Marriage is as One Long Conversation

The old philosopher said, "Marriage is as one long conversation. When marrying you should ask yourself this question: do you believe you are going to enjoy talking with this woman into your old age? Everything else in a marriage is transitory, but most of the time you're together will be devoted to conversation.” The old philosopher was right, but as with all bits of rightness, it ought to be understood in its place. 

I have always known marriage was not an easy conversation. I am of Scotch-Irish descent; men in my family love their beer and asserting opinions, and as for the women, there's a demure outside but on the inside it's all fire and spit. Most conversations were spent seeing who could talk the loudest the longest without throwing the first punch—even if the punch was merely metaphorical.

When I began to grow outside the incubator of family alone, I saw the long conversation of marriage through a different lens. These marriages were built on the scaffolding of details: who is supposed to be where and when and how, who needs to be picked up, what's for dinner, what should we do about this child or that one. There was an ordinariness to the conversations of marriage, unaccompanied by emotive, defensive jabs at the other. It seemed simplistic. I know now it's because I was not in the middle of those marriages as I was in the middle of the marriages in my family, and when we are in the middle of something all our own, we see all its inconsistencies and broken-places.

As I stepped into adulthood and was able to see my skewed perspective of childhood and adolescence both, I began to see marriage was a long conversation, but the tone of voice could change it from a pleasant one to a violent one. Armed with this newfound knowledge of tone, intention, nuance, and even love, I began to assume all the long conversations of marriage could be blissful. A constant sharing of ideas and delights and hurts and confusions, a true partnership. Whenever I thought of being married it was the long conversation I looked forward to most. 

Marriage has been that for me and Nate. The cusp of our friendship was on deep conversation, leading to dates full of long, easy talks, quiet pauses, intentional listening, and slow responses. This was the long conversation of marriage I wanted, I could see that clearly from our first date. 

The long conversations become subject to the tyranny of the urgent, though, as most things can. A few weeks ago there were twelve decisions that needed to be made and seven of them required quick conversations but the other five required depth, time, focus, and charity. We were short on all of that, though, and so if the conversations were going to be had, they were going to be had on the surface, quickly, while we multi-tasked, and were short with one another. As with most conversations built on bedrocks like that, we needed to repent later to one another. 

The urgent doesn't let up, though, does it? There is always someone who needs an answer or thinks they need an answer, or wants one. There is always something that must be signed up for or paid or responded to or agreed upon. There is always something left unfinished, unsaid, unsealed. I have learned to say to others, "I want to talk to Nate about that first," but the when of talking sometimes comes slowly or is mingled among the other conversations, never finished.

Nate and I practice (and by practice, I mean we are very unproficient at this and must practice) the discipline of saying "No," to ourselves, our minds, our friends, and the tyranny of the urgent. If, in saying no, we find ourselves disappointed or others disappointed by our lack of a quick answer—this is the discipline of the practice. This is the sacrifice, the hurt, the pain. This is where we admit to ourselves and to others that we are not God, as much as we sometimes think we would like to be. 

I think about Jesus in John 16. He says to his disciples and friends, "I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you." I think about how often we fill conversation simply because we do not want to feel the lack of the incarnate Christ and we do not want to wait for the Holy Spirit to do what only he can do. We are uncomfortable with the long silences, afraid the Spirit will not do what He does: move. 

Yesterday morning, in the early hours of our day of rest, Nate mentioned some conversations we've left unfinished this week, answers others expect. And then he said this: I want to pray about these things, ask the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom, humility, and a direction, even more than we simply talk about them. And then, for the rest of the day, we didn't talk about things we could not solve on that day. We left space for the Spirit to enter in, give peace or withhold it. 

Marriage is one long conversation, but it is not, primarily, a conversation between two, but three. If we find the conversation to be focused on just two, it may go the brawling way of my family, or it may go the stoic way of my checklisting friends. But, I think, if we move ourselves away from one another for a moment, stop talking and begin listening, not primarily to one another but to the Holy Spirit, we may find that conversation more robust, full, and gentle than we could have imagined before. We may leave more things unfinished, more things unsaid, more events unattended, and more lists unchecked, but I do not think we will leave less full. 

