Thursday, March 28, 2013

Keeping Score

Easter is approaching. And with my husband, that means hectic days and late nights working. Our church puts on an Easter production every year, and my husband is one of the core people who make that happen (being a sound engineer and all). He is great at what he does, and I really do appreciate that he is such a hard worker. He does not complain about the long hours or the lack of sleep, and still tries to bless me in whatever way he can. He does sometimes get a bit irritable, with the lack of sleep and such, but even so, he amazes me with how much he can handle without totally breaking down.

As a result of my husband working so much, this time of year can be difficult for me. One reason is that, because he generally works 8:30am-10:30pm, I do not get to see him or hang out with him much. Another reason would be the lack of sleep that comes with a long work day. And finally, I have a really difficult time working such long hours for any extended period of time. Then the question comes, “I thought you said that he was working long hours, not you.” It is true, and the fact that I feel a need to be working at least as long as he is reveals my problem: I have a tendency to keep score of how much we each do, and I am determined to be ahead.

I keep track of our respective amounts of awesomeness, and therefore constantly feel the need to be doing more. I need to work more, be more godly, and get less sleep than he does, not because I am pursuing productivity or godliness in themselves, but because I want to be more productive and more godly than he is, saving up “points” so that I am perfectly justified in taking a break or even having a crappy attitude once in a while.

The other day, my husband woke up feeling sick. As a result, he decided that instead of doing some extra contracting work that he had been planning to do, he would sleep in and rest so that he would {hopefully} be less-sick during the Easter production. I, on the other hand, got up early so that I could lead worship at our church’s Jr. High/High School. It did not bother me that my husband decided to sleep in or that I was up early. I actually encouraged him to get some rest. I did, however, unconsciously make a mental note of the fact that he got more sleep than me. So, later in the day when I was in a bad mood, I felt as if I had “earned” the right to be in a bad mood because he had gotten more sleep than I had. But that is a warped view that is of life in Christ, and of marriage specifically.

Keeping score may work fine for tennis and soccer and basketball, but not marriage. Keeping score implies an “us and them” mentality. When playing soccer, score is not kept between players on the same team, but between the opposing teams. Did you catch that (did I catch it?) —opposing teams. Marriage is a team “sport,” but it is not wife against husband. It is not me against him. It is not seeing how much better than him I can be, how far ahead I can get so that I can take it easy for a while. It is US (God, my husband, and me), against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Instead of trying to score lots of points for myself, I need to focus on the team—building up my husband and relying on God’s strength.

No matter how hard I try, I can earn “enough” points. There will always be days where my husband works longer hours, where he is sweet and I am being a brat, where he is laying down his life and I am struggling to take care of myself. And on the flip side, there will be days where I work all day and he stays home, where I am being extra kind and he is being a jerk, where I am laying down my life and he does not seem to care about me at all. But that is why marriage is a promise, and that is why God gives us grace.

If we did not have bad days, if there was never a time when one of us was being rude, if marriage did not require love and sacrifice, we would not as desperately feel our need for God. But when my husband is having a bad day and I want so badly to be angry at him, I need God’s grace to be kind. When I work all day and upon arriving at home, the house is still messy and my husband seems to have done nothing productive all day, I need God’s grace to not give him the cold shoulder. When I waste a lot of time on Facebook or Pinterest while my husband is working and I feel like such a failure at time management and being a good wife, I need God’s grace. When I am angry with my husband when he has not done anything wrong, but simply because I have not been taking captive my fearful thoughts, I need God’s grace.

Marriage is not about getting ahead. It is not about being better than my spouse. It is not about keeping score. Marriage is about loving unconditionally and being transformed—by God—into the person He has created me to be. When I keep score in my marriage, I overlook God’s grace. Instead of relying on Him for strength, I look to myself to be strong enough. Although I would like to believe that I am strong enough to make life work on my own, I know by now that it is futile trying to do it on my own. My good days can never stack up to my failures, and I am constantly left feeling defeated by my own shortcomings.

Lord, keep my eyes on You, rather than on the score. Remind me of your grace when I am tempted to stack my good deeds against my husband’s bad, or vice versa. Help me to live constantly with the goal of knowing you more and honoring you through loving my husband as You have loved me. Thank you for Your grace that covers me.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Feeling Married

Every year as my birthday approached, I would be so excited to be another year older. I anticipated greatly that day when I would finally be a teenager or sixteen or eighteen, always expecting that something would change. "I will be so cool once I turn thirteen! I will feel so grown up." "I am going to be so mature once I am 16. I can't wait!" And every year when the question came, "Do you feel different now that you are sixteen?" but the answer was always no. Sure, I would feel excited that it was my birthday and you cannot help but feel a bit different at your own birthday party when people are there to celebrate the face that you are older. A few years I even felt a greater responsibility to be mature and responsible, but the day comes and goes, and in the end, I have never felt different, just like myself with a different age.
A similar phenomenon occurred when I got married. 

