An Egalitarian Approach to Chores

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Since I’ve heard many complaints lately about husbands who don’t pull their weight in the chores department, I thought I’d talk a bit about our egalitarian way to split up the chores.

Here’s the key to an egalitarian sharing of the chores: it’s not just about who does what. It’s about whose responsibility it is to care about the housekeeping.

Even though I work full-time, I feel the emotional responsibility of household upkeep more than my husband. This is not because I am innately a homemaker, as some have tried to tell me. It is because some have tried to tell me that I am innately a homemaker — that I, as a woman, am uniquely suited to exert emotional energy towards my home.

Well, I certainly do exert a uniquely feminine emotional energy towards my home. When my husband walks into a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, he thinks, “Great — the kitchen’s dirty again.” When I walk in to a dirty kitchen after an exhausting day of work, I think, “I am a total and utter failure of a human being and should not have been allowed into adulthood at this young of an age.”

In other words, guilt. Guilt is that special feminine ingredient to housekeeping.

On top of it all, I am a Type B cleaning personality raised in a Type A cleaning home. This means that my mom and my sister, the women closest to me, could not stand clutter or dirtiness at any point during the day. They cleaned as they went. I’d get up from a cozy blanket on the couch for a cup of cocoa, only to find, on my return, the blanket folded neatly over the couch top.

It’s humorous, actually. On one of Erich’s first visits to my parents’ home, somebody put his empty cup in the dishwasher before he was finished with it. He now finds inventive ways to hide his cups from prowling cleaners — like hanging them from light fixtures in the kitchen.

So I have these examples and expectations of housecleaning perfection before me, and none of the energy or interest to meet them. (Read: more guilt.) Erich and I have an extremely high tolerance for clutter and filth. An unhealthily high tolerance, I should say.

It’s frightening how long you can handle counters-full of dishes when you don’t have a dishwasher.

As I thought more intentionally about an egalitarian way to split up chores, I realized that this mindset, this mindset that it’s more my responsibility than his because I’m a woman, has got to go. The cleaning and upkeep of our home is our responsibility, equally. I have to care. He has to care.

While we don’t have children yet, I think this is a crucial component to happy households even if a wife quits her full-time job to stay home. I used to think that I would take over all housecleaning once I stayed home with our baby. After all, I would have eight hours that my husband didn’t to do laundry and wash some dishes.

But after listening to moms with kids underfoot, moms who were drowning with childcare, I realized that I might not have the time — or the energy — after all.

I work in childcare. It is a full-time job that encompasses every spiritual, psychological, and physical inch of your soul and body. Just because stay-at-home moms don’t get paid for their labor doesn’t mean motherhood is any less all-encompassing.

That’s where couples get in trouble, I’ve noticed. Stay-at-home moms run themselves weary keeping up with the kids and still feel obligated to keep up with the onslaught of daily chores too. Meanwhile, Daddy comes home feeling entitled to a break because he worked all day.

Well, Mama worked all day too. So instead of getting into a battle over who’s more exhausted at the end of the day (something my husband and I row about even without kids), it seems more reasonable to assign equal emotional responsibility over household upkeep.

What does this look like practically in our home?

We tried chore lists, but I never did mine, and Erich kept reassigning hated chores to me. So right now, when we see something that needs to be done (i.e., when we max out on our tolerance for filth), we do it ourselves and ask the other spouse to chip in with it or with another chore.

If Erich starts a load of laundry, he might ask me to fold the laundry or point out that I still haven’t done my dishes. If I notice the carpet needs vacuuming, I’ll grab the vacuum and ask Erich to tackle the urine stains on the toilet. And of course, we take personal responsibility for our own stuff.

The only thing we specifically assign are dishes and cooking: whoever doesn’t cook does the dishes. (Because we hate dishes.)

This works for us, because we (usually) respond well to the other person’s initiative. And by “works for us,” I don’t mean “keeps our home in immaculate order.” (We’re working on that.) I mean it keeps our marriage unclogged with cleaning resentment. It helps us feel like a team.

I don’t expect this to change much when we have kids and I stay home with them — except that I’ll have more opportunity to do chores than he will. If I have time and energy during the work day, I’ll do the necessary chores. There’s no point in putting off chores just to make it “fair.” It’s still partially my responsibility, after all, and I would want my husband to tackle the dirty work if he had the opportunity instead of leaving it all for me.

