Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Romance, interrupted

I recently shared an article1 on Facebook that was one woman’s perspective on her marriage after one year together. She starts it with the startling assertion “My husband is not my soul mate,” and continues from there to defend that, even after growing up believing and praying that God would bring her the perfect mate, the man she eventually came to marry doesn’t always bring her the relationship she expected to find. She loves her husband dearly (don’t get her wrong) but after all of her pining and praying and waiting and book reading, the man she married is different than the portrait she drew in her mind as a girl. From this she concludes that maybe, just maybe, we have created a lot of hype about our One Soul Mate that is unwarranted and, dare we say it, unbiblical? After all, God reiterates promises about the kind of person He wants to make us into, not the height, hair color, and youth pastory-ness we will find in the man/woman of our dreams.

I didn’t agree with all of this author’s conclusions about God’s will in our lives, but at the time didn’t clarify my position. The discussion generated on Facebook attacked some of these points, like the implication that we should reduce God to an impartial observer to our free will. I also disagreed in simply following the principles of Scripture as though a personal God exercises no creativity in our lives (all you need is a good Christian and you have God’s stamp of approval). What really prompted me to share this blog post was her admonition that no matter what process you went through to find your spouse, God’s best or not, you had an obligation as a believer to commit to that person and love them as Christ would have you.

Three years ago I was in the position of deciding God’s will for my romantic life. Through a series of events I found myself in love with a non-Christian, uncertain what God wanted me to do. On one side I had friends who were pressing me to leave him, on the other I felt like the responses to all my prayers to God was to give Jose a chance. What was I supposed to do? I remember one night I couldn’t sleep so I surfed the internet looking for similar stories of people in my position.

One of these was of a woman who fell in love with a non-Christian when she was young, and they married quickly. It didn’t take long for her life to be filled with frustration when her husband didn’t share her interest in spiritual matters. She quickly concluded she had not chosen God’s best. This woman bucked against it for years; she fought to involve him in church, to save him, to change him, and every effort made only ended in more frustration for them both. They were married for 40, angst-filled, years until he abruptly died. A comment in her conclusion stood out boldly:

…gradually my attitude towards Bob is changing too. I can see that he was as much a product of his upbringing as I was of mine. I can see that because I let bitterness over the areas that divided us saturate me, I overlooked the very real good qualities he had…. He was a loyal family man. In fact he said once that in his eyes “loyalty” and “love” were the same thing. His only interests were his family and work. He didn’t find work very fulfilling - he worked to provide for his family. He never talked about the Protestant work ethic - he just lived it. He never drank, smoke, or frequented clubs. He used to bring home all his pay, and would only keep out $20.00 for himself. This would cover any haircuts, his fortnightly lotto ticket (the only gambling he did), and minor items like nails, fuses, batteries. When we lived in the country, if he were late home there were only two possible reasons; he was at the jeweler’s getting his watch repaired –again – or he was at the barber’s. Once we moved to a capital city, the only times he was late home was if his commuter train was late. He showed as much care and concern for my side of the family as he did for his own, and Christmas presents for both sets of parents and siblings were identical. On three occasions when my mother needed rescuing from her own tragic domestic situation, we never discussed whether we should take her in; we just went up and got her.

How can I possibly be talking about the same man that I’ve just been complaining about?
Any negative statement I’ve made about Bob is the truth. Perhaps I ought to qualify that a little. It was the truth as I perceived it at the time, because I focused on my own problems and my own misery, instead of focusing on Christ. [emphasis mine] 2

Reading her story at the time had the effect of sobering me once again to being cautious about merely following my feelings to decide my romantic fate. My own story, with its many twists and turns, demanded that I eventually break up with Jose until he was ready to commit to Christ. It also demanded that a few of my Christian relationships be cut off for a time until I was making that decision to please God, and not man. My love story is not over, however. Jose and I have a lot of growing together as a couple that still involves grace on both ends: As a seasoned believer, I have to remind myself to be patient as Jose discovers what God means in his life. As a new believer, Jose has to reconcile my internal beauty that initially attracted him (his words, not mine!), with my equally insensitive, selfish nature.