Prior to getting married, my mindset was that after the wedding marriage would come naturally. I would somehow feel different. Communication would not be so hard for me. Fear would not be present. I would be absolutely at ease because the decision had been made and I had no need to wonder about who I would marry anymore. I would feel married. 

Despite my ideas, however, getting married turned out to be more like a birthday. The wedding was wonderful, and I did feel a greater responsibility to be mature and responsible in this new endeavor. And with three hundred people at the wedding to celebrate the beginning of our marriage I could not help but feel a bit different. Nevertheless, when the festivities were all over and tomorrow came, I felt surprisingly...normal. 

After the wedding, I did not suddenly become an excellent communicator (as evidenced by some of my struggles on the honeymoon). My fears did not go away, they were simply changed (Love and Fear). And the combination of those factors, plus several more, I was not completely at ease. In fact, even the wondering who I was going to marry did not go away as automatically as I thought it would because I did not feel married. Instead of marriage coming naturally right from the start, I had to remind myself that I was married every so often because I still felt single. 

After the wedding, it seemed that there had not been a change. We had a piece of paper saying that we were legally married in the eyes of the law, we trusted that we were properly married before God, and we could honorably live together, but none of it felt. I did not suddenly learn how to solve world hunger, how to cure cancer, or even how to be a wife. There was no visible change, and I certainly did not feel any different. 

But as I consider marriage in light of its similarity with our walk with God (An Introduction), I am reminded that the wedding, as with salvation, does not often come with visible change, only a promise and hope. The promise that my husband and I made before God to be committed to each other regardless of circumstances. The hope that God, who has ordained this marriage, will take it and make it into something beautiful and will transform us in the process. 

I was not suddenly changed into a more godly, more patient, more courageous woman because I got married. Yet while getting married did not transform me, I am confident that as God works in my life and in my marriage, being married will. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Love and Fear.

Fear. How prevelant it can be in our lives--especially in mine. 

I have no idea why I struggle so much with fear. In fact, I never realized that I was fearful until after getting married, at which point it hit me like a ton of bricks. Not that I was not fearful before getting married; there were just more important things to deal with at that point. Now that the struggle of "what does God want me to do for the rest of my life?" is over (that is to say, God has taught me to trust him with that, rather than try to figure out what His will is before he cares to reveal it to me), I suppose fear is the next thing on the list that God wants to deal with in me.

Although my fears are many and quite varied in subject matter, one biggie--that is made especially apparent in marriage--is my fear of being left. 

The popular breakup song, "Breakeven," by The Script, is about a breakup where the girl leaves the guy she was with and has no regrets or grief. Meanwhile, the guy she left is heartbroken over her absence, mourning his pain and heartache, especially in light of his ex's lack of feeling over the incident. He asks, "What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you? And what am I supposed to say when I'm all choked up and you're okay?" Those lines so perfectly illustrate my fear.

I do not want to be the one who gives their all to a relationship, just to have the other walk out, not caring at all. I do not want to be left crying, while he goes out emotionless. I do not want to care if he hurts me. I do not want to sympathize with that song. I refuse to allow my heart to be broken. 

Now, I am aware that I am married. My husband did in fact participate in that covenent before God that both of us made to stay by each other, no matter how good or bad things are. And I know, in my head, that my husband would NEVER walk out on me. Loyalty is an integral part of who he is. I noticed that before we were even friends, which is part of what attracted me to him. Nevertheless, fears are not required to be based in reality or to be rational at all. 

Despite my husband's loyalty, I fear him leaving. I fear that he will radically change and decide to move on. I fear that someday, I will not be enough for him.

Honestly, I do not know how to resolve this fear. My rationale cannot say with one hundred percent certainty that he will never leave; sometims people do. I can say that it would be logical to assume that he will not leave. I can say that, morally, he would not leave. I can say that God is able to sustain us. But I cannot predict the future or decide what God has determined. (But God would never allow that to happen, I argue. And then myself reminds me that it has happened to others, so why not me?)

This fear does not stop with making me afraid. It continues to affect how I act and how vulnerable I allow myself to be. It brings out the perfectionist in me, in an attempt to keep him. It brings out insecurities about my appearance and my personality. It encourages jealousy and envy of others. It causes me to be overprotective. It encourages me to keep quiet about things that bother me. It makes me frustrated with him when he is not guilty of anything worthy of frustration. It causes me to hold him at arms length, because I do not want to be hurt.