But if I can’t get to chores, or if I’m absolutely sick of doing chores, I won’t feel guilty either.

After all, it’s not wholly my responsibility.

Conscientious Wedding Objectors

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It’s not just gay weddings that can divide a circle of friends.

There are myriad possibilities, depending on one’s sensibilities and morals, that might prompt even close friends to decline a wedding invitation or back out of standing up in the wedding party: She’s marrying an abusive jerk. The reception will turn into a party of raging alcoholics. The groom’s an atheist, the bride’s a Christian. Dancing and a DJ will be present after cake cutting. The minister is a woman from a “heretical” denomination.

Whatever the offense, these situations often feel like a choice between your deepest convictions and your love for the couple in question.

I thought I’d left behind this problem along with my old judgmental scruples. Surely no problem would arise that a bit of tolerance couldn’t fix.

And then one summer, I was asked to sing a complementarian wedding song.

I found myself, once again, intolerant, unloving, and completely torn over my deepest values.

I had no problem attending a wedding with such a song. Every wedding I’d ever attended in my life had some sort of nod or overture to complementarian theology. That wasn’t the problem.

I just didn’t feel right with complementarian ideology coming out of my mouth — me, a vocal, public feminist trying to make it big in the egalitarian world.

Once I stopped crying about how I couldn’t believe this was happening to me — this horrific situation where I was the intolerant, unbending, convicted one — I tried sort out what was what.

I thought it was my conscience versus my love for this friend — standing up for what I believed versus deeply wounding an unsuspecting bride.

Really, it boiled down to this: not conscience versus love, but what my conscience could take. Could my conscience handle singing one line of complementarian thought? Or could my conscience settle with causing division, hurting a friend, and potentially ruining our friendship and egalitarianism’s (already extremely tarnished) good name?

Because it would. I wasn’t going to kid myself about that.

One thing was clear: I couldn’t sugarcoat my decision as doing what was somehow existentially or cosmically or eternally “best” or “loving” toward my friend. She wouldn’t perceive it as love in the moment, and she would never perceive it as love unless, somehow, miraculously, in spite of being wounded and misunderstood by this ideology, she later embraced egalitarianism.

I wouldn’t be changing her mind. I wouldn’t even be prompting her to change her mind.

In short, I would be doing absolutely nothing of benefit to her by standing up for what I believed in and following my conscience. It was either my sense of supporting what was right or her sense of dignity as a person capable of choosing good, right beliefs without my input.

How do I know this?

Because I was on the receiving end of this situation just a few months prior.

There was an issue among our wedding party because devout Catholics were not allowed to support a marriage wherein a “lapsed” Catholic declined to get a dispensation to marry outside of the Catholic church. Such a marriage was considered invalid in the church’s eyes — immoral, living in sin, akin to two sinners hooking up rather than a sacred union.

While a Catholic could attend the wedding, a Catholic could not stand up in our wedding. And Catholics made up half of our wedding party.

Everything about this was devastating. Hearing that our beautiful marriage was considered immoral. Having best friends decline to stand up in the wedding. Struggling with the guilt and pressure to follow the Catholic church’s rules rather than our own beliefs. Wondering how this would reshape or ruin our relationships with beloved friends.

I was never angry with my friends, never upset at them. I could never fault someone for following his conscience. But you can bet I was furious at Catholicism. You can bet that I slammed the door shut on even considering joining the Catholic church. You can bet it didn’t encourage my husband to repent and beg a dispensation off an archbishop.

It just hurt me, deeply, for a very long time.

Fortunately, because our friends really were trying to find a way to reconcile their religious devotion and our friendship, and because Catholicism isn’t entirely made up of heartless rules, our friends received permission from the local priest to stand up in our wedding — as long as they prayed that we would come home to the Catholic church.

(Which ordinarily would have been an incredible offense in itself, but beggars can’t be choosers.)

All of these wounds were fresh in my heart as I wrestled with what to do with this complementarian singing engagement.

I didn’t want to speak words I disagreed with. I was tired of hiding behind a complementarian facade; I was ready to be open and honest about what I believed. I didn’t want to promote an ideology that was at that moment wrecking havoc in marriages around me. I didn’t want her marriage to end up with that sort of pain on account of me endorsing it.

I really, truly, deep down in my gut hated the prospect of doing any of those things.

