Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Marriage and In-Laws

More about Thailand is still coming, although we've traveled to Colorado, New York City and Pennsylvania since then. I've got a pile of thoughts built up.

But before I get into that, a thought about marriage and in-laws (and for those of you who aren't married, you can skip this one or translate the concepts to the relationships you have that are your best opportunity to grow -- friends, family, etc):

I just spent several days with my wife's family. She is one of 4 sisters, all of which were around this weekend with their husbands. I had this crazy idea to get the guys together, have a beer and talk about being married to these sisters. It worked out and we found a place with Guinness on tap, free Sprite refills and good wings and caught up on our work situations. Then I asked them what they're learning in their marriages which sparked a fun and enlightening conversation.

Encouraged, the next day I mentioned the conversation to someone. They pictured in-laws sitting around complaining about their spouses. This was strange to me, so I told someone else. They had a similar idea of what might have occurred. (I think it particularly struck me because I just experienced Tibetans honoring their elders and have been thinking about honor). I kept thinking about it. Why would people assume that if the guys got together they'd be whining? And about their wives?

Is marriage a hell that men and women escape to their friends and inlaws to let off steam about?

It is hell to some people most of the time, and to everyone sometimes -- still, sitting around slandering the in-laws seems like a good way to go down another level of the inferno to me.

Let's be honest -- It's hard to find people to trust. It's easier to not talk about things, or to just complain. But we all need people outside of our own little worlds of work and marriage to talk to. And we need people who want to see us become something better, who believe what we sometimes can't.

I've had the costly privilege of a couple friends and mentors who don't just love me, but fight for my marriage and periodically call me on my stupidity and selfishness. They remind me marriage is an ongoing opportunity to grow. This is one of my greatest assets, and I could list a number of things I've learned from conflict in marriage has made me more compassionate and effective at everything I do. I wouldn't have learned it without help.

I imagine a world where in-laws get together to celebrate the honor and holy challenge of being married to whatever particular family they landed in, a world where husbands brainstorm together about how to better love, encourage, serve and empower (or to use the apostle's language "to lay down their lives for") their wives, a world where it makes sense to learn what you can from and make allies of friends and in-laws not to justify our own opinions and gain leverage for ourselves, but to more effectively fight the war against the hopelessness, fear, stupidity and evil that is being waged against every human, ourselves and spouses included.

This isn't the world most of us live in, but it's more than just imagination -- I saw it this week like a seed ready to be planted!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this. I get so sick of our culture's cynicism about marriage. My nausea has been newly awakened in that most folks write off my happiness with my new bride (and our general delight at being together) as a honeymoon phenomenon. Likewise, I like my inlaws and both Deb and Chrissy have seemed to appreciate and enjoy the family they married into.

You're definitely onto something with the thoughts about honoring. It should be ordinary for us to honor each other (especially the one we marry) but it seems that it has sadly become a surprising oddity.

Your mention of marriage and heaven and hell evokes, well, of course, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in which Blake posits a union that appears impossible but (notwithstanding Lewis' response, which, fittingly enough, I've come to respect in its own right) ultimately possible, prophet-able and productive. It also brings to mind what INXS said about the devil inside. Those who see so much hell might ask themselves how much they carry of it in their hearts.

Thicket Dweller said...

This was really great to read, and what a fabulous and brave idea, Jonathan! Wouldn't it be amazing if we could do that more often? Intentionally gather to talk about our common relationships and learn from one another?

Also, hello, Joel. Nice to meet you. :-) What you said about people dismissing your happiness with your bride is very similar to the input we received about our children when they were babies, then toddlers, then children, etc. Every stage that we enjoyed was met by the opinion from others that we should "just wait 'til..." whatever "terrible" stage we hadn't yet experienced. What a downer! Yes, there are definitely very challenging times in parenting. As a matter of fact, in addition to marriage, it is the most difficult thing I've ever done, but to look to the future with dread? I've enjoyed my children through every stage of their lives, even the difficult ones, and think we would all do each other a great deal of good if we would instead say, "OH! I loved that time in my relationship with my child! Treasure it. They're such amazing human beings!"

I look forward to reading more of your thoughts and would like to hear about some of the things you're all learning about marriage.