One Sunday afternoon, April and I were talking about a young married couple we know. Their relationship has been a little rocky and strained, and invariably we couldn’t help but compare our experiences to theirs.
As the conversation continued, however, it occurred to me how impossible, or at least unfruitful, such comparisons were. We were talking about working on this book, and trying to figure out how we would write about certain situations and what advice we would give. In a lot of situations, what worked for us simply won’t work for other people, and it would be ridiculous for us to give advice based solely on our experiences, because such advice would probably ruin other people’s relationships. April and I are just very different.
Part of that comes from my childhood, which was relatively unhappy. My parents fought a lot, my dad kidnapped me once when they were separated, our family when we moved to Missouri (my dad’s side) was less than awesome, I was bullied at school, my parents were divorced when I was 11 or 12… as you can imagine, these experiences left me with quite a bundle of neuroses and issues, but they also inspired me with certain desires and the drive to be a better person. I wanted to give my kids more than I was given.
I first remember thinking deeply about this subject when I was nine years old. At that time, I decided I wanted to be married, to provide a good life for my family, and to take care of them and be a good husband and father. Since the age of nine, that has been my primary motivation and goal, and everything in my life has been focused towards that end. Decisions I make, lessons I learn, and where I spend my time is often all filtered through the lens of how it will help me reach these goals.
But that’s not something you can teach. My experiences led me to that committment, and it works well for me in strengthening my relationship, but I can’t just tell someone to make the same committment to help their own relationship. It is simply unrealistic. A nice ideal for someone to pursue, but to focus your life so completely on something requires something more than a mental decision that it might be a good idea.
A strong blade is forged in a hot fire. Being somewhat unhappy with your relationship and wanting it to be better just isn’t hot enough, so the advice of “commit everything in your life to being a good husband/wife and father/mother,” it’s just not helpful. We have to meet people where they are and give them advice that is applicable and useful to them. Something they can implement.
So, how do we translate our unique influences, our specific experiences, into something that will be helpful to our brothers and sisters? Well, I suppose we start with prayer.