But I chose love. I chose her feelings. Because I knew that singing this song would have zero impact on anyone’s minds or marriages, and not singing this song most definitely would. Because I knew that standing up for my beliefs would wreck our relationship and never give me a credible platform upon which to share egalitarianism. Because I knew that if I was in her shoes, I would want my friend to support me and sing the song.

I ended up talking to her about my concerns. I probably offended her when I spoke about how I’ve seen this ideology ruin other relationships. I probably added stress to her life. I probably strained our relationship, anyways, by making this an issue.

But I was honest about my beliefs, I said what I felt I had to say, and I sang that complementarian song at her beautiful wedding as best as I could.

Yes, it chafed. It was uncomfortable. It was not ideal. These situations never are. They never have a happy ending, they’re never hurt-free for anybody. This is complicated, believing passionately, loving passionately, when your beliefs passionately part ways.

Did I do the right thing? I don’t know…but I did what I thought was right. I followed my conscience, however torn. And I hope that in situations as confusing and painful and awkward as these, that’s all that matters.

Personality Over Beliefs

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I just picked up on a strange bias of mine. When it comes to social media personalities, I tend to gravitate toward to INFJs and ENFJs — in other words, my personality. (I’m an I/ENFJ, split 50/50 down the introversion/extroversion scale.)

This might not be shocking — birds of feather flock together, etc. — but I’ve found that personality trumps even even deeply held beliefs. For instance, I’m a big skeptic and critic of any form of pentecostalism or charismaticism, but I love fellow Christian feminist Amber Picota and her hilarious honesty.

Or Jasmine Holmes (née Baucham). I recently discovered her new blog and Twitter account, and obsessively like almost everything she has to say — despite the fact that she writes for Christian sites I cannot muster the resolve to read anymore and operates from a far more complementarian, Reformed mindset than I do.

Or Anne Lamott, who’s politically a liberal Democrat. I love her.

And it’s not because I’m just a wonderful, affirming, open-minded woman who thinks it prudent to listen to people from all corners of the world. It’s just because I like them. We share a similar personality, a similar way of looking at the world and holding and communicating our beliefs, even if we’re diametrically opposed on specific issues.

It’s true in reverse too: there are some people who I agree with on specific issues but cannot stand. I follow them because sometimes they say interesting things, or because they’re prominent voices in the Christian egalitarian movement, or what have you, but I feel uncomfortable associating myself with them.

I often get more worked up by like-minded allies than I do by people who disagree with me. (Ask my husband. In-your-face feminists and Trump supporters alike bring out all the rage.)

So I’ve been trying to figure this out — my gravitation towards certain warm, authentic, loving, gracious, intelligent personalities over deeply held specific issues. Is it merely personality, in that I/ENFJs feel most at home with people like them? Perhaps other personalities gravitate toward people who aren’t like them, who are more complementary?

Or does it actually come down to beliefs, in the end — at least, a way of holding and communicating beliefs that reveals a deeper belief in what’s most important?

Help me out. Is this true of you? Do you gravitate more toward like-minded people or “like-personalitied” people?

When the First Year Is Hell

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Happy Anniversary to us! (Overpriced Italian food in the pouring rain when I’m exhausted, nauseous, and congested, and when he comes home asking if we really can’t just make tacos and Dumb and Dumber our permanent anniversary tradition, starting now. We are so romantic.)

It wasn’t a specific piece of advice that got me to our first wedding anniversary. It wasn’t the insistence of my closest friends that we’d be able to make it work, no matter what. It was a specific piece of someone else’s story — a story of someone I respected, with a marriage full of love, honesty, and honor.

“Our first year of marriage was hell.”

That’s the phrase I kept returning to, fight after fight after heartbreak after screaming-into-the-void heartbreak.

My first year of marriage was hell, too. Well — to be precise — the beginning of it was.

“Marriage is such a wonderful thing!” I once gushed to a engaged couple a few days ago.

“Bailey lies,” my husband added. “It’s only wonderful after the first seven months.”

And for us, that was true.

I won’t bore you with the details, but they involve selfishness, verbal abuse, cold shoulders, pointless 2 AM arguments about the same exact thing, a lack of trust, complete and utter disrespect for the other’s dignity, and contempt.

It was the most nightmarish thing I’ve ever experienced.

I once sobbed through a wedding out of biting jealousy that the other couple was happy and I wasn’t. I cringed whenever people asked how newlywed life was. (“The worst,” I wanted to say.) I hit rock bottom so many times. I begged for separation, I pined for my single days — anything to end the torture of loving and feeling unloved and the hateful rage that kept spewing out of my mouth because of it.

