Thursday, July 23, 2009

"Til Death Do Us Part" in Faith, Hope, and Love

My dear friend is officiating her friend's wedding this weekend and asked for some input as she finalized the homily. As we talked through her thoughts, I was struck by how incredibly profound marriage is meant to be--insane, really, but wonderfully so.

Consider: we enter our weddings with someone we feel finally recognizes all the wonderful and glorious aspects of ourselves. We feel beautiful, desirable, appreciated, and valued. Then as we move into life together, we find ourselves unable to hide or disguise all of the worst and most selfish aspects of ourselves from this same person. This is a delicate reality, and so we quickly learn who we've truly married--and we hope and pray it is someone who will hold this vulnerability gently but honestly. We want someone who will not simply accept with complacence our shortcomings but will call us into our better, truer selves with patience and kindness and hope.

We offer this same grace to our spouse: acknowledging their faults as they arise but always in the context of who we know them to be truly--good, well-intentioned, trying to do that which is right--the person we fell in love with.

But I realized, the best of what marriage should be is only possible when we subscribe whole-heartedly to the idea of "'til death do us part." If we have even a sliver of fear that we will be left or abandoned for our less than stellar character traits, we will cease to be fully honest and vulnerable with our spouses. We will find ourselves offering a mirage of ourselves, and eventually the facade will become too exhausting to maintain. Likewise, if we hold the threat of leaving over our spouse, we will drive them to hide from us, and we will never experience the honest, soul-level communion that, I think, marriage is supposed to nurture.

It's a crazy paradox, beautiful in its contradiction. I see and love all that is amazing about you, but even more extraordinarily, I choose not to define you by all that I see is imperfect. My incredible husband loves me this unconditionally day in and day out.

Even when we fight or disagree or feel overwhelmed by to-do's or can't see our way out of a situation or feel tired and cranky and unleash our frustration on the innocent bystander that is each other, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we're in this together. Can you imagine such love? I could not until I married him.

I think this is the same perspective with which we are to love our children, but somehow it is infinitely more difficult for me to love my kids in this way than it is for me to love my husband. I have to remind myself constantly that it is not what they do (read: how well they obey, how well they behave in front of others--basically, how well they perform) that is important in the long run but how I treat them in the process. Children will make mistakes, and they SHOULD, for this is how they learn to make the better decisions as they grow and experience greater responsibility and face greater consequences for their choices. Do I worry that my son will use way more toilet paper than is necessary twenty years from now? No. So I need to be sure that my response to this most annoying, toilet-clogging practice of his does not jeopardize our relationship twenty years from now.

However, when there are dozens of annoying or downright infuriating behaviors surfacing in a day, I am sometimes left feeling at my wits end. There are some days when I think that nothing I am doing makes a difference, but I cannot for the life of me think of anything else to do. That is the moment in which I pray for the strength to parent in faith, hope, and love--rejecting the temptation to define him by his behaviors, choosing instead to view and, in turn, treat him out of my faith that God will finish the good work He began in him, out of my hope that my parenting messes will ultimately be redeemed, and out of the crazy love I have for him that drives my desire to to see him make the good decisions so that he will have an easier go of life in this unforgiving world.

I did not realize, when I signed up for marriage and, later, parenting, how much of my selfishness would be crucified. More remarkably, I did not realize how much grace I would receive from my husband, from my kids, and I'm learning more each day, from God. Even as I write, my son is saying, "Mommy, do you know how much I love you? From the living room floor to the living room ceiling--that much." Grace.

I so desire to love them all perfectly, but I can't. Which is why we have a blessed lifetime, until death do us part, to forgive each other and move forward in faith, hope, and love.

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