Screen Shot 2017-08-21 at 8.54.59 AM.png

If you're married today, what might it look like to still the conversation—even about the rudimentary things or the things that seem pressing and necessary—and begin to recognize the presence of the Holy Spirit in this longest conversation of your life? 

If you're not married today, what might it look like to trust the Spirit is still at work in all the seeming silences of your life? In the lonely places where you long for conversation, how can you exercise listening to the Helper, learning from him, and obeying him as he perhaps prepares you for the long conversation of earthly marriage and definitely prepares you for the long conversation of eternity? 

How Do I Know if I'm Settling in My Search for Spouse?

For a lot of years I thought I was going to have to settle for a husband. I was never the girl getting asked out dozens of times and having to perfect my "I think Jesus is calling me to be single...for now" refusals. I dated occasionally, lots of first dates, usually with men I knew fairly well already, but nothing ever really seemed to fit. I began to think maybe my expectations were wild, maybe my requirements were too extreme, maybe I was waiting for some guy who didn't exist. 

I don't know when it happened, somewhere in my 33rd year, but I began to believe being single was actually better than all the mid-life marriages I was surrounded by. Many of my friends were getting divorced or on the brink of divorce or just sort of "meh" about their spouses. I heard more about how hard marriage was than about how good it was. I watched couple after couple face circumstances they didn't expect and end up in the arms of another or just passively facing life together as roommates. I knew that wasn't what I wanted, but I also knew I was getting older and the pickin's seemed slim. The question, for me, became not "Should I settle?" but "What is settling?" That's a hard question to answer for any unmarried person because it doesn't really have a solid answer. You have nothing to compare what not settling looks like because, well, for obvious reasons, that person isn't on your radar. There were plenty of guys I admired for their work and theology ethic, and for their love for the local church and their families. But either they were married to someone else or they hadn't noticed me in any fashion. It was easier to answer the first question (Should I settle?) than to answer the second: What is settling?

It turned out that I didn't need to ask the question or find the answer, because at the proper time and not one minute sooner, Nate and I began to have conversations.

Friends, there was no spark. There was no voice from heaven saying, "This is the one." There was no giddy butterfly in my stomach fluttering up into my heart. There was no chorus of angels announcing my wait had come to an end. There was none of that. There was not one bit of assurance that this guy would be anything other than a guy with whom I had a series of cool conversations about pacifism. The question of settling didn't come into the equation, it didn't have a chance to, because in the space we'd embarked on, I began to think of him as my friend.

Without doubts, without questions, without "What ifs?" Nate was simply my friend. I won't deny there was the hope of something more, but there wasn't space for it to breathe, not much. Not really at all. He was so completely clear with me from the very beginning that it was friendship, and not until he picked up his phone and called me to ask me on a date, could I assume it was anything more. And once it was something more, he continued to use his voice to ask me on more dates, ask me how I felt about continuing to date, and then ask me to marry him. And since then, there have been thousands of more asks from him to me. 

He was not the first to ask me on a date, but he was the first for whom there was a complete absence of doubt for me. People ask: "When did you know he was the one?" I never knew he was the one (I don't even know if there is a such thing as one.). What I knew was day to day to day to day, I was going to walk forward as long as I had faith as it led me to the altar. And then, only then, would he become my one, the question of doubts and fears and what ifs and expectations always taking a backseat to the vows we said standing in front of our friends, family, pastors, and elders. 

We have a really beautiful marriage. It's not perfect. It's not without disagreements or failures or misunderstandings. But it's a really beautiful marriage built on a singular point: faith. Not faith in one another to never fail us, but faith in God that we came together without doubts, with the confidence of our church family and elders, with the joy of our families, with the cheers of our friends. There was faith that we weren't settling. 

God, in his goodness, gave me a husband beyond any of my wildest hopes and dreams, with specificity and precision, with attentiveness to my needs and my wants. God crafted a husband for me as specifically as he crafted me himself. I have not one single doubt that my beloved is mine and I am his, and I never have had one doubt. 

I wanted to say this because since we've been married, I've encountered so many couples for whom doubt was a big part of their dating and engagement. A feeling they couldn't flee from, an uncertainty they couldn't get past, a sense they couldn't shake, a feeling of settling. Or there were doubts of others: concerns of immaturity, fears of unequal yoking, desires to protect from what seemed not good. And yet, they got married just the same, and every day since then their marriage has suffered for it.

