Lessons from my marriage: Three practices to build compassion when we disagree

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I listened to Ashley Hales podcast, Finding Holy, the other day. Tish Warren Harrison, the guest, shared her desire to help the Church find a way, “…between capitulation and combativeness,” in relating to those who see the world differently than they do.

I’m always drawn to discussions about how Christians should relate to those whose worldview is different. Not because I’m trying finally find the right answer, but because that is my life. My husband is not a Christian. As he puts, we have different loves, “You worship Jesus and I don’t.” Those are his words.

My worship of Jesus and my husband’s resistance to worship has been a source of pain between us for 28 years. And like Tish discussed on the podcast, I’ve swung between capitulation and combativeness, or in my case, capitulation and comatoseness, in our 28 years together. I’m an enneagram 9. So I don’t tend toward combativeness. In fact I’d rather go numb than combat anyone, over just about anything except my kids. Come for my kids, and I’ll turn Rambo on you. But I digress. What Tish said caught my attention because I have experienced the hand of God continually guiding me to walk the path of vulnerable and fearless love on the solid ground between joining my husband’s unbelief and fighting against it, or in my case, going numb to it.

There is a way to love between capitulation and combativeness…or comatoseness.

The temptation to surrender to unbelief, to give up on being involved in church, reading my Bible, praying, singing songs of worship, giving generously, serving others and teaching my children about Jesus is always there. I don’t even need my husband’s unbelief to be tempted to give up on those things. My own self-centered desires beckon me to take up the life Christ has called me to lay down. As though I would be a better god than He.

The other option would be to fight against my husband’s unbelief, berating him with Bible verses, well-thought out arguments, pointing out all his moral failings. Or in my case, saying nothing. Withdrawing. Going into doormat mode. I am guilty of both. The temptation to check-out whispers, “It doesn’t matter what you say. You might as well disappear. Nothing you say or do is going to change anything.”

Jesus has been pulling me out of the ditches on either side of loving my husband well for 28 years. And he’s kept my husband’s heart turned towards his family, despite all the siren songs that have tried to shipwreck our life. When I find myself veering towards one ditch or the other, I’m helped by being honest about my own brokenness, being vulnerable- willing to bear the pain that comes with speaking the truth, and by taking a posture of service.

Don’t get me wrong here. I fail at those three practices all the time. Like I said, Jesus has been pulling me out of the ditch on either side of this trail following him in learning to love well. But I am learning.

One of the things I’m learning is a key to fostering healthy relationships with others, whether they share your faith or not, is acknowledging that we both have brokenness. Part of learning to love another well is facing your own problems and lack of faith. I can’t easily turn towards combativeness or comatoseness with my husband if I acknowledge that I too struggle with lust for power, self-centeredness, and pride.

When the differences between what guides my decisions and desires and what guides my husband’s seem to pit us against each other, being willing to be vulnerable, to speak the truth in love, even if it’s not received, puts a cruciform posture in my part of the relationship. That posture speaks Christ. It’s says, “This is wrong. And I love you. I’m not going to abandon you even though dealing with this hurts.” To be willing to suffer the pain of addressing the problems we have with each other and not abandon the relationship simply because we don’t agree is a Christlike posture that deals in a currency of compassion rather than combativeness or comatoseness.

When I think about what I believe-that the Jesus of the Bible is God in the flesh, come to live a fully human life and take the form of a servant. Touching the untouchables. Reasoning with the proud and argumentative. Healing the sick. Delivering the demonized. Teaching the stubborn. Washing the feet of those who would abandon him. When I think about this Jesus, I can’t take a posture of proud distain of even the most corrupt combatant who disagrees with me. Much less my own husband or neighbors, coworkers or friends who don’t see eye to eye with me. Jesus compels me to take a posture of serving these. How can I help you get what you need? What can I do to bring joy or blessing to you? What can I say that would encourage you? These are the questions Jesus brings to these sometimes awkward and strained relationships

This man I love, I wish he would embrace the Jesus of the Bible as his savior and God and follow him with me. I wish that for my family, friends and neighbors and those who think I’m nuts.

But if they never do, it will not be a waste of my life to let Jesus spend my life teaching me to love them well.

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