A few weeks before Christmas, as I was working on something across the room from him, my boyfriend decided he was going to get some of his Christmas shopping done online. Two minutes later, this happened:
“Mary, I need to ask you something.”
I was almost done my project, and my OCD personality wanted to finish before moving on to something else. “Just give me five minutes.”
Siiighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh of death and dying.
“Fine.” Two minutes later: “Are you done yet? I really need to talk to you about this.”
“I know. I’ll be right with you.”
His tapping on the keyboard got louder as he tried to convey his impatience. “Seriously, I just need your opinion on these presents. THAT’S IT.”
“Look. I know you do, but please just be patient for a moment more and then I can give you all the help you need.”
I could feel his eyes drilling holes through the back of my head, but I stood my ground. I was almost done, and he could wait. A couple minutes after that, his question was answered and his presents bought, and that should have been the end of it. But it wasn’t.
Oh no. Of course it wasn’t. I had to bring it up the next night, as it had been festering all day in the back of my mind. He had been a pain and I really wanted him to know it.
At that point, we went from a nice evening walking by the river to a face off in which we almost got frostbite on every bit of uncovered skin, because trying to decide whose activity was more important seemed infinitely more necessary than getting out of the cold.
The truth of the matter is that his stuff was not more important than mine, and mine was not more important than his. He felt like I was ignoring him and that hurt; I felt he was not respectful of my right to actually have time to complete something important to me and that drove me crazy.
The only thing to do in that type of situation is to grasp at whatever generosity you have inside of you and submit to a little death of self. Easy, right?
I read an article recently insisting that in healthy relationships we have to get rid of the idea of “fairness.” Sometimes there is no “fair.” Sometimes in order to move forward, one person really just has to give in to the other person, or you end up stuck outside freezing to death yelling at each other about who is more important. With no end in sight.
Sometimes you have to be bigger than that. You really just have to go “Okay, neither us was right. Next time I will try to be more generous.”
That’s why, I imagine, marriage is often times referred to as a “saint maker.” There really is a supernatural element that needs to come into play in order to make things work between two people.
I am not yet married, but I have already realized too many times to count that just to communicate with any semblance of effectiveness with the person you love is a continual battle to see things not just from your point of view, but from the other person’s.
The number of times I have been aflame with righteous anger, or sunk into the depths of hurt, and then been confronted with the fact that I am not the only angry or hurt one are too many to count. And in those moments it takes unreal amounts of generosity to say “I’m sorry” when all you want is to hear the same words. It takes courage, because to admit wrong when you feel wronged leaves you doubly vulnerable.
What strikes me most, though, is how very unnatural it all feels. Sure, you love this person and you want him to be happy. But there is also this visceral desire to protect yourself: your pride, your stuff, your activities, your whatever.
As much as you can admit that if you just said sorry, or gave in just a teensy bit, things would probably smooth right out, there is an overwhelming urge to not admit MY fault and make YOU SUFFER FOR YOURS.
And that’s, I suppose, where grace must come in, because we are really fallen—this is apparent in the most glaring way within our close relationships—and without grace we can’t even begin to get back up. Truthfully, without it we can’t even really begin to love.
While we are all called to love, our inclination is to love ourselves first and everyone else next. That really, truly, doesn’t work. It’s absolutely self destructive to live that way. You might even run the risk of getting hypothermia because your wounded pride is more important than moving out of both the literal and figurative cold.