These marriages began on what they could see and feel (looks, money, chemistry, security, appearance of godliness), and not on what they could not (faith from God and in God, hope from God and in God, love from God and in God). They made a pragmatic decision to marry for whatever reasons, and now their marriages have suffered for it. It might have seemed to them and others that they were not settling as they said their vows to one another based on appearances, but deep in their hearts they were settling for less than "perfect peace" (Isa. 26:3). 

Listen to me: if you are married or will be married, there will come hard times when money will be scarce, looks will falter, houses will be lost, jobs will be gone, churches will be difficult, and children will be a source of ache: what sustains you in those times is that strong and certain faith in the God who drew you to one another. If you married your spouse, or they married you, without a certain faith and an absence of doubt, ask God today to give you the gift of faith that this is your beloved and ask him to give your spouse the same gift of faith. God wants to give you that gift! He's longing to give it to you. 

If you are unmarried, trust God. You will know you are not settling because there will be not only an absence of doubt in you, but an absence of doubt in them, and an absence of doubt in your community.  If you do not have community, then do not get married. I mean this. Wait. To get married without a strong, loving community who will speak truth to you even if it's painful, is to invite trauma into your marriage before you've even started. If you feel the presence of doubt, the question of whether you're settling, might that be the Holy Spirit, protecting you from future angst and trauma? Marriage is so full and so fun and so wonderful. I want that for you, but you have to want it for you and you have to believe it can exist for you. God wants to give good gifts to his children! Believe that he wants to give you bread and fish instead of a stone and serpent. 

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! Matthew 7:9-11

The enemy is crouching at your door, waiting to devour you. He's waiting to devour your singleness, your future marriage, or your present marriage. Do not give him a foothold by moving forward without faith. Trust the Lord: it would be better to remain single than to be in a marriage headed for divorce as soon as the vows have been said. 

*I also recognize that there may be some couples who thought they had this absence of doubt in themselves and their community and moved forward, only to find themselves in a train wreck of a relationship today. I ache for you and pray God would show himself to be enough for you in the wake of disappointment, failure, and sin. He is enough. Put your faith in HIM and not in a fixed, healed, or whole marriage as you would see it. I'm praying for your marriages today. 

 

The Art of Repairing Broken Things

We were married less than three months when I broke his favorite mug. It was bound to happen. My favorite mug had broken on the move to Denver from Dallas, which was why, I suppose, it was his I carried that day. Coffee from the morning pooled in the bottom, my hands full of books and papers and another cup, which is why, I suppose, I dropped his mug as I opened the door. It lay there in seventy shards and I on my knees trying to find every one of them, crying and apologies and it's okays. I think he went inside frustrated. I think I stayed outside thinking if only I could keep everything together it might never have happened.

The shards moved with us, inside a grocery bag, and stuffed in the back of our pantry all this year. The bag also holds a ceramic bowl my mother gave me which sliced neatly in two with not a single other piece to be found. This afternoon I took them both out, as well as a teal peacock whose head had broken off in the move from Denver to D.C. I gathered them all on our wooden table and laid their remains around them and began the work of piecing broken things back together again.

The Japanese have a word for this, kintsugi, only they use precious metals like gold or silver to bind brokenness back together again. They think of it as an art: the history of a thing is part of a thing. I think it's beautiful to think so, but that was before all of the moves and the breaking and storing and sealing and healing that has been a part the history of our thing. It is romantic to call to memory the history of breaking and healing, but it is not romantic to feel in pieces at the front door or stored away in a plastic bag in the back of the pantry or to even sit alongside your other broken comrades while you are pieced together with strong glue. I wonder if the mug or bowl will be useable again. I know the peacock will be because what does one do with a peacock anyway except look at it?

There have been times this year when I wonder if we have been broken beyond repair. I know the Christian-lite will hurry to allay and calm the picture this brings to mind, but I wonder if the Bible tells a different story. Wasn't it Jacob who walked with a limp all his life—proof of his wrestle with God, but still, a limp? Wasn't it a whole chapter in the letter to the Hebrews that tells of their forefathers and mothers: those who did not see what was promised. It is a temptation, to be sure, to believe wholeness is for tomorrow or next year, but what if wholeness is not until eternity? Or what if healing means beautiful, but not useful in the former way? These are the things I have thought about this year and the things I thought of today, while piecing pottery together again.

