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).

Friends

I am very fortunate to have many good friends, in my town and around the country.  They challenge, support, and sustain me.  They are the source of lots of fun and joy, whether by phone or in person.  This morning I was out for a walk on a beautiful day when a friend drove past in her truck, recognized me, and waved.  Automatically I waved back, smiled broadly, and felt my heart touched–ah, this is a good day.

I have a friend with whom my husband Ralph and I regularly take hiking trips as couples.  Ralph picks out where we go, my friend finds a place to stay, Ralph picks out the hikes, I find wildflowers and interesting things on the trail, my friend takes pictures of them, and her husband brings up the rear finding things we miss and keeping us altogether.  Each of us has a part to play, and the whole is much richer than any one part or even their sum.

Ralph loves for me to bake a fruit pie.  It doesn’t happen very often because they take a long time to make and no time to finish eating.  I have another friend with whom Ralph once shared a piece of his apple pie.  Ever since then she has been begging me to make an apple pie for her.  One day I will, because her friendship has enriched my life beyond measure, including introducing me to people, places, and ideas that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

True friendship—with its equality, intimacy, and oneness—is special.  Jesus tells us that if we obey his command to love one another, we will be his friends.  We will not be servants or slaves to a master whom we must fear and obey for the benefit of the master’s business, which of course we do not know.  If we love, we will be one with Jesus and with God, and can do much good that will last.  It isn’t easy to love, but we have help.  It is quite an invitation.

Queries:

Who are your friends and what do they mean to you?  How are you as a friend?

What is it, or would it be, like to be a friend of Jesus?

Prayer:

Begin by thinking of a neighbor friend and hold that person in God’s love and light.  Next, but not too quickly, move to a special friend from past or present and do the same.  And lastly to someone not yet a friend or even to someone who is very hard to like.  Again, hold that person in God’s love and light.  Thank Jesus for his offer of friendship with you.  Thank God for God’s love of you.

For further reflection:

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (See John 15: 9-17).

“And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him” (See Mark 2: 2-12).