When I recently posted, I ended with my concern about the choice to continue actively working to preserve and improve my marriage means continuing to put in a lot of effort with no guarantee that my husband would lean in, or grow in empathy.
In my moments of despair, I am reminded of a lecture given a number of years ago by Dr. Dan Allender, founder of The Allender Center. In that lecture, Dan described that he had taken his child fishing. The pair received some recommendations after a few fruitless periods of fishing. With their new plan, Dan and his son went back out, followed the instructions of the seasoned fisherman. After a while, with still no success, Dan informed his son that it was time to go. His son asked for three more casts. Dan granted him five. Dan watched as his son cast, then returned empty hooked, cast, then returned empty hooked, cast, then returned empty hooked, cast, then returned empty hooked. Dan details his experience of seemingly rhythmic hope and disappointment. As his son cast the fifth time, Dan reported that he wondered “Why hope?” And then his son hooked and brought in a northern pike. Dan tells that he was surprised when his son identified his personal name for God: “The God of the Fifth Cast,” (Allender, 2006, personal communication). Another telling of this heard narrative is written here, and better cited, by Pastor Joyce Reed: http://www.crossroadslapaz.org/doc/20070325.pdf. I admit that I did not more specifically cite, in an effort to protect the identity of my husband at this time.
I also have a (not so) secret name for God. I know God as “The God of Both-And.” I have seen God move me through some seemingly double-binding situations, almost always surprising me with a previously unknown path where rejection of one side is not necessarily required. And I am so thankful for the confidence I have in this God.
Recently, I was traveling. I heard a 2 Guys on Your Head podcast that discussed the psychological processes of hope and motivation. They discussed the inverse relationship between motivation and feeling good about the state of your life at this time. “On those days when you need hope, because things are just really bad, thinking positive thoughts is great! But if you’re feeling really lousy, because there’s a lot of work that needs to be done around you, after you snap yourself out of that bad mood a little bit, it’s now time to get to work, which means open your eyes and pay attention to all the things that need to be done. And stop thinking how great everything is” (Duke, 2016)
This stood out to me, because this, I believe has been one of the biggest challenges in my marriage. My husband does not recognize when he’s in emotional distress, until he blows up (verbally). He is incredibly touchy, and does not receive constructive criticism well. I have yet to observe him do this from anyone.
Criticism seems too vulnerable to him. He rejects it outright, claiming that my observations and statements of fact are wrong. These things are indicative of narcissistic traits and a deep insecurity. Instead, he just doesn’t think about how things are. He does not ask if things could be better. I asked him to listen to the podcast, as a jumping off point for communication. He listened, but refused to listen with me. When I asked follow up questions, he offered, “I disagreed with most of what they said.” Note: My husband is a Bachelor’s educated individual. This podcast is a discussion of two PhD’s in Psychology and Human Education! Rather than allow himself to be convicted or moved to even consider and discuss what this means for him, he patently declares them wrong. I was surprised, but only a little. This is a frequent experience of mine.
After hearing the podcast, and while still driving, I finished listening to an audiobook I have been consuming slowly for a couple of months: Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why we all Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did, by Derek Flood.
Flood (2014) writes,
“The fruit of unquestioning obedience yields abuse.” “To read Jesus as literally calling us to hate our spouse or our children is to profoundly misread him. In the same way, when Jesus calls us to deny ourselves, this equally cannot be read with a wooden literalism, but instead must be read as a jarring provocation, intended to make us rethink our values and assumptions. In questioning these assumptions, Jesus is calling us to be more loving, not less.” (4:26:00).
Flood argues against readings of scripture that condone or advocate violence or harm. He argues that a better way of reading and understanding Jesus would lead us to consistently strive to reduce suffering. “Instead, a better way to frame the radical perspective of Jesus is a social focus. In other words, our moving away from a self-focused perspective does not entail becoming anti-self. Rather, it entails adopting a relational perspective, which includes a healthy self-love” (Flood, 4:27:00).
Hearing this, I considered what it would look like to have a healthy self-love, as I realistically wrestle with whether or not my husband will change. I am aware that traits of narcissism and absence of empathy or the willingness to consider another’s perspective frequently set people up to not benefit from or engage therapy. How could he change? I feel that as I continued listening to Flood’s argument for and process of enemy love, I was challenged to love him. Flood makes a comment at one point that the only way to turn a violent heart to a social-focused (empathic and kind) heart is through radical love. I agree with this, but struggle to hold the both-and of self-love and enemy love.
I believe the first step is grieving the fact that I consider enemy-love to be an appropriate term.
Duke, R., Markman, A. (McInroy, R.). (2016, July 16. Does Hope Motivate us to Change?[Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from URL.
Flood, D. Disarming Scripture: Cherry-Picking Liberals, Violence-Loving Conservatives, and Why we all Need to Learn to Read the Bible Like Jesus Did. Retrieved from Audible File.