Hosea is a famous Old Testament prophet who was asked—by God Himself—to marry a prostitute. God used their marriage as an illustration of the imperfect relationship between Himself and the nation of Israel. Ups and downs, God had a purpose for this couple. Over and again Hosea was exposed to disappointing heartbreaks, but was asked to show redemptive love to a spouse that was far from ideal. This is not the most often recited love story in the Bible, and yet it makes a dramatically counter-cultural point: Happily ever after, at least the biblical kind, doesn’t come wrapped in a tidy package. Biblical “ever after” instead portrays messy people colliding, desperately clinging to grace in order to glorify God.




Sunday, June 9, 2013

Reflections on Racism

I'm currently enrolled in a class called Multicultural Counseling. Initially, the fact I had to take this class annoyed me because almost every counseling course so far has mentioned an aspect of multiculturalism. I get it, I get it. We have differences, respect it, get to know it, moving on...

So far, however, I have learned a lot about myself. Despite the fact I consider myself progressive in how I approach others who act or believe differently than me, a recent assignment made me aware that I (believe it or not) have been an ageist. I actually had a subconsciousness social awkwardness to people over the age of 80. My reasoning? They felt completely foreign. I talked to them like I was talking to a child (old=feeble minded). I was surprised when they had liberal opinions (old=conservative). I didn't share all of my thoughts and feelings (old=closed-minded).

This got me thinking: What exactly makes someone prejudice? I have family members who use racist slang in private to describe bad characters, but when they come into contact with people of other nationalities, color, etc, they almost always judge the person by their actions. This I do not consider prejudice (albeit the language choice is foolish).

Then there are those who are politically correct, but when in the presence of certain differences, let those differences take precedence over getting to know the person themselves. They react defensively, do not listen to what the person is saying, do not give the benefit of the doubt. This, is prejudice. I am going to assume we have all done this from time to time.

Then there are those that both walk the nasty walk and talk the nasty talk.

Which led me to my next thought: What is the damage of prejudice? Why even care? For those who haven't experienced much of it (like myself) the impact may not be obvious, and from time to time the thought has crossed my mind that we all need to be strong in ourselves and not subject to public opinion. To an extent I think this is true, Jesus says "Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come" but he followed it quickly with, "but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves" (Luke 17:2-3, NIV).

We read and hear about how hurtful it is, unkind, and demeaning. But there are particular illustrations that have brought the damage of prejudice to my heart and I wanted to share for reflection.Take these excerpts from a story Culture Identity: Life Stories for Counselors and Therapists. The woman's name is Julie, a 30-year old African American woman living in the United States:

"I often dreamed of traveling and seeing all the places White people came from. It's funny--visiting Africa never entered my mind until high school. During my search for an identity as a young girl, I remember hating to go get my hair done... I always felt I was being tortured and talked about. I have very thick, coily hair, and it was the topic of many discussions. My 'bad' hair was difficult and hard to manage, and I was often teased about cutting it off. Although I never said anything, this early experience made me feel I should have been born White." (p. 12)

"Did only White families have faithful husbands who took care of their families and loving and devoted wives? Was it a Black woman's fate to raise her children alone and to bear them outside of marriage (there sure were a lot of single female parents at church)? Why was I not considered beautiful, and because of my appearance, would I ever meet someone who would love me and think I was beautiful?" (p. 14)

"In some of my daydreams, my hair was a bouncy, wavy texture, and my skin was much lighter. I was considered beautiful, and all of the men--White and Black and everything else--thought I was the most beautiful woman they had ever met. See; I knew I was Black, but I hated everything about being Black. I hated the way Black people spoke, and I hated the way they laughed and drank and looked. I hated that they all didn't want to do better, wouldn't go to school, didn't find jobs, had unprotected sex, and so on. I didn't realize it, but I hated me." (p. 14-15)

The other exercise that touched me deeply was the following video we had to watch for class:

My point for sharing these is the hope that people (including myself) will think of the ripples we send out every time we speak. If you are one of those who carelessly use their words, please think about the small girl who wonders if anyone will ever find her beautiful. For those who unconsciously avoid people groups because of discomfort, challenge yourself, be the change you wish to see. For those who are hurt and want someone to blame, do not let superficial differences be your indicator, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.