Bringing together non-believers
I’m a bona fide marriage expert. Not because I have some fancy Ivy League degree hanging on my wall, nor because I’m a published marriage counselor—no, I’m a marriage expert because I’ve been married twice. I’m a big believer in the school of you-don’t-know-it-until-you’ve-done-it. Having done it twice, I now know it twice as well. Hence, marriage expert.
My first marriage was to a lovely woman of like-spirituality. We were both humanists (which is a fancy term for do-gooder atheists) of Jewish descent. That marriage failed when she realized that she didn’t love me. ME! How could she not love me? You probably don’t know me, but I am very lovable. I know this, because my second wife, an even more lovely Christian woman named Rachel, told me so. Rachel also told me that our marriage is a resounding success, and I believe her. We both have no doubt that we will be together until we die, at which point we will be separated. According to her, I will go to hell and she will go to heaven—or, in my version, we will be dead. Either way, we won’t be together anymore, and that’s sad.
But how can this marriage really be a success? Rachel is a Christian and I am a heretical Jewish humanist. How can we fully be together when we don’t share the same spirituality? How can we unleash the full potential of our marriage if we have a spiritual chasm between us? How can we possibly understand each other when we approach life so differently? What will we teach the children? For Pete’s sake, think of the children!
As tempting as it was to ignore the problem of our differences and hope it went away, Rachel and I talked about it, and decided that since we valued our marriage too much to leave it to chance, we would be proactive about addressing our differences: we’d do it the hard way. What is it about Jews and Christians that they need to suffer to feel alive? Wait a minute, maybe we aren’t so different after all! No, that’s not it. We’re different. Might as well face it. We’re really, really different.
Women and men are different. Christians and people of other faiths are different. Christians of different denominations are different. Republicans and Democrats are different. Bostonians and San Diegans are different. I never will be that woman, and while I can understand her, empathize with her, feel pretty in her clothes, and love her deeply, I will never really know the depths of her experiences or the convictions of her beliefs. No one will, except God (if you’re into that sort of thing). I don’t want to be her Savior, I want to be her husband. I want to spend every day getting closer to her and knowing her more, faith and all.
Marriage is a partnership. Each partner brings the best and the worst parts of themselves to their marriage, and the success or failure of their union depends on how they embrace the good and the bad. In a successful marriage, two people, who are different by virtue of being people, find the common ground on which they relate to each other, and use that as a foundation. They grow toward each other by learning about and respecting their differences, and then stay together by willingly meeting each other’s needs, whether they fully understand them or not. That last part, that really hard part—that’s love.
That love is what my interfaith marriage is all about. Rachel would call that the manifestation of God’s love and grace in our marriage. I call it my profound privilege to be able to spend every day of the rest of my life growing a little bit closer to my wife.
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