Last night Nate and I were in the midst of a project. More precisely, I had finished my part of the project as far as I could and I was waiting on him to finish his so I could start on the next phase of mine. I know myself well enough to know if I even think about getting distracted, I will, and my best weapon against that is to work like some maniac superhuman until something is done. Nate is not like me. He gathers his tools slowly, remeasures precisely, decides he needs a better tool to do the job and goes to Lowe’s to buy it, assembles better tool after reading the directions (Who reads directions?), and then—finally—makes the cut. I dance around with ants in my pants. He says, “I like your enthusiasm,” which I think is a euphemism for “Get off my back.” We finish the project at 9:47pm. We only get slightly mad at inanimate objects which I consider mostly a success. We end the evening as friends. It’s a win.
A friend asks yesterday, “Do you think you and Nate have a wildly counter-cultural marriage?” I think it depends on which culture you’re talking about, I say back to her. After we talk it out for a few minutes I say, “I think if there’s anything different about our marriage from worldly culture and perhaps church culture, it’s that we don’t treat our marriage like it’s the place where we can be our worst selves. We don’t treat our home like it’s the place where we can ‘be real,’ as though every other relationship in our lives deserves the fruit of the Spirit, but at home we can drop the facade and level all the pent up frustration of the day at one another.” I said, “Nate should get my best self, the best of the Spirit’s fruit in my life and heart, not the worst self. So, yeah, maybe we’re counter-cultural in that sense.”
I think this should be true of every relationship, but especially the ones in which we share the closest quarters or most time. Roommates, close friends, boyfriend or girlfriend, church family, spouse, children, family, whoever it is who sees you most, should receive the first fruits of the Spirit’s work in you. In the midst of conflict, peace (Philippians 4:2-7), in the midst of growth, patience (I Thessalonians 5:13-15), in the midst of disagreement, kindness (Ephesians 4:32), and so on. The world tells us we should find and surround ourselves with people who just let us “be ourselves” or “be real.” But scripture offers a more beautiful arrangement: allowing the Spirit to work in us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23), and offering His fruit to others in abundance.
Nate shouldn’t get the worst of me, even in the midst of house projects where we differ greatly in speed and method, he should get the best of the Spirit in me. More than anyone else, he should experience the Spirit’s work of gentleness and kindness in me. He should see God’s goodness and faithfulness in me. He should feel the Father’s love and patience through me. These aren’t ideals, these are foundational in a sanctified child of God. Imperfect, yes, but attempted by faith.
Whoever you live with today, the one who sees where you throw your dirty laundry at night (I throw mine at the end of the bed.), the one who sees your bad eating choices, or who knows you prefer reading Louise Penny mysteries at night instead of classic literature, your roommates, your spouse, your kids. They’re the ones who see the real you. And the realest thing about you is the Father loves you, He sent his Son to die for you, and His Spirit lives inside you. That’s the real you. Armed with a love like that, a gospel like that, and Spirit like that, the real you is the best part of you. And you can give that to them in fullness, abundance, with joy because the Spirit who bears fruit in you is the Spirit who helps you offer it to others.
Every time I say things like this, I get two responses from readers:
The first is, “Your marriage is like that because your personalities are easier.” Okay. Maybe. But I don’t think Paul was saying the fruit of the Spirit was only for people with low-key personalities. I hope not. And also, our personalities haven’t always been like this. Our character has been formed over decades and is still being formed, and it informs our personalities, instead of the other way around.
The second response is the “Just wait.” But I refuse to submit to the “Just wait” narrative about anything in life. God is our sustainer and he gives more grace. So I’ll keep asking for grace and trusting his sustainment. God doesn’t let a single one of his little ones go through life without exactly what they need for sanctification at every moment. Whatever our portion is today is exactly what God knows will best sanctify us and make us more like him. For some that’s singleness, for some it’s children, for some it’s financial difficulty, for some it’s infertility, for some it’s trauma, etc. Sanctification isn’t a competition and whatever our current hardship is, it doesn’t make us the winner. I don’t want to be so worried about the “just waits” of the future that I miss what God is doing with my today.