A little earlier tonight I noticed that something was bugging my wife, Angie, and I figured it had something to do with me. Throughout the evening she had been standoffish and short with her replies. So I asked her what was going on. Her response?
“No, really, what’s going on? Are you mad at me for something?” I responded. Then she opened up.
“I feel like you’re only helping around the house when I ask you to. Why can’t you just see that things need to be done and then do them? I feel like you just think that’s my role.”
I was a little confused because I had just finished doing the dishes without her asking and I was being pretty intentional to pick up stuff that I saw was left on the floor. Something didn’t make sense. We were missing something. So we talked about this, going back and forth, until she landed on the thing that we were missing, “You know, I’m just not hearing you appreciate me and I don’t think we’re doing a good job serving each other, or going the extra mile.” And this made sense to me as well. I could see how we had started taking each other for granted, or at least we had begun (again) to do the things that needed to be accomplished- work, housework, kids’ stuff, etc. – but we were neglecting to do those things for each other that made the other feel cherished.
Sound familiar? I bet. At least if you’re married and you’ve been married for longer than two days. I’ve worked with many a couple through almost this exact same argument (though with some it’s a lot more volatile and others it’s less direct) and even though I’m a marriage and family therapist I guess I’m not immune to these faults myself! This is actually a perpetual conflict between Angie and I- not that we perpetually argue about it, but that it keeps on coming up throughout the years. We argue about it, make some changes, things go well for a while, and then we slip back into our old ways. Angie does things that drive me nuts, or doesn’t do things that I wish she did. I do things that drive her nuts, or don’t do things that she wishes I did. Some of these things we grow to accept while others are harder to let go of and so we ask the other to change. Usually we can see the reasonability of the request, maybe after arguing our starting position for a while… but at some point we generally see things from the other’s perspective and make the requested changes, at least as best we can. And when we see the other follow-up the conversation with actual effort to meet the request we feel loved, we feel respected, heard and understood. Now it doesn’t always happen as smoothly as I’m writing it out here, and the degree of change that each of us attempts or experiences can vary considerably, but generally this has been our pattern with perpetual arguments, and I’m guessing this will be our pattern for the next few decades, or at least until we have spent so many years together that we start dressing like each other and sharing each other’s tooth brushes.
Earlier today I was reading about how in the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, as the sort of benchmark for all prayers (often called the Lord’s prayer) he told them to pray that God’s kingdom would come (you know: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done…”) and I started thinking about how I just long for the world to be a certain way. I long for big picture things like for all the wars to end, for starving people to be fed, for the world to know that God loves them so much that he had his son die to pay for our sins and has freed us from the need to sin. I also long for things closer to home. I long for couples to learn to love each other, to reconcile with each other and to experience the joy that comes from that- and then to teach this to their children so they can experience it in their own marriages. I long for my extended family to learn to not blowup every time we have a full family get-together. We seem to have a great time, and then something just happens and someone or multiple people leave in tears or anger. I long for Angie and I to love one another in such a way that we are perpetually thankful for the person God allows us to be bound with. …And in the end, after considering these longings for a little bit, I realized that they were longings for the kingdom of heaven. It’s a longing for a world, a society, a family and a marriage that it completely governed by Jesus- that his will would actually be done, all the time and in every way. That we would love each other as he commanded and instructed us, and that the motivation for it all would be a deep appreciation for the love that he showed us in rescuing us through his death. I long for his kingdom to come here, on this earth, as it is expressed perfectly in heaven. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”
As I did a little digging into some commentaries on this topic one topic kept jumping out at me. Commentators kept referring to the fact that God’s kingdom was something that was “already and not yet.” It was present when Jesus walked the earth, or when people were, and are healed in his name, or when a person chooses to believe in Jesus and follow him whether for the first time or the millionth time, or when a person chooses to give up a sin and instead follow Jesus’s instruction. It is present in these moments. It is here! Now! …But it is not completely here, not yet. One day, the Scriptures say, God will “divide the weeds from the wheat” and the “sheep from the goats” and what will be left will be his people- those who have believed and who presently believe in him as their savior and their king. Jesus will complete our redemptive process by freeing us from our sinful bodies and give us new bodies- bodies like Jesus’s resurrected body. Then he will have his kingdom complete, full of citizens who are completely devoted to him and unhindered by anything that would interrupt us from loving him in return, loving each other, or fully enjoying all that he longs to give us. Wow, doesn’t that sound great?! It does to me. I love it when I experience his kingdom in the here and now. I love it when Angie and I are laughing and enjoying life together. I love it when we as a family go on hikes and enjoy this beautiful state together. I love it when our country chooses to send aid instead of bombs. I love it when my community serves each other. I love experiencing his kingdom in the here and now. And I long for the day when this will be the norm, in all areas of life. I long to be freed of my personal sins- I can be so self-centered and inconsiderate sometimes. I can (apparently) be arrogant at times (I say “apparently” because my family has said things to this affect but I don’t see it …which probably says something…). My wife has her own sins, my kids, my community. No, we are not yet there. But one day I am trusting that Jesus will allow his believers to be part of it! And I can’t wait. In the meantime he gives us opportunities to usher in and experience his kingdom to greater degrees here on earth, right here right now. It’s not as perfect as the kingdom to come but it’s what he desires of us now. He longs for us to live as his kingdom-citizens in whatever society, family and marriages we find ourselves. Sin is going to make things messy and perpetual arguments may be a result, but we can always ask for forgiveness, we can always seek out God’s wisdom and we can always follow the example set by our king. God help me live this out! Help us all. May your kingdom come.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some cleaning to do and some notes of appreciation to write to my wife.