What if our intended use is different than the Father's intended use for us? What if he pieces us together again with precious metals, but puts us on a shelf, never to be filled again? There are many rebuttals that come to mind when I think of the possibilities, but none of them are promises. God does not promise to heal the old hearts, but to give us new ones entirely. Why then, are we so bent on bandaids and also trying our best to hide our collective bandages?

I love the idea of kintsugi because it is the story of the thing I love most about any thing. It is beautiful to think of the work and love that went into the making of our table, but I know the history of it, not just ours, but the makers of it, and that story wasn't and isn't always beautiful to others—but still, that enhances the beauty of the table to me. I know the hands that made it and I love them. And I know the conversations that have been had around it and I love those voices. And I know the man who it was first given to and I love that man. It isn't the table I love, it is the story it tells.

The mug and the bowl and the useless peacock are sitting on the table drying. I hope we will fill the cup with coffee tomorrow or the next day and it will hold it so well the coffee pools and overflows. I hope the bowl will hold, at least, small tangerines or applesauce for our dinner soon. I know the peacock will strut in place on our mantle or bookshelf as though it has never left. If you came to our home you might never know you were drinking from a mug I broke three months into our marriage, it will be useful to you even without the story. But I'm not promised any of that, I know, and on this I meditate today.

We are trying to move back to Texas. I wasn't sure whether I was going to say that on here until after we'd moved because what if, like so many of our other plans, it didn't happen? I confess, since the day we made the decision (a decision I've been asking God and my husband for to varying degrees and with various levels of passion and passivity nearly since we left it the night of our wedding), I have been scared it won't happen. Yet another thing we tried for and failed. Yet another broken plan. Broken endeavor. Broken heart. I know God heals, but what if not on earth at all?

A friend told me that if we do come back, to be okay with being different, a different bowl or mug or peacock. Pieced together, but barely, and not with gold or silver or fine metal but with the faith and hope and love of God that has carried us thus far. We may not be beautiful or useable in the former way, but our marriage has a history now and it is threaded in the finest cracks and crevices of our lives, barely seen, but there.

How to Forgive a Year

  Everyone, it seems, had a hard 2016 and it reminds me of the first months of 2015, how I stood in a small circle talking with my close friend and the man who would be my husband (although I didn't know then). My friend and I had said good riddance to 2014 and had our arms flung wide open to what God might do in 2015 and we said so. But the man who become my husband in only a few months said, "You know, 2014 was a hard year. The first half I just tried to bear it. But the second half was actually good and sweet. The Lord taught me so much about His character and my sin."

I didn't fall in love with him just then, but I think there was a stirring inside of me in that moment that pointed to the goodness ahead. I cannot say for sure, but I think so. There was—and is—a tenderness in him that draws me to him again and again. The tenderness is not to others only, but to God. He has a self-awareness resulting in a God-awareness that I have seen rarely, especially in men.

Being able to forgive a year for it's badness because of God's goodness is something I am working to do right now. The other morning, the man who became my husband and I stood, face to face in the kitchen. His sadness overwhelmed me, as I'm sure my sadness has overwhelmed him this year. I wanted to fix what was wrong and I couldn't. Nothing I could say could nudge the sadness away from him. All I could say was not that God was good in what he did (and didn't do), but that he is good. Today. Right now. In this moment, he is working something deep into our sadness and bringing light to the darkness.

Screen Shot 2017-01-18 at 9.09.34 AMI have been reading the book of Job this month and I am encouraged by it in a way unlike ever before. I've struggled with Job in the past, either I didn't want my joy tinged with his suffering or I didn't want my suffering spiraling down more. But God, in his goodness, has me reading the whole book this month and every morning I am struck more and more by the deep wells of truth in it. His friends did some things right and said some things wrong. Job did some things right and said some things wrong. It is not a prescriptive book, it is descriptive of Job's life and walk with the Lord, but it can be a comfort to us in its descriptiveness.