I am 100% certain, had our pattern of mutual disrespect and contempt and emotional bankruptcy continued, our marriage would have ended.

That is clear.

What isn’t clear is what changed.

Oh, I can tell you what changed, as in, we are now decent people who apologize and say kind words and laugh together and listen to each other and don’t actively seek to make each other’s lives miserable. We’ve got the crucial ratio of five positive comments for every one negative comment down. Our arguments — our rare, contained, occurring-during-daytime-hours arguments — actually end up with mutual understanding instead of despair.

Things have changed, for sure. I’m just not sure how, or why — or why then.

I had imagined me being the one to revive my husband’s affections for me through my mild manners and humility and deescalation tactics. I was the woman, I was the one with the emotional intuition and maturity to win him back. And I was the one who went to counseling.

Not for the marriage. I went to counseling for me, for my faith deconstruction, for the anxiety I felt over shifting beliefs. I blamed all of that for making me the demon wife from hell.

That was the biggest change I made — taking responsibility for my own emotions, working constructively and independently on tackling my anxiety and fear, and finding a skilled listener other than my husband to hear every paranoid, odd, and overwhelming thing I felt.

But through no mild manners and humility of my own (though I really did, mostly, try or intend to try), my husband started treating me respectfully. He’d say something that would tick me off, I’d raise my voice to the highest decibel, expecting the same old repeat 2 AM argument, and he’d gently, humbly, respectfully, apologize.

And he kept doing it, even though I lost my temper every time, even though he lost his temper sometimes.  When he did, he’d stop, take a big breath, apologize, and clarify.

It was like a completely different relationship.

We were communicating. We were conversing. We were healing.

I don’t know why it didn’t work all the other times one of us tried to be the bigger person, or when I poured out my soul to him, or when we researched the key components in a successful marriage. I don’t know what clicked for him, or what clicked for me, or why they clicked at roughly the same time with miraculous results.

Maybe it was a miracle.

At any rate, we acquired these miracle-working communication skills — or he did, or I did, and we rubbed off on each other, or maybe we didn’t, I don’t know — around mid-January. And it’s been heaven ever since.

I want to stress this: the first seven months were literally hell — if hell is the absence of goodness and love and hope. And these past five months have been literally heaven — if heaven is the presence of kindness and laughter and happiness and love and occasional arguments about dishes.

I stress those two things, because it was hard for me to believe that anyone with a hell as real as mine could experience anything like the happiness I’m now experiencing — with the same person. Anytime anyone talked about hardship in their marriage, I doubted either the intensity of their hell or the reliability of their happiness.

As far as newlywed encouragement goes, this is all I got: I walked through hell my first year of marriage.

How we did it, I don’t really know. It took two people deciding to change. Any advice or formula I can offer will only affect one of those two people.

Whether you can walk through it too, I don’t really know either. But at least four people have — my husband and I, and the couple whose first-year hell allowed me to keep going.

Confessions of a Talkative Female

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I didn’t expect these doors to upset me as much as they did. I mean, cliché fonts and misspellings do normally upset me, so I was prepared for that. But I wasn’t prepared for a huge wave of insecurity over the age-old stereotype that women talk more than men.

Look, I do my best to smile thinly at gender stereotypes and move on. Most of the time I can rant underneath my public face about how I know half a dozen women who aren’t like that and how no guy I know would ever say this.

But this time the gender stereotype cuts too close to home. I talk a lot. I do. And I’ve always felt insecure about it — particularly when it came to my relationship with Erich.

We could have been the inspiration for this stereotype. Erich can sit in silence for days. The only reason he doesn’t is because, if he fails to respond within one minute, I wail about how he doesn’t love me anymore. To which he says, “Huh, no, I love you,” with that exact inflection, and I say, “See?” and we carry on with that topic for awhile until I realize that he doesn’t require normal human conversation to sustain existence.

Me? I talk to myself. In the mirror. In the shower. In the car. Out loud.

Erich has only commented on this once, early on in our marriage, where I took a particularly long shower and decimated bad theology in one go. “Are you talking to yourself?” he called from a room away.

“No,” I called back, and whispered the rest of the conversation to myself.

Talkative people get a bad rap in general — people who prattle on and on as if their companion is listening (or cares), whole “conversations” where only one person is relaying all the movies they’ve watched in the past year (in detail) and the other person smiles and nods until they realize their smiles are turning into yawns and their nodding is turning narcoleptic.

