catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 2, Num 4 :: 2003.02.14 — 2003.02.27


Lessons in relationship

I grew up without an idea of what a really good marriage could be like. My experience—supported by popular philosophies like Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus

-told me that men and women were incomprehensible to one another. The best we could hope for is to learn to avoid the hot spots that trigger fights, and, for the advanced, find out what makes the other person happy and do that as often as you’re able.

The same could be said of God. I was taught, rightly, that ours is an incomprehensible God. We can never hope for true intimacy with him this side of heaven. Therefore, I was told, the best we can hope for is to avoid sinful acts that trigger separation, and to make him happy by serving him with our whole lives. In short, love is expressed by what you do and what you don’t do.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the altar. I met a woman who was not so incomprehensible. I entered the relationship prepared to play “the game”-I made sure to memorize the day we first went out together because
I was told women liked that sort of thing. Three months later, as I attempted to commemorate it with a gift, I found out Amanda had no idea when our first date was. Essentially, the rulebooks were rendered useless; the tricks for manipulating and appeasing the opposite sex were no good with us. And in that void, love was allowed to grow its own course. I’m not suggesting we never misunderstood each other, but the traits that differed in us rarely fell into “gender categories.” Neither of us much liked shopping, sports, the phone, or driving; we loved to laugh, to talk deeply
about life, and to engage culture. We were human beings first, male and female second.

Nevertheless, whenever a problem arose during our first years of marriage, I would retreat to the standard questions: “Is there something I did to trigger this that I can avoid in the future?” and “What might I do instead to show my devotion to her?” Do and don’t do. But, to her credit, Amanda never settled for a change in behavior; she never wanted mere compliance or even extra effort. And I found I didn’t want that from her, either. What we wanted from each other was to be let into the heart of the other. Our marriage flourished most when we could be fully available to the other person—with our time, our presence, our ideas, our emotions, our whole being. When we were connected emotionally, all the little annoyances faded into the background; when we’d lost each other’s attention, the idiosyncrasies and skipped chores became of giant importance. It wasn’t enough to simply do the chores or change our habits. We needed to pull our heads out of our distractions and begin to really see each other again.

Such connection begins to spoil a person. At the time, I was busy serving God at church, in my day job, with my freelance work, and even in my hobbies. I was busy adhering to a moral life. And yet my relationship with God wasn’t nearly as satisfying as with Amanda. I wondered if perhaps I had made her into a god. But I soon discovered that, instead, God was using my marriage to help reveal to me new depths possible in my spiritual relationship.

With only one car, Amanda and I would arrive at church together 90 minutes early so she could be at praise-team practice. I toyed with the idea of filling the time by helping with set-up, but with so much of my life directed toward service, I decided not to take on one more responsibility. For the first few months, I would stay in the car and read a book, or take a nap, but gradually I began to look outside the car. Next to the parking lot was a fairly ordinary house that, at that time of the morning, always had birds hopping around in the thick grass, pecking bugs out of the wood pile, and flying from roof to tree to telephone wire. I began to watch the birds each Sunday for an hour and a half—the first time, I think, that I sat still long enough to really fathom the world. I thought of God watching the scene, too, taking such pleasure in his creation. And what pleasure, I began to wonder, did he take from watching me? Did he light up inside when he saw my nose to the grindstone? Or was he enjoying those Sunday mornings as much as I was, just watching me revel in his handiwork, seeing my eyes filled with wonder?

I experienced no single moment of revelation, no isolated turning point, but over time I stopped thinking of God as frustrated shepherd, trying desperately to herd us all in the right direction. I began to understand him more as a lover, who rejoices in the unique gift of ourselves that we have to give. My old concept of pleasing God through moral living and proper service gave way to a new approach of active listening, an open heart, and time together. True, God can never be fully known to us—but that doesn’t mean we can’t be fully known to him. He wants me to share with him the awe, the joys, the frustrations, and the pleasures of life; he wants to travel with me on the journey toward discovering who I am. He wants my attention. I do not mean to dismiss sin as trivial in our relationship, but I consider the purpose of Jesus’ sacrifice not simply to make us indebted to God, but to free us to be fully present to Him. I consider intimacy with God to be, ultimately, what we were made for—and marriage was created to teach us that.

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