Early on in our delightful marriage, I came face to face with the tension between “leave and cleave” (Gen 2:24) and “honor your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12). It was our first year together, as well as our first year away in Kansas at Barclay. It had been tough on us to be cut off from the amazing networks of people who love us. To make matters worse, Liz’s grandfather died unexpectedly a couple months before Christmas, and we were too broke to come home for the holidays. It had been Liz’s grandfather’s wish that we could come out and her grandmother generously paid for our trip. Our family dynamics were polar opposites, with her family a tight knit group of planners and mine a loose confederation of last minute decision-makers. I had no idea the amount of emotional quicksand I was walking into. My one—though unspoken—expectation was that I would get to see my parents on Christmas day. Liz’s expectation was that we were coming back to be supportive of her grieving grandmother as she went through her first Christmas without her husband.
As the train-wreck unfolded I did not have eyes to see it coming. From my perspective, I was just a husband trying to be a leader, but felt hurt that Liz and her family were cutting straight to planning, making decisions, and pulling strings opposite of me. It soon became apparent that for the first time, I was not going to see my family on Christmas day. I was bitter, feeling wounded that my voice had not been heard. I remember thinking that if taking the money had come at the cost of my leadership as a husband it was far from worth it. After a lot of insensitivity and immaturity on my part, we eventually sat down to hash things out and make peace. Most of it boiled down to unspoken expectations and a false perception that we were on the same page. How we made decisions as a couple was still being worked out. Gray areas provided a vacuum and this vacuum was filled in during unperceived conversations that I did not yet have the ears to hear (my wife and Mother in Law understand each other without vocalizing a lot of what they discuss.)
I learned a lot that day, about diplomacy and communication, and about grace and forgiveness. The desire to make peace often comes from a place of bitterness and woundedness, but love calls us to a fresh start. Peace is not absent from this tension, but love is the binding force that holds a family’s paradoxes together. With God’s grace we gain eyes to see new beginnings for ourselves, as well as offer them in our families. We see how gospel order is lived out in the messiness of community, where all our junk is seen and smelled and navigated by all. Yet together, we begin to practice resurrection within our families when we let brokenness die, and be born again the day after the mushroom-cloud of meltdown. The next day the yoke of love calls us back together to learn what happened and share the experience of walking through it together a little better the next time.