The Bible says that "perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). Perhaps my struggle then, is not so much about fear, but rather about my inability to love. Perhaps I am not fighting a battle between fear and reason, but instead between fear and love. Perhaps I cannot conquer my fears with logic because fear is not something to be rationalized away. Perhaps fear cannot have a hold on me if love is present.

The problem then becomes my lack of love. I have never been able to measure up to 1 Corinthians 13. I cannot banish my fear by loving more out of my own volition, because I have none. I am incapable of loving the way that God has commanded.

What if, by sitting at the feet of Christ, I could soak up His love. And what if, by being rooted and grounded in His love, fear would have no room to remain? What if it does not matter who my husband is or what he does, but solely depends on an understanding of God's love, and His love flowing through me? What if it is not about my husband at all, but simply about my lack of understanding of the love of my Creator?

Who do I want to be? The first word that comes to mind is radient. Not simply physical beauty, but radience that comes from the inside, as in Psalm 34:5--Those who look to Him are radiant with joy; their faces will never be ashamed (HCSB). 

Is fear radiant? No. 
Is insecurity beautiful? No. 
Frustration, jealosy, distancing myself, distrust, overprotectiveness, a refusal to be vulnerable, are those things radient and beautiful? Do they speak of love and joy and trust? NO!

I want to be radiant. I want to trust, even in the midst of trial. I want to give all I am to the man that God has given me to. I want to love with abandon, whether or not it is returned. I want to be vulnerable even if my heart is broken. Beautiful women are not those who held back for fear of the unknown. Beautiful women are those who loved even when they were betrayed. And although I do not want the betrayal, and pray that God may spare me from that, I do want to love--not fearing what the result will be. If my heart is broken, God has a plan for it, but if that were to happen, I do not want to be filled with regret and wonder what would have happened if I had given my all.

"To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."  --CS Lewis

Lord, I need you. I cannot love. I cannot trust. I cannot be radient. I am filled with fear. With selfishness. With pride. I need you to come in and fill me with your love. I need you to make me rooted and grounded in love. I need you to help me to understand what is the length and width, height and depth of Your love that surpasses knowledge, that I may be filled with your fullness. Lord, love through me. Enable me to let go of this fear and replace it with Your love. May I be willing to be open and vulnerable to love, as You have loved me.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Six Months

As of two days ago, my wonderful husband and I have been married for six months. SIX WHOLE MONTHS! I have no idea how time went by so quickly. It has been quite lovely, although riddled with lots of learning about him, myself, and who we are together. 

To celebrate such a momentous occasion, the husband and I took a short trip to my family's cabin in Montana. We had taken part of our honeymoon there six months ago. The difference between the two experiences was astronomical. While we had a great time on our honeymoon, our short stay yesterday was so much more relaxed. I felt like the experience was closer to what a stereotypical honeymoon is like. The difference is that on the honeymoon, we really did not know each other very well (plus all of the factors I mentioned in The Honeymoon), but on this trip, although we still have a lot more to learn about each other and marriage in general, we have lived with each other for six months and worked through many conflicts in that time, besides the fact that we have not been planning and stressing over a wedding for the past six months. Spectacular.

The trip was kind of like a mini marriage retreat with just the two of us. We brought along a book that we have been going through in the marriage small group that we are a part of, and spent lots of time getting to know each other better. We went through a lot of questions that I found on Pinterest, from lists like 26 questions to get a marriage talking and 50 questions to ask your spouse. We learned so much about each other and had an awesome time talking about a ton of things that usually do not come up in conversation. 

Thankfully, I was not in one of my "I will bite your head off if you do anything wrong" moods, as the trip certainly did not go according to plan. Our plans of going to dinner at a nice restaurant and soaking at some hot springs were thwarted by our truck getting stuck in a snowdrift. We took about two hours unsuccessfully trying to get it out ourselves and another two hours trying to find someone to tow us out without charging an arm and a leg. Waiting for the tow truck and getting pulled out took half an hour, and by then everything was closed except for a pizza place forty-five minutes away. While on our way there, the truck spun out on the highway and we very easily could have died if there had been anyone else on the road. But that is pretty typical for us. Things rarely go according to plan.

The whole trip was supposed to cost only $50 for fuel, because the cabin was free since my family owns it, and someone gave us a $100 Visa gift card for the wedding that we were going to use on food and fun. It turned out to be a $250 trip because of the towing and the extra fuel that we used trying to get unstuck.

I mention this because (as long as you do not have to pay for a tow truck) this is a fairly inexpensive trip and was so worth it that I highly recommend a six month anniversary trip for newlywed couples. An inexpensive hotel can be had for under $80 and camping is free. It is not necessary to go far. The main point is to spend time together. Save some money from your wedding gifts. Pack lunches and dinner. Bring a marriage book that someone gave you and some cards or a game. Spend time together. Get to know each other better.

"Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."  -Genesis 2:24 (ESV)