Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On Acceptance

(Written November 4, 2013.)

My husband is not a Christian.

For the last decade, I have been on a journey to reach the point at which I can make this statement without whispering it or feeling like I need to apologize (to whom I'm not certain) or offer an explanation about how I, a lover of Jesus, found myself married to someone who struggles to even say His name.

When I attended church growing up, my family always sat behind a family of three generations -- the patriarch and matriarch of the family, their two daughters, and two grandchildren. One daughter was not married, and for the longest time, I wondered if the other daughter (the mother of the two grandchildren) was married. I remember learning later that she was married but that her husband didn't attend church. And I remember feeling sorry for her. I don't know why I felt that way -- I don't know if anyone intentionally transmitted that message to me -- nonetheless, I wondered how she had found herself in the unfortunate situation of being married to someone who wasn't a Christian. How profoundly sad for her and for her children. This family's story (what little I knew of it anyway) was juxtaposed with that of my senior high Sunday school teacher. I remember everyone delighting in his new wife (or the idea of his new wife, anyway), a Christian and fellow Lutheran who believed that she should submit to her husband's leadership. It was all just so perfect. And when I entered college, I found myself surrounded by people who often pointed to II Corinthians 6:14 ("Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?") as proof that Christians should never marry non-Christians.

So when I found myself head over heels for Mister, I felt a little, well, lost. Confused. How exactly had I let this happen, and what was I to do? That's what one voice said, anyway, but the other voice kept telling me that this, Mister and me, was good and right. That voice won.

Photo taken by my sister.

For the first few years we were married, we continued to fiddle with exactly what role religion would play in our lives. (This despite the fact that we had talked about it at length before getting married because, of course, talking through hypotheticals is far different from living the reality.) Around the time Bubba was born, Mister decided that attending church made him wildly uncomfortable in a way that signaled that he was not being true to himself. We had just moved back to Northern Virginia, and I was looking for a new church home and wanted Bubba to be baptized. The day of Bubba's baptism, a day that should have been intensely joyful, was, at best, awkward and uncomfortable. Mister attended church reluctantly and stood at the baptismal font even more reluctantly. We tried to put on a happy face for the rest of the day, but it was a hard day, one of the most difficult in our marriage.

By the time Froggy was born, Mister and I were in a different place, more accepting of each other's religious views, but it still felt very tentative. Mister didn't attend Froggy's baptism. I told my family up front that he wouldn't and that I was okay with that, but their questions made me feel off balance, a little shaky. And I felt so very conspicuous, standing by the baptismal font alone. After all, I knew the judgment I would have directed at me not long ago. I wasn't yet strong enough for that.

When Monkey was baptized, I was ready. I stood with confidence with him in my arms and the big boys at my side, and I cried tears of true joy at the beauty in this ancient rite. And Mister was waiting at home with lunch for the extended family. There was no discomfort, no awkwardness, just family, in all of our glorious, messy differences.

Mister's not being a Christian isn't something I simply tolerate about him. That is, after all, a low bar indeed. I love and celebrate my husband for who he is, and his beliefs are part of that package. I used to arrogantly believe that I would be good for Mister. But the truth is that I am a better person and a better Christian because he is my husband. He has forced me to wrestle with so many of my long-held beliefs. I have had to confront the uncomfortable reality that I have more questions about my faith (and life in general) than I have answers. I have become a far more loving and accepting and giving person since being married to Mister.

But this is not a life for everyone. It is not without its challenges. I still wish Mister were a Christian. Because I have found such joy in my faith. Because I miss sharing this with him, as we share so many other aspects of our lives. Because time at church or Bible study means time away from him. Because sometimes Mister still feels like I'm being a Christian at him.

But life is breathtakingly good.

My husband is not a Christian.

He is a loving father, an attentive husband, an excellent provider. He feeds our bodies and souls with his delicious food. He is our CFO and handyman. He holds hands and gives piggyback rides and encourages us up mountains, both literal and figurative. I could not hope for a better partner in this life.

Happy birthday, Mister.

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