Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Evangelical Class On Marriage

I would like to thank my wife for talking me back from the edge every week in our Sunday School class on marriage.  I’m getting better.  This week I calmed myself down about halfway after my initial fuming.  The tone of the lessons seems to address newly-Christian or young couples who are experiencing their first disillusionment, or some reminder of this on a second or third disappointment.  We’ve been married almost forty years, and have a few hundred disillusionments each, so bright clichés aren’t all the helpful.  Y’hear? These are also much the same clichés we encountered in the 1970’s, with heavy emphasis on Adam and Eve, and the differing (but equally important!  Did we mention they were equally important?!) roles for husbands and wives. One homework assignment was to discuss what our expectations of marriage had been.  I dunno.  I’ve forgotten.  I’m sure it was important at the time.

To give credit where credit is due: it has a particularly good description of servant, sacrificial leadership that is not merely superficial enjoinders to lead family devotions and being a good example.  I was able to appreciate that when A) I had calmed down and B) my wife pointed it out.  This is why I’m staying with the class, because even a flawed tool can be useful.  A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out… Matthew 12:20, from Isaiah 42:3.  (See, I can still do this evangelical stuff just fine.)  Cliches have their value – that’s how they got to be clichés – and it’s good to be reminded that marriage is about God, not about us.

We didn’t know much about marriage when we first learned these things, so creating some structure, some cuphooks on which to hang the cups is likely one of the best things a teacher can do.  It probably contributed more to our understanding and adapting to differences than we give it credit for.  I say that resignedly, with bad grace.  Because now we do know something about marriage – we have friends and coworkers whose marriages have failed while others endured even through hardship;  we now understand our parents better, we have other couples who we have discussed marriage with, and have seen another generation grow up and start families.  I can now say with some confidence that what keeps marriages together and takes them apart is ultimately not whether they got Ephesians 5 right but whether they got the equal-opportunity Ten Commandments right.  At best, putting so much energy into the roles of husbands and wives is majoring in minors.  At worst, it is an excuse for bullying men or dependent women to engage in bad behavior; or a purely cultural attempt to refight the battle between the Pretend 1950’s and Pretend 1960’s yet again, misunderstanding both.

Related, tangential. A lot of politics seems to be rooted in How Women Should Act, with many different points of view trying to capture territory of whose women are smarter, stronger, more realistic, engaged in more valuable activity.  And the women seem to be doing most of that arguing, with men trying to pick up cues and say the things that the women from their group approve of. Thought:  men who do that well are loved by one of the few main sides and hated by at least one of the other sides; men who do that poorly are disliked by all sides. End tangent.

So now we have Date Night, one of those patent medicines that is good for both epilepsy and apoplexy.  We have had fun, so I am grousing to no purpose.  Perhaps I am just reacting badly to Date Night Suggestions, which seem to fall below even the level of those board games that are designed to be helpful rather than entertaining. 


Sam L. said...

You do what you can, when you can. and be supportive as best you can the rest of the time. I'm working on year 7.

james said...

Part of it is words. They're slippery things, and in the mouths of the careless or inexperienced don't come close to meaning what they mean when you've lived the thing itself. They sound glib because the word "care" doesn't carry the memories of nights sitting up taking care of N sick kids when you're coming down down with the bug yourself, "service" seems lightweight compared to actually giving things up--sometimes permanently--to make it easier for her (and the little things are sometimes hardest), and "patience" sounds so quick when not freighted with decades of trying to help children master the skills of life.

The important things are always simple. The simple things are always hard. The easy way is always mined. (from Murphy's Laws of Combat)

Texan99 said...

I think you must have a terrible time being lectured to, and you gamely try to harness your considerable capacity to enforce humility on yourself.

I'm trying to remember my expectations of marriage, back in the Planck time. I'm pretty sure I didn't want anything more complicated than a husband to help me make a home. 32 years later, the strongest assurance in my life is that wherever he is, my home is. It took him a while to make me understand he wasn't going anywhere.

But it did turn out that there were a ton of things we had to learn about getting along with each other. And then we had to learn all over again when we retired and started being together all day every day. The only thing that makes it possible is the deep belief that there is nothing else for either of us but the other.

Retriever said...

I have always enjoyed teasing my spouse of 27 years that we were an arranged marriage (after our families despaired of either of us finding anyone suitable on our own). We must have been dumb: families knew each other over 100 years,they went to school together, summered together. my spouse and I even were overlapping at Harvard and in the same House, similar majors, but never met. both working in NYC when fed up relatives fixed us up. The tribal stuff in common actually has helped. We have faced a lot of external trials and tribulations. Both of us came from families where divorce had wrought havoc (tho my parents were devoted til death, 52 years together) so we used to joke "murder maybe, divorce never" in the throes of initial marital fury at not being treated like the Last Emperor or Queen of Sheba. I had worked as a youth minister with kids whose lives were ruined by their parents' screwing around, drug addiction, mid-life crises, which helped motivate me to concentrate on my family rather than self actuAlization BS as I hit 40 (the danger year?)
My husband is an only child who still revels in the hubbub of family life after a lonely upbringing by two distant older parents. I'm probably the one who might have run off to study chimpanzees or some such, fed up with domestic drudgery. I do a lot of griping. My family ignore it, because I always cook a good dinner. I joke that I'm like the servants in the parable asked to go and help who say "no way". But then repent, and do what they are supposed to. What I learn from my own stormy family life is that what you do matters more than sweet talk. Being honest, faithful and reliable matters more than communication. My spouse and I are terrible disappointments to each other. But absolutely loyal. Allies. In a crisis, we pull together. At a friend's wedding, my homily used the medieval image of oxen yoked to the plow. Working together. Goaded . Directed in ways they might not choose. But a field to harvest the result of their labor. The point isn't the feelings, but that the work be done. Or, as a church friend said, having a happy marriage isn't so important as having one that endures. I'm not advocating masochism. But the friends of our early marriage who spent the most time and energy going out, going away (and about whom I whined the most to my frugal spouse, saying "if u loved me, u would take me to Lutece/East Africa/wherever away from squalling brats I envied my friends going) are mostly divorced now. We lived like a nature video we saw when I was pregnant w our first: two Hawks hunting for their young. Initially glossy, but progressively more ragged and exhausted as their screeching brood got bigger and more demanding. Utterly focussed on the job. The thing is, you fight and peck at each other but you trust a reliable coworker more than someone you just loaf and amuse yourself with.

I don't present this stark a message to newlyweds. But I don't advocate Date night either. We didn't go on one for 20 years. I encourage them that children are a joy and a gift from God and more fun, even tho hard work, than anything. I encourage them to enjoy fleeting years when they can help young people explore and learn before those same people strike away.

We've had unusual issues to contend with. But despite the tragedies, we'd do it again. I also can say categorically, having taken care of kids with issues (who I adore) that people blessed w healthy kids should recognize that they hit the Lottery. If we can stay married, social misfits that we are, disaster after disaster notwithstanding, there has to be a loving God helping families, and anyone should be able to make it...