“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.— Jesus, from Luke 6: 37 – 38 (ESV)
“Yea, right. I’m out of here.”— The author, from marriage counseling (circa 2013)
A plug for marriage counseling
My wife and I have been seeing a marriage counselor over the last several years. It’s turned out to be one of the best decisions we’ve made as a couple. Even today, as we’ve smoothed out some rough edges, it’s still something we’ll continue to do.
It wasn’t always that way though.
False start, on the offense…
We first tried our hand at counseling around 7 years ago. My wife had just finished a grueling period of professional training working 70 – 80 hours a week, in which we were rarely able to connect. We had survived, but had definitely not established healthy patterns for marriage. We knew we needed help to hit the reset button, so even though it felt “weird” (embarassing), we went to see a counselor.
We made it about two sessions together before I bailed and refused to go back.
The reason? I decided I didn’t respect the intellectual integrity of the counselor. She insisted that no matter what my wife and I each thought individually about our problems, we both needed to be willing to share the blame for them equally. I was ready to share some of the blame, but definitely not the 50 / 50 split that she advocated. Based on an objective review of “The Facts,” I was convinced that an impartial jury would saddle me with no more than 20% of the blame. I’d willingly own up to my mistakes, but only if the chief offender who slept on the other side of our bed would admit to the 80% that was clearly, clearly her fault. In my view, all I wanted was to pursue the truth with objectivity, and use those “facts” as the logical springboard into the rest of the conversation. I told the counselor as much, and (shockingly!) she did not agree. So I decided I didn’t respect her process and that wouldn’t waste my time with it any longer.
The reality was I was too angry, hurt, and proud to wipe the slate clean for a fresh start with my wife. I couldn’t give up the things that I *knew* to be true, including the presumption that I was already most of the way right on my own. I quit when my presumptions were challenged and instead, missed far more important truths. One of the important truths I missed was that a relationship requires grace and unconditional love in order to grow. And those were two things I lacked as a person.
In a way, some of the same dynamics that plagued our marriage are at work today with Christians and politics.
I would have said (and did say) that our marriage was of the utmost importance to me, and that my thoughts about marriage were grounded in what God has outlined in the Bible. But my actions betrayed my true beliefs: my pride, wounds, resentments, and need for justification came first. In the same way, as Christians we say that we will have no other gods before God, but we can make idols of our political beliefs. Even worse, we often intermix our political affiliation with our faith. Our priorities are upside down.
We cling to what we “know” to be true in our beliefs, but miss what we don’t know, unwilling to truly listen to another perspective that challenges our political beliefs and our hearts.
When forced to confront difficult conversations that could actually challenge us and grow us, we often quit, preferring to wait for another opportunity with a more sympathetic audience that will echo our preexisting notions.
Even when we are willing to admit to being imperfect, we are much better at finding the imperfections in others than in ourselves. We read Luke 6: 41 – 42 and imagine that it doesn’t apply to us in the same way. We somehow think Jesus would have recognized that we have only a bit of sawdust in our eyes, and that those we rail against in our social media comments are the ones with the planks.
While I hope most of us are not as blind as me, we act self righteously as we forget about extending grace and seek to justify ourselves in our own minds and before others. In the process we erode our witness as Christians and all too often seek to make God into a deity of our imagination, rather than humbling ourselves so that we can be remade in the image of Jesus.
Can we agree?
As Christians, the first and greatest command is to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. I believe this means that it’s possible to be a Christian who also happens to be a Republican, or to be a Christian who also happens to vote differently.
If Jesus were alive today, he would almost certainly not be a member of either of the two main political parties in the United States. Political conventions on both sides of the aisle would likely both love to have him speak on certain topics, and would cringe at his perspective on others. In his day, Jesus transcended politics and power and constantly subverted expectations. He rejected the earthly power of the Pharisees and made it clear that his kingdom was not founded on political structures. He was the conquering king who chose to ride into Jerusalem on a lowly donkey instead of a thundering warhorse. The miracle worker who chose to give his life rather than to save himself.