Friday, February 18, 2011

Filthy Hugs

This week has been one of those weird "oh yeah, I'm married to an atheist" weeks. Like most people, knowing that my spouse is going through an emotional down-time (physical exhaustion = emotional exhaustion) causes me to downplay my lesser issues. But also like most people, I find that stuff won't stay buried for long and on Wednesday, my issues bubbled up and turned into a rough day. It was nothing major, but there was a moment of missing some of what Jason and I had done in the past when we shared a faith.

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When I got over this (thanks to a wonderful discussion with my hubby and the prayers of some amazing friends), I started thinking about what it is that I want. Obviously things are different now that we're in an interfaith marriage, and I have to think about how my feelings about Jason's beliefs affect him. Because at this point, my hopes for things to go back to the way they were before have an impact on him. It's not just about me.

This is something that we all need to deal with at some point. We all have someone in our lives who, in whatever way, isn't quite what we had imagined. Sometimes it can be something that is undeniably negative like an addiction or a perpetually bad attitude. Sometimes it can be something that is annoying but mostly benign like the inability to put socks on correctly or a knack for leaving every. single. cabinet. door open in the kitchen (yeah, that one is me. Watch your head if you come for a visit.).

But sometimes...well, sometimes it's not quite so clear cut. What about things that feel very negative to one person, but not at all to the other? An untreated mental illness. A gay child. An unbelieving spouse.

So how do we hope for something different than what is and still maintain a respect for the person? How do we deal with people hoping that we'll be different than what we are and still keeping relationships? 

I once heard a pastor say that you can't embrace someone while holding them at arm's length. It seems like a pretty simple idea, but it's one that has stuck with me through the years. When I start to think about things like this -- people that I want to change because they're not what I expect them to be -- I wonder if I'm embracing them or if I'm holding them at a distance. And ultimately, what I find is that if I refuse to accept them just as they are, if I love them less because they don't conform to my view of what is good, I'm keeping them at arm's length. 

Intimacy is hard. When we give someone a hug, whatever is clinging to them might get on us. Dirt, grime, stink, crud -- it's all fair game. If we're truly close to someone, we run the risk of what's wrong with them becoming our problem. At arm's length we're safer. We're cleaner.

But when we choose safety, we often miss out.

On protection.

On warmth.

On closeness.

On life lived together.


Do you think there's a way to respectfully hope for something different from someone in your life? Are you okay with a "hug" even if they never change?


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