I remember tag-teaming such conversations with friends. We’d decide through subtle eye movements whose turn it was to smile and nod and who could safely make up an excuse and walk away.

The irony is that though I love to talk, I cannot stand talkative people. Some days it’s so bad that the only reason I listen is to respond. It’s terrible.

My dislike of talkative people probably fuels my insecurity about how much I talk.

The other factor is being a woman who loves to talk.

Do men feel the same insecurity about being talkative? I’m curious to know. My insecurity about this gender stereotype came from Jane Austen novels and all the Proverbs groaning about a woman’s tongue. A woman’s words were dangerous. Destructive. Annoying. Unproductive. As helpful and as interesting as a dripping faucet.

(Have you ever lived with a dripping faucet before? Not a metaphorical one, a real one? I once spent a whole weekend alone with a dripping faucet. It drove me insane. Nails on a chalkboard insane. And no, I didn’t fix it because the gender stereotypes about women being unskilled manual laborers most definitely apply to me.)

Lots of women’s articles and books talked about women and their nagging, about women and their chatter, about women and their need to get a grip and give their men some mental space already.

Maybe that’s why women apologize a lot. I know that’s why I do. I lead off every work conversation with, “Sorry to bother you, but — ” Especially with men. I’m convinced my boss cringes every time he sees me open my mouth.

It’s a subconscious thing. Words, words, words. Too much of them. Too much of me.

It’s the same thought: too much words = too much of me. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

Here’s the thing: I don’t enjoy “talking.” I really don’t. When I talk, I mean something — especially when I’m talking a lot. I’m not gushing blah, blah, blah. Not trying to, anyway. I’m trying to communicate something that matters to me.

That’s why this stereotype grates against my skin. It reduces my passionate rants to the drip, drip, drip of a faucet. It equates my attempts to connect and unburden with the prattle of stupid women. It assumes the mechanics of moving my jaw and vocalizing syllables is the be all, end all to this conversation. It’s all blah, blah, blah — no substance, no meaning, and not worth hearing.

That frightens me most, I think — an endless scream into a void, the perfect words falling on deaf ears, feeling disabled from communicating with the rest of the world.

And it makes sense, of course, why people would start interpreting a monologue going on ten minutes as blah, blah, blah. If your words are so important and meaningful, why air them so often and so repetitively?

***

My husband pointed out to me during our infamously horrific newlywed car rides that I “spoke in triplicate.” I’d repeat my main point three times. He’d keep count: “You just said that. Oh — that’s the third time. Do you know you speak in triplicate?”

“Yeah, well, that’s the third time today you’ve pointed it out,” I’d snap.

He didn’t mean it as an insult. He says he’s fascinated, frankly, by how much emotion and verbiage I can muster up every day. And I know he’s telling the truth — because when Erich says something, I listen. It’s easy to keep straight what he has said, because he doesn’t say it often.

Last night, for the first time in our relationship, I got to say, “Yep, you told me that story already.”

He uses that phrase with me every day.

***

Speaking of repetitive, here’s a phrase I used to use every day: hard to love. Hard to love, is how my talking made me feel. Hard to love, because my emotions — not the exhausted cry or the ticked off anger, but the soul-stuff that makes life bearable or not — were bound up in my words. Heart on my sleeve, like I said.

Nobody, I thought, could handle me with my emotion-words. Nobody, I thought, would get that I didn’t talk to fill empty space but to empty the space where I felt things the most. Nobody would understand that every time I opened my mouth (except with small talk — a whole other story), I meant something.

I felt like I prostituted my words.

My words are intimate and sacred — and I want them to stay that way, even if I talked to five different people about the same thing. But it makes me feel dirty and used up, talking so much.

It makes me feel dirty right now, writing this all down. Makes me feel whiny. Insignificant.

***

Well, I learned a few things as a talker. I learned that I wasn’t hard to love. I was quite easy to love, actually. I was very self-regulating. All I needed was a good listening ear, a hug, and some quick affirmation, and I could work my way through any problem. Erich is that listening ear for me now (and he gives great hugs, too).

Even though he’s a man, a strong and silent man, he finds me underneath the waves of emotional verbiage. He knows they matter. That I matter. I had to learn those things too, along with him, because I struggle more than he does to believe that my words and soul-stuff mean anything.

