Staying at the Table

My husband and I recently celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary—an occurrence most people don’t even get a chance at, and I had wondered if we would get to.  Close to the anniversary, by chance I read a novel, watched a movie, and read portions of two books all touching on the theme of the gifts of long-term relationships.

The novelCrossing to Safety, was about the friendship of two couples, whose marriages, despite severely trying challenges, carry a deep abiding, a kind of oneness, arising from the couple’s commitment to one another.  Their long-term friendship also commands attention.

The Netflix movie that arrived at that time was a Chinese movieComing Home, about a man who is sent away during the Cultural Revolution but is rehabilitated after it is over.  When he returns to his family, he finds his wife suffering from psychogenic amnesia and unable to recognize him.  The beauty of the film is how he stays by her.  Again there is the abiding, the oneness, the fundamental commitment even in the midst of serious trial.

In the book portions, one, Witnessing Whiteness, about developing cross-race friendships, named the value of being willing to embrace conflict when it arises, staying at the table.  Being undefended enough to really listen makes it possible “to find the kernel of wisdom contained within the argument” and to build the kind of trust that sustains a relationship.

The other, Invitation to Love, pointed to the gifts that can come in a committed, long-term relationship with its dailiness.  “Difficulties arise,” says author Thomas Keating, “when a committed relationship is succeeding.”  When we feel loved, we are more real and our shadow sides emerge. “When a couple bears with each other’s failures, dark sides, and weaknesses, they minister the love of God to each other.  Human love is a symbol of God’s love.”

When a theme shows up over and over I take note.  I have learned that the struggles of a committed relationship—in marriage, friendship, or work—can be the unexpected wrapping paper for the gifts of God.  Sit tight and be sure to give thanks.

Queries:

What makes a committed relationship?  In the messiness of a long-term, committed relationship how might you experience or express the love of God?

How might you be called to stay at the table with God?  How has your relationship with God grown?

Prayer:

Merciful God, help us to know the difference between times when we need to sit tight through conflict and pain, and when we need to end the relationship.  When it is time to stay at the table, help us to do that.

For further reflection:

“Abide in me as I abide in you.  Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me” (John 15: 4).

“[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Corinthians 13: 7).

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Expecting

Some years ago a friend told me that the theme of her life was waiting.  She was waiting for the addition to her house to be completed and she was waiting for the birth of her first child.  That conversation made me think about waiting as a religious experience.

One of my favorite Bible verses is “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall rise up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not grow weary, they shall walk and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31.)  The Hebrew word translated wait means holding oneself ready for an arrival or occurrence, to be in expectation or hope of something—the kind of waiting my friend and her husband were doing.

They hadn’t seen what was to come, but they had a vision and expectation of something wonderful and were readying themselves outwardly and inwardly for the arrival.  They put up with the discomfort, chaos, dirt, and inconvenience much better because of what they were expecting than they would have if they had had no hope and no expectation.

The faithful of Israel got strength for their daily lives because their waiting on God meant they were expecting the promised activity of God on their behalf.  I’m sure there were times when they couldn’t see it happening as they fell to defeat and lost things they considered essential—homeland, power, the temple.  But their continued belief that God was involved kept them together as a people and gave them a vision to live toward.

All of us encounter hard times—physically, financially, emotionally, relationally, politically.  To wait on the Lord is to claim and to be given the strength to get through such times, because it gives us a perspective about what is happening that keeps the hard times from defeating us.  All is not meaningless and hopeless.  God is at work in our lives and in our world.  For Christians, Jesus Christ reveals and is that promise.

Queries:

When have you encountered hard times, and what has helped you get through them?

What is your experience of waiting and expecting?

Prayer:

Thank You for the promise of Your presence and for Your faithfulness through the generations.  Help me remember You in good times and bad, in the Spirit of him who knew peace even on a cross.

For further reflection:

“Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long” (Psalm 25:5).

“For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?” (See Romans 8: 22-25).