Three more “Minutes” from my book, Marriage Minutes, available from Amazon.com
What Do You Do?….. Being Real….. and Thinking
Marriage Minute # 174 What Do You Do?
Recently, at a dinner, several people who didn’t know everyone at the table began introducing themselves, in response to that question, “What do you do?” The responses began to flow, but they mostly sounded like job titles, all very impressive in sound. Now, these people were telling each other what they called themselves, not what they did. I had time to think about my answer in order to give a more novel answer. I’m not always sure what to answer to the question since I am a pastor, a college instructor, and a counselor in private practice. I am also a curious person who likes to read about a lot of things, a researcher of history, in general, church history in particular, and a very avid researcher of my own family tree. I also write and sing, but I would starve to death if I depended on either of these things to survive. So, what would I say when the turn became mine? Some of these job titles were sounding pretty impressive.
Should I say I’m just a simple country parson? I couldn’t say that because my understanding of the call of God upon my life, to preach and to pastor, to make known the meanings and message of the Word of God, and to serve in a local congregation, makes my work not simple in the sense of “casual,” but quite simple in the sense of being committed to the ministry with no plans to leave it. People make a lot of assumptions, mostly wrong, when you say you’re a preacher. I know that John Knox (or was it John Wesley) said, “If God calls you to preach, don’t stoop to be a king.” Not many people hold us in that same regard, however, and not even all preachers value their call that much either. So, what would I say?
Should I say I am a college instructor in psychology? Maybe I should say I am a Counselor in private practice. These might produce some fine, fine job titles, but would this be what I am about? These jobs certainly take up most of my hours during the week, and I love these jobs as well, but just having a title doesn’t explain enough. When I say I am a Counselor some people respond by saying, “Oh, you’re a Shrink.” I usually explain that the person they call a Shrink is usually a medical doctor, a Psychiatrist, and that I actually prefer to call myself a Stretch rather than a Shrink. What would I say? I wanted to answer the question of what I do, not just what I call myself. The discussion was getting closer to my side of the table; the pressure was mounting.
I said, “I encourage people for a living. I help them get unstuck and back into growth toward who they can be. I help them know that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life.” Suddenly, and a bit to my surprise, the people at the table began to ask questions and seemed to become animated with curiosity. No, this is not a claim to fame. It is an observation about human life. The people seemed interested in the idea of encouragement; perhaps they are starved for it themselves. They began to talk about the meanings they wanted in life, the joy behind the job. They caught onto the core of the question, “What do you do?”
Paul called himself the chief of sinners, and the least among the apostles, yet he also said he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him. Christ came into the world to save sinners, saving eternally, saving internally, and saving from sin as well as saving from the meaninglessness that so many people find in life. Then he said, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all to the glory of God.”
What do you do?
Marriage Minute # 175 Being Real
Last Sunday night at dinner a friend gave my wife a wonderful compliment. She said that in all the conversations they have ever had, she had always had the sense that she was really engaging her as an individual person, a real person. Many couples speak in “we think”, which is a jargon used to keep up a family image, or sometimes, a facade. This was a compliment of Billie’s personal sense of identity, and her genuine respect for others. As we talked about the issue, we spoke of how easy it is to just be “somebody’s” wife or husband, or “someone’s” parent or child, or “some place’s” employee. Not that any of us meant that we were trying to be an all-important person who had to be the center of attention. But who are you? Back behind your eyes, where you are the only one looking out upon the world, who are you? That’s what is so good about the sense of talking with a person and really having a sense that they are there as themselves. May I share a few secondary thoughts?
There might be a temptation to use “we-think” to avoid the real work of developing our individual identity. It is hard work, sometimes, to think about our singularity in the world, and to know that there is not a ready made identity to slip into comfortably. Even the title “single adult” carries with it the connotation that this person is not a complete individual until they get married and have children. The single adult may be viewed as not having taken on the responsibilities of adult life. Far from the truth, there are as many immature people within marriages as there are outside of them. As Frank Pittman says, marriage will only make you married; it won’t make you grown up and happy. Developing one’s own identity will always be our job, in or out of marriage.
Some families discourage individuality. Out of a belief that the family members must all be the same, there is an official “family-speak.” A wise parent gives children choices, good ones, and helps the child learn how to make good selections. They encourage wise consideration and selection of personal values. Individuality is a good thing for each person in the family.
Maybe someone thinks they are being loyal by not having their own identity. A young couple may follow the idea that marriage makes them alike, and that individuality is a threat to the relationship. In truth, it is no threat at all. A healthy self is the best thing you can give to a relationship.
It could be that there is one of the people in a marriage who wants to be the only person with an identity. Remember the television series, “Thirtysomething”? A character (the bad guy) on the show was heard to say a very telling line. As I remember it went something like, “People marry the picture of perfection, but when the picture starts to move on its own, they get nervous.”
The friend said, “When I talk with you, I get the real sense that I’m talking with you.” No masks, no fraud, no role-playing; that’s an exciting way to live.
Marriage Minute # 176 Thinking
Dorothy L. Sayers wrote in 1941 that, “The popular mind has grown so confused that it is no longer able to receive any statement of fact except as an expression of personal feeling.” She ought to see how things have gotten by the current day. While she wasn’t speaking about marriages, I think we can see the effect of the “thinking” problem within modern marriages.
Sayers herself was a good theologian who wrote murder mysteries on the side in order to make living expenses. A brilliant person, she remained single for a long time, partly because she did not believe she would find a man who would appreciate her mind. The first step had been hers. She appreciated her own mind. Then, she expected others to do the same.
The problem she addressed is one that is with us today. The lines between fact and opinion get blurred. In the name of political correctness we are told that one opinion is as good as another, and we are told that everything is opinion. The truth is that fact and fiction do exist. Right and wrong both exist. Some things are just opinion, and some things work as well as others do, but some don’t. The bottom line in marriages is that so many of us have forfeited the ability to talk about these issues with each other in a reasonable way.
The thinking problem shows up in marriage when one or both people follow popular myths, such as the myth that we mustn’t disagree. There is an old saying that if we agree on everything, one of us is unnecessary. Variation in opinion can add flavor to communication, as well as adding new ideas to the mix. Spouses aren’t replacements for us, and we do well to maintain our own identity.
Another myth is that all disagreement is the same. Disagreement for disagreement’s sake is not the same as good thinking. Neither does all disagreement lead to better communication. Disagreement that can be respectful and careful can solve problems, open new discoveries, and increase interest between these two people.
Others take the other extreme and believe that they must always disagree, and fight about the issues. They feel sad and express it with anger. They feel confused and express it with anger. They feel confident and express it with anger. They feel amorous and express it with anger. Eventually they may even feel angry and express it with anger, but by then most people won’t take them seriously, because they are angry all the time.
Another myth is the belief that there are no facts. Now, I agree that not everything is as obvious as some people think, but I also believe that it is high time we humans returned to our quest for truth.
One of the worst myths is the one that starts with the words, “If you love me, you will know. . . .” This myth can be devastating. It is often a tool of manipulation and coercion, and at other times it is only a cover for not being able to articulate one’s own thoughts.
Looking for truth, honoring opinions, valuing each other’s identity, and respecting each others preferences, can enrich a marriage.