I also learned that there is some soul-stuff that no talking and no listening can fix. I use a different medium of words for those situations.

Silence is good too, I’ve found. That, or talking to myself in the shower.

Are you talkative? Is your best friend or partner talkative? How do you feel about it?

Hijacking Narratives

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I finally figured out what I dislike most about fundamentalism, what I find most toxic: it cannot and will not accept other people’s experiences, claims, intentions, motives, explanations, or observations as real.

I found this out, ironically, through observing liberal arguments on Facebook. It’s standard fare. Some poor unsuspecting soul will say something like, “I want safe bathrooms for everybody. I am concerned for trans people. I am concerned for sexual assault victims who might feel unsafe with male anatomy in their bathroom too. Can we come up with a bathroom solution that protects all people?”

The response is — I guarantee it — something like this: “YOU HORRIBLE TRANSPHOBIC HATEFUL PERSON. How dare you. HOW DARE YOU. YOU HATE TRANS PEOPLE. YOU THINK THEY’RE PREDATORS. I am SICKENED by you.”

The unsuspecting soul grovels before them: “I am so sorry I offended you. I do care about trans people. I never said they were predators.”

“YES YOU DID, YOU DISGUSTING EXCUSE FOR A HUMAN BEING. You hate trans people. You spew hate.”

“But I just said I don’t hate trans people.”

“YES YOU DO!”

Et cetera. Another big step forward for LGBT+ rights.

***

I walked away from viewing this cage fight considerably shaken. It reminded me exactly of the fundamentalist mindset: the inability to allow someone who disagrees with you to mean what they say.

Since we’re on the topic, that’s why any sort of dialogue between the LGBT+ community and the conservative Christian community crashed and burned a long time ago. Gay people cannot actually mean that their love is real and healthy; their children cannot actually mean that they grew up just fine with two dads or two moms; their sexual orientation cannot actually be as unchangeable as they claim, because the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination and the heart is deceitful above all things and Rosaria Butterfield changed her sexual orientation, so there you have it.

This line of thinking may or may not be expressed in the manner seen above (i.e., you disgusting excuse for a human being), but it’s equally damaging.

This is not a strictly “conservative problem” or “liberal problem” or “internet problem” or “LGBT+ issues” problem.

It is an all-of-us problem.

***

A friend of mine confronted some friends, once. This friend expressed concern, hurt, and discomfort at the language they used and the jokes they told. At first, the friends were angry and offended; they thought my friend expressed herself poorly; they thought she was just stirring up the pot and throwing around devastating words.

Then — as my friend put it — “they realized the problem was different: I had meant exactly what I said.”

I meant exactly what I said. 

That. That is the realization many of us need to come to in our conversations with those who disagree with us.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to dismiss somebody’s perspective and experience because of their word choice or their emotional state.

You’re overreacting. You’re on your period, aren’t you? You just want attention. You’re a white, cisgender male. You always were dramatic.

That’s why many Christians cannot accept as factual the feelings and experiences of a black person or a feminist or a Christian who walked away from their faith. And many secular people cannot accept as factual the feelings and experiences of white people or complementarians or religious people.

Generally, we don’t want to hear anything that contradicts our narrative of the world, that disrupts our “us vs. them” ideologies, that challenges our beliefs that we want to believe are universal.

***

I use the word “narrative” because I think it’s more important to know why we believe the things we believe than to know what we believe. Why we believe can divide us just as much as what we believe, and what drives us to believe can unite us with others different from us. Even if we don’t share the conclusion, we share the process, we share the motives, we share the goals.

I think the key to understanding people, to loving them, to making peace between them, is understanding their narratives — and by “understanding,” I mean letting them mean what they say they mean, even if it contradicts your worldview.

As a fundamentalist Christian, I thought I knew everybody’s narratives. There were only three: those who knew God, those who didn’t, and those who “tasted the heavenly gift” and walked away.

If you knew God, it was because he predestined you, because the Holy Spirit enlightened you, because all along, he was what you were searching for.

If you didn’t know God, you were miserably unhappy and sinful, lost, desperate for escape, incapable of morality or self-control or love. There was a God-sized hole in your heart that nothing could fill.

If you walked away, it was because you hardened your heart; you were bitter and angry against God and others; you threw out the baby with the bathwater; you were deceived; you let your hurt blind you to the truth.

Those narratives dominate and subsume all alternative narratives.

