“Ain’t love grand?” She was a woman Sheila and I fondly remember. We never knew her name. As newlyweds 31 years ago, Sheila and I would go out for walks at night around the neighborhood holding hands as we moseyed along.
We were amused one time as we passed by a house with a woman who was sitting on her front porch enjoying the evening outside. She was advanced in years. Her front porch was within earshot of us as we were passing by: “Ain’t love grand?” she blurted out as we strolled by. I can still recall Sheila and me both experiencing a delightful surprise. I don’t remember our exact words but both of us had some response.
This house was more than a few blocks away from where we lived. It was on the way of what we would call our long walk for the evening. We didn’t take this route every night. But sure enough, when we would go by this particular house, there would be this lady sitting out on her porch and she would say, “Ain’t love grand?”
It happened more than once.
The memory stirs a special sweetness between us when something revives it in one of us and we recall it to the other.
We’ve had some rough patches in our marriage. Thankfully, we;ve moved past them. It hasn’t been by any stretch of the imagination something idyllic. We didn’t marry as perfect people. Our unique story as a couple has weathered several storms.
One of the biggest defining themes for us is that we have ended up making decisions which were outside of certain mainstream ideals for couples. Three years into our marriage when Sheila gave birth to Jonathan we knew what we wanted: Sheila to stay at home.
Sheila was the one with the stable income, promising career, and education. I had none of those. Money to us was not as important to us as Sheila staying at home and raising Jonathan. We also chose to homeschool. From K through 12. We have weathered through financial storms while we homeschooled. We still have more to come because of that choice early on. Our retirement goal is work until we drop dead.
Primarily trying to survive on my one income was always subpar because I could never land a well-paying job without a college degree was a difficult challenge for 12 years. I remember one winter going without heat in my car for a couple of months because we had no money to repair it or were not in a place to get another vehicle.
Our marriage has survived several spiritual transitions. We were both going to an Evangelical Free church (different churches in different cities) when we met. Then for many years we journeyed through reformed baptist fundamentalism. It’s a long story but we ventured into Anglicanism in 2000—almost the other end of the spectrum of fundamentalism we had come to know as home for the previous 19 years. Then after seven years we landed where we are now, a Christian Missionary Alliance church.
During our 31 years we’ve also walked through several political transitions within our marital journey. When we married I was virtually apolitical. I was raised up in a home of political indifference. But my conversion to Christ 2 years before we met had begun to shape conservative political ideals in me. Sheila was for a liberal Democrat. She was a feminist just short burning her bra.
In our reformed years, we ended both finding our allegiance with political right. Love has a way of doing that. However, my frustration with George W. Bush and the whole Gulf War grew to intolerable proportions in the sense that when 2008 came it was “time for change.”
For the first time in my life I voted for a Democrat.
Can’t begin to describe the complicated feelings I had when I voted that day. Actually can’t begin to describe them for that year and the year after that.
2008 was such an intense year for Sheila and me on the political spectrum because we are both passionate people with passionate convictions and I moved and she didn’t. Love has a way of doing that, too. Individuals change. Individuals grow. But our marital friendship love was and has been greater than political unity.
Here I was in 2008 beginning to become known on my blog about cross-gender friendship but the challenging intensity in our marriage during that year was not over friendships with the opposite sex but our growing apart political passions! As a matter of fact one of the deep common visions which glued has together these past four years has been our unity against pressure from the evangelical subculture to submit to one particular expression of married life sans intimate cross-gender friendship.
Yes, 27 years into our marital journey while I am dreaming about writing a book on marriage and cross-gender friendship love beyond marriage we both were encountering fresh lessons of marital intimacy. What does it look like to be patient, kind, and loving during political transition? Can deep marital love flourish in the midst of political separation?
Obviously, it’s much different if one chooses the path of political indifference. But what if the path leads one of you to the opposite side of where you are? In terms of freedom and ‘disputable differences” within marriage there is no place to go in Romans 14 to understand which one of us holds the “weaker” position.
My political separation from Sheila in 2008 and following would also shape the way I would grow and understand deeper and passionate mutuality—especially mutual discernment.
There are some new trends out in some churches emphasizing mutual submission almost to the point of it becoming an obsession. The temptation is to stay stuck in the same unhealthy relational patterns with the tyranny of the weak monopolizing relational movement forward.
Was I supposed to submit to Sheila’s political passion or was she supposed to submit to mine? Some shallow and unhealthy definitions of submission going around in evangelical circles today skews what it means to nurture love, acceptance, recognition, respect, patience, and validation of the other in the midst of passionate differences.
We would have been at a gridlock with neither one of us able to vote if we stayed with these unhealthy views of submission and determining the weaker of us.
Determining who is the weaker in this instance is an unhealthy, not constructive way to go. It would have been a fruitless exercise in determining power in a zero-sum game of unhealthy submission for either of us. Could have been relationally destructive.
“Ain’t love grand?”
Mutual love has been the glue that has cemented us together, that has sustained us that has immeasurably enriched our lives these recent years in the midst of political difference. Mutual love, not some appeal to shallow submission to conformity, has been our guide to empower the other to deep freedom within political difference between us.
The “us” is greater than our political differences.
“Ain’t love grand?” Yes it is!
This has also shaped my views on pushing the boundaries for deeper reconciliation between men and women through friendship. A robust view of friendship is a deep sharing of the good and beautiful both within marriage and friendship. It’s about sharing a day-in-day-out closeness with a special and meaningful intensity.
It’s also about understanding separateness as an important part of bonding—even daily intimacy. Healthy friendship in marriage and even in the closest friendships beyond marriage honors space and separateness in the friendship. Separateness does not mean indifference, or toughness, or distance. Passionately good sex within marriage still retains individual separateness—and that’s a huge reason why it can be so good—when it brings two individuals to a greater unity.
But leading this conversation on cross-gender friendship in the midst of the evangelical subculture is also about leading others to mutual discernment, mutual love. It’s not about giving into shallow and unhealthy forms of submission for a thin veneer of spiritual unity.
If I had to “submit” to other’s fears, manipulation, need to control, and shame games, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions would still be an unpublished dream. Mutual respect and love—they’re far greater than seeking to control each other even in the midst of passionate differences.
Submission is a good and biblical call but it needs robust room for human flourishing, change, freedom, and maturity for a greater unity.
“Ain’t love grand?”
Yes it is!
Is deep intimacy, is deep cherishing your spouse still possible in the midst of different political passions possible? Yes it is. Love is that grand!
Is deep intimacy within cross-gender friendship possible? Yes it is. Love is that grand!
Submitting to Love, submitting to Mystery is just as important for our spiritual formation as submitting to another.
George Wiegel, a Catholic writes something I totally can pass onto here:
"Never settle for less than the spiritual and moral grandeur which, by grace, can be yours. They are your baptismal birthright as a Christian. You will fail. You will stumble on the ladder of love, and you will fall. That’s no reason to lower the bar of expectation. That’s a reason to get up, dust yourself off, seek forgiveness and reconciliation, and try again.
If you settle for anything less than the greatness for which you were made—the greatness that became your destiny at baptism—you’re cheating yourself. If you settle for anything less than the greatness that has been made possible for you by Christ, you’re ignoring the twitch of the divine weaver on the thread of your life. Let His grace lift you up to where, in your heart of hearts, you want to be."
Letters to a Young Catholic