One verse in particular keeps coming around again and again in my heart. The first part is familiar, "Though he slay me, I will hope in him," but the second is less so, "yet I will argue my ways to his face." That word "yet" catches me every time. It is the equivalent of our word, "but." As in, "Yes, mom, I'll clean up my room, but first let me tell you this story." Job says, "I trust, but also..." It reminds me of the father of the demoniac in Mark 9, "I believe. [But] help my unbelief." I added the "but" in there, but it's implied: a statement of truth and another statement of truth. It is possible to have those conflicting truths smashed right up against one another, fighting one another for breath.

I believe. Help my unbelief. I hope in you. I will still argue my ways to your face.

If your 2016 was like mine, and like almost everyone I know, you probably need a "yet" in your life today. God was in there, working goodness in a profoundly difficult political season, in a devastatingly violent year, in a year polarizing like I have never seen in my life. God was in there when we miscarried and when we had to move suddenly and when we lost so much money on our house and when a hundred thousand small things pressed themselves against me and you and everyone we know. God was there. But also God is here, and he can handle our unbelief and our ways argued straight to his face. He isn't surprised by the sadness we can't shake and the anger we're surprised by and the fear we go to bed with and the unknowns we wake to. He is the God who is here.

This month I am working to forgive a year, which means I am working for forgive God (not because he did wrong, but because I have perceived his goodness to be badness and been angry at him for it) and to forgive myself and to forgive others and to forgive people I don't even know. I am working to say, "That happened and was hard and there is no guarantee it gets easier (in fact, it probably just gets harder), but though he slays me, my hope is in him. Not the future him. The today him. The God who is."

. . .

Meditating on these is helping me. Maybe it will help you too. 

Two Becoming One: Challenges for newly married

Wilbert-110I've already written on this one pretty extensively, but I want to delve a bit more in the practicality of it today. A short recap though: marriage is not 1+1=1, as we're led to believe. It's messier math than we'd like, more like (1-1)+(1-1)=1. We empty ourselves, pouring our lives out for one another, and only through sacrificial love and overarching servant-heartedness, are we able to become one with our spouse. It is not so glorious—or sexual—as I envisioned before marriage, when I thought becoming one was some sort of allusion to consummation. It is, but it's a whole lot more of becoming a whole lot less. The good news is that, hopefully, someday the one flesh unit you've become is a solid and impenetrable one. We're not there yet, but we're learning, day by day. Yesterday I wrote about schedules and how our schedule is to serve the other's schedule, but on a deeper, heart level, what does that mean? It means entering into conflict without entering into competition. My friend Haley Kirkpatrick (35, married two years, one beautiful baby), said this,

"Marriage is not a competition. I know some books out there talk about competing in a healthy way—outdoing your spouse in kindness, thoughtfulness, respect, and love—but for a competitive person like myself, this is not helpful and just leads to a desire to compete when we're in the worse, poorer, and sickness parts of marriage. I am not in competition with my husband about who is more tired, who is more stressed, whose back hurts and therefore needs a back rub more. It is easy to compete. It is harder to stop, listen, and love even when I feel tired, stressed, and unable to stand up straight. But it is loving deep and big and selflessly in the worse, poorer, and sickness that makes love so damn good in the better, richer, and healthy parts of marriage, and it is what sustains your love the next time life is worse, poorer, and sick."

Haley and I are very different people in many ways. One of which is that Haley is a more competitive person than I am. She pushes herself against herself and against others to be the best she can be at everything she does, including being a wife. I am not wired like that, in fact, I'm wired the opposite way. I am still competitive, but she externalizes her competition, I internalize it, so much so that it eats me alive, from the inside out. We both are struggling with the same root issue: we want to be the best, even better than our husbands in some ways. I'm saying this because I think there are people who are clearly competitive people and for them, the difficulty in marriage is vocal, heated, and visible. But for others, the competition is sneaky, sly, and quiet. Instead of a game of words, it's a game of wills—who can go the longest without bringing up something? Who can stay quiet about something the longest? Who can bear the weight of the other the longest?

