Honoring the Past While Moving Past It
Navigating the Generational Shift in Marriage
“Who wants to drive?” A voice piped up from the circle of grad students in front of the dorm. I took off in a jog to the parking lot a quarter mile away and returned in my gunmetal gray Isuzu Trooper. Trying to live up to the rugged, adventurous image of my truck, I chirped the tires as I approached the swelling crowd of guys and girls awaiting a ride to the ice-cream store.
I ( Jerome) had been on the seminary campus for only a week, and I was relishing all the new experiences and faces that made up the tight-knit community of five hundred in this South Carolina sauna called Columbia. Girls and guys started piling into my SUV, and finally the front passenger door opened. No, it can’t be! Things like this only happen in movies.
But there she was–an auburn-haired beauty I had met just briefly before. She slid into her seat with surprising grace, which wasn’t so easy in this highmounted truck.
I think that’s the thing I noticed first about Kellie…well, okay, maybe not the first thing but close: she had this quiet grace about her. Nothing snooty or put-on, it was patently authentic. What do you call it…bearing? poise? To me it communicated that she was a lady, that she had confidence and self-respect. It also represented something of a subtle challenge…the man who would win her affection would have to earn it.
That’s where it began for us, a blurred rocket ride that moved us faster than the speed of thought to the steps of Kellie’s home church a mere six months later–where time slowed to a surreal slow motion as I slid a golden band on the third finger of her left hand.
Now, fifteen years later, we are very different people than the ones who squeaked
out those celestial vows. Did we have even a clue then? Yeah, a clue…but not much more. How do you begin such an uncharted life? Getting
married is at the same time the most natural and the
most foreign step most of us ever take. What do you honestly have to go on? Besides the premarital workbook that you may have scribbled in incoherently in your love-drug buzz, where do you find guidance for the specific shape of your relationship? Even within a Christian context, how are you supposed to understand this mysterious creation called marriage? And once you’re past the initial giddy awkwardness of it all, the question is still a valid one: what shape should your marriage take? What is the connection between the marriage you observed growing up and your unique shape as a couple? Should you follow your parents’ example, or should you work hard at doing things differently? When you find that things aren’t working, is it possible that you’re stuck in structures and mind-sets that God never intended for you and your spouse to adopt? What are God’s specific intentions for your
Marriage is the quest that takes you beyond the forms of your parents’ relationship–no matter how good or bad–and into your own destiny, held in the heart of God and waiting to be unwrapped by you. In the Beginning Was…Confusion
[Jerome] Let’s start with where we began. Our marriage was born in a wonderful, romantic fog of excitement and anticipation. But within just a few months we had lost the foundation of oneness that is now so central to our vision of marriage. Inadvertently and subconsciously, I had already made a lot of decisions for our new life together before we were even married.
[Kellie] That’s what I now find so hard to believe–that we didn’t discuss our plans more. We were so in love we thought that everything would be okay, that everything would work itself out. We didn’t think–or at least I
didn’t think–we needed to evaluate or question our future. It’s funny…I don’t even remember talking about it!
[Jerome] I think the thing we talked about most was that I wanted to continue my job as worship pastor at my local church…that it would be a great place for us to start our life together.
[Kellie] I don’t even remember having that
conversation! I think you felt that way because you were already doing it–you were already on staff, already leading the college group and leading worship. I got excited that we could lead the campus ministry
together. That was what I envisioned for us. That’s the way my head works: It’s hard for me to think ahead and figure out how I’m going to feel about something or what it’s going to look like until I’m actually in that situation.
[Jerome] Yeah, we sort of stumbled through all these “nondecisions” in our new life together. We had premarital counseling, but our minds were clouded by idealistic images that were disconnected from the grittier realities of life. We didn’t formulate a plan for our new life or even our first year. Marriage is just so different, so “other” than anything we’d experienced before. It was hard to know what to anticipate. Maybe you can relate. Marriage might have seemed like a simple thing, a natural next step. You were so in love that you couldn’t imagine not spending your lives together. And the details of being married–or, more specifically, what it meant for you and your spouse to live in the unique relationship that God called you to–was given little thought. Or marriage might have seemed just the opposite to you. Perhaps the models of marriage you had observed growing up lacked love and permanence, and the things that went into a good marriage were a mystery to you. So the idea of thinking intentionally about your marriage and how you wanted to fashion it was a daunting venture. Either way, entering into marriage without thinking through and discussing the particulars of the marriage is common. And it’s only later that people realize that more intentional work is needed.
The Damage of Nondecisions
[Kellie] So we got married and moved back to North Carolina to get settled, and you decided you didn’t want to do the college ministry after all.
[Jerome] A classic blunder…at least in the sense that we didn’t make the decision together. Looking back on it, I can see that I was afraid I would fail. The college setting seemed a lot more “dangerous” to me than ministering inside the church.
[Kellie] A specific example of this decision-making dynamic was when we first moved to town. We lived that first month with your parents, who had a wonderful guest room over their garage. You were sick with strep throat, so opportunities for apartment hunting were limited. We did eventually find our own place–what seemed to be the best thing going in our price range–but I wasn’t quite ready to make a decision. That weekend we were going to my parents’ house, and you felt strongly that we needed to go ahead and put down a deposit and sign the lease so we wouldn’t lose the place. I wanted to take the weekend to pray over the decision, but we went ahead and signed before we left town. I wasn’t upset with you, but I wasn’t comfortable with the decision.
The very next day we got a call from a lady in our church. She owned a very nice townhouse that was suddenly vacant, and she offered to rent it to us for a fraction of its worth.
[Jerome] That townhouse was more than we could have dreamed of. It was a situation where God was determined to bless us beyond our wisdom or foresight. But I guess the point is that if we had been committed to making decisions together–as we are now–we wouldn’t have made the blunder. We wouldn’t have lost the deposit on the apartment. But we learned from that. Now we don’t make any decision of consequence that affects the other without consulting each other…without having the chance to really process it and truly come into authentic agreement.
[Kellie] Psalm 133 talks about being in unity and how that is where God commands the blessing. When you’re not in unity, it’s harder for God to bring that blessing. God’s overwhelming desire is to bless each of you and to bless your marriage. But he wants to bless you in a way that will build his larger design for your marriage. If you move in unity, that brings his heart and intention to bear on your marriage. God blesses your efforts to move forward together as you take each other into account and seek agreement in all your major decisions. When you fail to move in unity, you risk forfeiting God’s
Conflicting Opinions and an Emerging Partnership
[Kellie] It was a hard awakening for us. You wanted so much to be a godly leader, and we learned early on that I had discernment and strong opinions. So it took us a while to make those things mesh. It was messy at first.
[Jerome] It was a process of discovery. I certainly didn’t know when we got married how strong your opinions were–or that it was a positive thing. At least it’s a positive thing now that we’ve come to understand it and channel it through our partnership. But for a long time it didn’t appear to be a good thing at all. There were times I felt you didn’t respect my leadership because you wouldn’t just let me make the decisions! And that was faulty thinking on my part.
[Kellie] The way marriages often unfold is either a strong husband doing the leading or, at the other end of the spectrum, a strong wife doing the leading. Intuitively, we didn’t want either of those, but we defaulted to the husband-driven model because we thought it was biblical.
[Jerome] That was more faulty thinking. The biblical framework for marriage is oneness;
that’s the grid through which we have to understand leadership. Everyone talks about oneness in marriage, but what does that really mean? What does it look like, and how do cou...