care about what God cares about. But, this isn't only a truth between us and God. It is only a portrait of what God expects the marital relationship to look like. We are to care about what our spouse cares about.
This isn't easy because usually whatever motivations or forces are driving our spouse's perspective probably looks different in our lens. How can we care about that which we really don't care about? That is the ultimate question. It is an issue of sacrifice. We have to keep our proverbial finger on our spouse's pulse. Because we care about them (and what God is doing in them), we have to prioritize his/her viewpoint over our own.
By taking this sacrificial stance, we cultivate empathy in our relationship. And, empathy breeds trust. And, ultimately trust breeds intimacy. In other words, when we make the sacrifice to care about what our spouse cares about, we take a significant step towards a more intimate marriage (and spiritual maturity). And, that makes it all worthwhile. But, it starts with sacrifice.
Monday, March 14, 2011
If you care, I care
Celia is explaining to Rob why her Christian faith is so important to her.
Celia had spent many days pondering two things: first, why her faith was so important to her, and second, how it had become so. Rob’s resistance made her rethink and critique things she had assumed for many years, and she was glad for this. It was a good exercise and gave her things to talk about with Paul at work.
So she had just finished explaining her story to Rob, about praying “Now I lay me down to sleep” in bed with her grandmother when she was little and continuing to do so after her grandmother’s death, and seeking out the comfort of a church after her parents’ divorce to try to get more of what she had with her grandmother. For Celia, the faith had an emotional pull that was truth to her, though she knew Rob thought differently.
When Rob waited quietly for her to continue – with no loud exhales, no glancing at the remote, no comments about what’s in the fridge – she was encouraged that perhaps this approach would help her get through to Rob. The issue was becoming a problem in their marriage, Celia knew, because it was difficult not to share with Rob something that was becoming increasingly important to her, daily.
“So I get comfort,” she said. “I don’t feel alone because I know God is there.” At some point she was going to have to talk about Jesus, but she felt certain that would really throw Rob off because he had made many comments over the years about how freaked out he was by crucifixes. “And I have a family at church, even now though most of them are as old as my grandmother was. But they care, and they always have when Mom was too depressed.”
Celia suddenly felt like she had been talking too much. “So what do you think?” she asked Rob. She closed her eyes, wincing a bit in preparation for his response, whatever that would be.
Rob took a deep breath, and when Celia opened her eyes again he was watching her thoughtfully.
“I think,” he said slowly, “that this is very important to you. And if it is important to you, I ought to care about it more than I do.”
“So how can I show you that I care about it, without feeling like I’m just giving in to my nagging wife?” Rob squeezed her hand and smiled back, and when he did so Celia was encouraged that their old cycle might find a new groove.
What do Rob and Celia decide to do?
Monday, March 07, 2011
Are you comfortable with God?
Rob and Celia have been at an impasse regarding her faith and Rob’s disinterest in it.
Rob was exhausted, being at that point in tax season wherein it seemed to have gone on forever yet still had ages to go. All he wanted to do when he got home from work was watch basketball, have a beer, and go to bed.
But Celia had greeted him at the door, apologizing for her misstep in arranging a meeting with Paul and bubbling over with excitement about “her story,” which she wanted to tell him. Please not now, he had thought, resisting the ridiculous impulse to turn around and go back to work. Celia had already dragged him to the sofa and plopped down right next to him.
He sighed. “I was hoping we were done with this for now,” he said. At the last moment he changed his inflection to try to suggest that he was joking, even though he was not. He smiled, but he was aware that the cycle they had been in, in which he would respond to her prods to go to church, then fall into the old routine again, would no longer be tolerated by Celia.
Celia’s enthusiasm appeared to waver slightly at his comment but she continued. “When I was really little my grandmother would take Catherine and me for the weekend. She would take us to church on Sundays, but that was really boring… what was really awesome was that she would pray with us before bed. The ‘now I lay me down to sleep’ prayer.”
Rob shook his head, not ever having heard of that. But Celia was not talking about church, and his desire to flee was waning. Her words did not demand action from him; they were quiet and personal and drew him in.
My wife is so pretty, he thought as he watched her eyes brighten to recall warm memories, of which she did not seem to have many.
“So even after my grandmother died, when my family didn’t go to church, I would still say the prayer in my head at night before bed,” she continued. “I still do. So God became a very comfortable idea to me.”
Rob nodded. As little as he wanted to do with hymns and sermons, he was not opposed to God as a comfortable idea. But it was more to Celia now than merely an idea.
“So when did this comfortable idea become so real to you?” Rob asked. Celia was delighted that he asked and took his hand.
“After my parents’ divorce. The house was so empty and Mom was always depressed. I started walking to church myself to get some of that comfort.” She paused. “Catherine kind of went the other direction, moving closer to Mom to try to prop her up.
“So I got comfort from God,” Celia continued. “And so much more.”
How does Rob respond?
Friday, March 04, 2011
The evangelism of marriage (Harold’s response)
Last weekend, we had the opportunity to talk with 110 couples about what makes a God-honoring marriage. One of the topics we discussed was spiritual leadership of the family. As we often hear in our discussions with couples they are struggling with who holds responsibility for the spiritual leadership in the home. What we often hear is frustration from women who feel that their husband is not proactively taking on this role. They want to see their husbands abide by what they see as a biblical mandate to set the spiritual tempo of their husband.
While we certainly espoused a more balanced perspective of spiritual leadership where husbands and wives are mutually responsible for the spiritual climate, we also encouraged husbands to make a simple decision to lead daily prayer. We submitted to them that this one daily decision would transform their households and satisfy most of their wives expectation of them.
I'm reminded of this spiritual leadership as I contemplate Rob and Celia's current quandary. While Celia doesn't necessarily seem to be looking for Rob to take control of their spiritual course, she is looking for more from him. She wants "faith" to be a central element in their marriage. She wants it to matter to them both.
I would encourage Rob to find that time to pray with Celia daily. It will change the trajectory of their marriage--and of yours too.
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