I came into marriage with very real fears that every conflict would be loud, heated, and harsh, because this was the example I had growing up. Nate came into marriage determined to not repeat his sins from before, conflict was nonexistent until it was impossible to ignore, he never spoke up about anything, and was passive in his leadership. I feared conflict and he feared the lack of it. God, in His sovereignty though, has given us plenty of it in the first 17 months of our marriage. I remarked to him the other day that what we've walked through in the past year is more than what most people married for fifteen years walk through. It's like God is playing catch-up with our marriage, bringing us to the place most of our peers are in. (That's a joke. Kind of.)

How do two whole people, with whole opinions and histories and beliefs and visions, dissipate and become one whole unit?

To be honest, I have no idea. Really. No idea. I think it's a mystery. But here are two things I have to remember often:

Conflict is good

I've realized that most of the bad conflict or lack of it, that we've experienced is mostly in the way the words are said, not in the words themselves. It is good and right to say, "I don't like this," or "I prefer this," or "I've had a really hard day." But it is not good or right to say those things in order to wound, to assert rights, or to compete with one another. I have not learned this well, but it actually serves my husband when I say, "I do have a preference and this is what it is," otherwise he's flying blind. In a new marriage this can be really scary because it's all heart eye emojis and inside jokes until it isn't. As soon as you say you have a preference, and especially if you know his preference is different, you've entered conflict. But heart eye emojis and inside jokes cannot a marriage grow. We need good, healthy, measured conflict. Nate and I have made some Really Big, Really Hard, Really Deep mistakes this year because we didn't know how to speak the language of conflict good, so instead, we just kept quiet. Learning the language of conflict is one of the best things we can do in a new marriage. We do that two ways: watching those who do it well and doing it ourselves.

Con means against, but also with

I've been learning that the more I am against Nate in something, and by against, I mean our two opinions pressed up against one another, the more of me gets shaved off. This is what the Bible calls "iron sharpening iron." By allowing the againstness of conflict chip off the parts of me that keep us from being one flesh, I become less and less of my former unmarried self. Don't let anyone tell you, newly married person, that the process isn't painful. It is just as painful as becoming the healthy, whole, vibrant person you were before you got married. Just as painful. Sanctification in marriage isn't harder than singleness, but it is different, mainly in that you're starting over in a lot of ways.

I envision it like this and maybe this will help you: We are two whole little wooden figurines before marriage and then we come together and the process of conflict shaves off pieces of us, which fall to the ground. We have always thought of ourselves as whole as the figurines, so it doesn't occur to us to look at the shavings below and think of them as any consequence, but what is actually happening is at the end of this process, the shavings below are imperceptible from one another. They—with all their pieces of conflict, hurt, joy, preference, and desire—are the new unit, the little wooden figurines are no more. That's the process of sanctification in marriage, the two becoming one. The analogy breaks down of course, but while it works, it works. And it helps me to not look at those scraps on the floor as wasted.

I think of John Piper's words,

"Not only is all your affliction momentary, not only is all your affliction light in comparison to eternity and the glory there. But all of it is totally meaningful. Every millisecond of your pain, from the fallen nature or fallen man, every millisecond of your misery in the path of obedience is producing a peculiar glory you will get because of that.

I don’t care if it was cancer or criticism. I don’t care if it was slander or sickness. It wasn’t meaningless. It’s doing something! It’s not meaningless. Of course you can’t see what it’s doing. Don’t look to what is seen.

When your mom dies, when your kid dies, when you’ve got cancer at 40, when a car careens into the sidewalk and takes her out, don’t say, “That’s meaningless!” It’s not. It’s working for you an eternal weight of glory.

Therefore, therefore, do not lose heart. But take these truths and day by day focus on them. Preach them to yourself every morning. Get alone with God and preach his word into your mind until your heart sings with confidence that you are new and cared for."

. . .

I hope that encourages us today, newly married sisters, as we look at the scraps of life falling below us. He's doing something with them. All this conflict is working in us a better marriage, a more whole one. Even if our marriages are without a lot of conflict and are peaceful havens, the world is coming at us a thousand miles a second, and the enemy crouches at our door waiting to rule over us. In the infancy of this union, friend, let's be sisters who are gentle with our words, faithful with our words, and honest with our words. Our husbands will thank us and it will be a sweet fragrance to our God.