Leeanne and I spent last Saturday at a Marriage seminar.
A year and a half ago we watched a video series called “Marriage on the Rock”, which we found extremely helpful (despite the fact that the guy looked like a used-car salesman). But Saturday was the first specific input on marriage we have received from anyone in real life since we did our pre-marriage counselling.
Back then we felt extremely confident about just how uniquely qualified for the business of marriage we were.
I remember clearly going for a walk with my bride-to-be and having a very serious conversation about how long we should wait before we started dispensing all of our wisdom about relationships on other people.
Suffice to say we are still waiting.
While the conference was helpful, it was actually a simple illustration that Dr. Dave Currie gave as the guest speaker at our church service the next morning that has stayed with me all week and had me reflecting even further on what it means to love my wife and parent teenagers.
Dr. Dave held up a blank piece of paper and asked the congregation “What’s this?”, the obvious answer came back: “Its a piece of paper.”
He then flipped the paper over so there were three black dots visible, each the same size (about 2cm) on the same piece of paper. He then asked “What is this”, and this time the answer was “Three Dots.” The 96% blank piece of paper was now defined by the dots.
He pointed out that is exactly how we tend to relate to each other. We tend to judge one another by the black dots we see, which represents just a small percentage of who we really are. The unresolved and the painful issues we see in people become the whole story and so we no longer relate to people but to the “dots”.
One of the realizations I have had in my bumbling attempts at loving my wife and raising my kids is that one of the biggest traps i can fall into is thinking I know who I am talking to. I relate to the dots and not the person.
As I wrote last week, it is necessary to establish boundaries in a household and in relationships generally. There is a danger though, that as I define the boundaries in my household, I can fixate on every transgression over those boundaries and as a result stop seeing the people.
I know that when I am focussing on what I see as the problems my kids have, I can stop seeing my kids. When I focus on problems Leeanne has, I tend to stop seeing Leeanne. In both cases I tend to under-estimate any problems I might have.
That doesn’t mean that we avoid the problems. We name the dots, but the dots don’t define the relationship.
I don’t think it is an accident that the first thing that Paul says after demanding that everyone “put off falsehood and speak truthfully”, in Ephesians 4:25 is “in your anger do not sin,” in 4:26. It is necessary to speak the truth and draw boundaries, but it is also necessary for those boundaries not to be the whole of the relationship.
Paul assumes that we will be angry with each other, he demands though, that we deal with the anger and not retreat from relationship.
This is where the good news of Christianity stands in sharp relief to any other belief system. The good news of Christianity says that God demonstrates his love by making the ultimate sacrifice to restore relationship.
He promises grace despite the dots.
I love my wife. I love my kids. I too need to live from grace, despite the dots.