Because of the narrative of those who know God, it’s difficult to be a Christian with doubt, a Christian with the testimony that God doesn’t show up when you need him and that your spiritual life is a source of struggle, not comfort.

Because of the narrative of those who don’t know God, it’s difficult to believe unbelievers who claim to be happy or good without God. “Do you feel like you’re missing anything by not believing in God?” I asked my nonreligious friend. “No,” she said. “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes,” she said. (I didn’t know what to make of that.)

Because of the narrative of those who walk away from God or Christianity, it’s difficult to take them seriously; it’s difficult to see how droves of Christians are abandoning ship for legitimate reasons; it’s difficult to understand how they could have been unhappy within Christianity and how they could be happier elsewhere.

So we resort to shutdown tactics: “You’re deceived. You’re not seeing the full picture. You’re overreacting. You’re just bitter. You’ll come back to the truth eventually.”

And if your worldview requires that your worldview always be right, you have to resort to shutdown tactics. You have to reimagine somebody else’s narrative. You must, or your whole worldview will crumble around your feet.

***

I did a lot of explaining away as a fundamentalist Christian. Lots of it.

I call that explaining away “hijacking narratives.”

When atheists help the local poor, Christians report how amazing it is that God can work through unbelievers. Hijacked narrative.

When a Christian tries to ask an honest, well-meaning question about homosexuality, secular people report how amazing it is that Christians can be so bigoted and heartless. Hijacked narrative.

When you claim that egalitarianism is a more faithful, Biblical reading than complementarianism, people jump all over you for disrespecting the inerrancy of Scripture. Hijacked narrative.

When you claim to be abused, people roll their eyes at the self-centered victimization going on in today’s youth. Hijacked narrative. 

We’re not going to get anywhere with anybody if we cannot allow people to mean what they say.

***

Of course, this is not a simple path to truth.

People say things all the time that they don’t mean. Not everybody is self-aware. People can be deceived, duped, swayed, and manipulated into believing things that harm themselves and others. And even when people mean something, meaning something doesn’t make it true.

I say this as someone who thought for my whole life the truth was one thing and then realized I was lying to myself. I am hyper-aware of my own ability to deceive myself, my frequent inability to be honest with myself — this, as a someone who prides herself on self-awareness, empathy, and sensitivity.

I hijacked my own narrative. That’s the worst part of fundamentalism, for me — it trains you to doubt your own observations, thoughts, and feelings on the empirical fact that we could all be wrong. And when you’ve hijacked your own narrative to keep it in line with the “truth,” it’s incredibly difficult not to hijack the narrative of somebody who grew up with different experiences or observations. It’s hard not to jump to conclusions or have concerns or questions.

This is why I beg for grace, understanding, and patience for everybody — including fundamentalist, religious, cisgender, straight, white, middle-class people, including secular, atheist, transgender, gay, colored, poor people. I beg everyone to listen. I beg everyone to allow people to mean what they say they mean. I beg everyone to meet people where they are — even if their idea of “love” includes elements of bigotry, even if their idea of “truth” includes elements of narrowmindedness, even if their sincere meaning seems out of touch with reality.

Everybody, on all sides: Give people the dignity to know their own thoughts and motives best, even if there’s evidence they don’t.

No more hijacking narratives.

Speaking the Truth in Love

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I like the concept of speaking the truth in love — theoretically. I like the idea that love requires hard things — theoretically. I like the idea that the truth is part of love — theoretically.

We are not always right, and sometimes we need to be corrected. That’s a fact.

Also a fact: 99-100% of the time when somebody “speaks the truth in love,” it comes across as incredibly untruthful, unloving, and even hateful.

Continuing with facts: I will not listen to anything someone says that begins with, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but…”

It’s an involuntary thing. My hackles rise, my defenses go up, and I prepare myself for hearing something irrelevant and potentially offensive. Because it’s always irrelevant and/or offensive.

And if somebody spouts harsh, hateful things and then concludes with, “Bailey, I’m saying all these things out of love. I care about you” — that will not, that absolutely will not ever feel like love to me.

And it will also never change my mind.

Isn’t it the same for you?

But we’ve all done it, haven’t we? We’ve all said something, or wanted to say something, that we thought somebody else needed to hear, and we wanted to say it because we care about them. Like I said, that’s an actual phenomenon we all face.

I’ve spent lots of time thinking about how it’s possible to to “speak the truth in love,” without actually doing more harm than good.

I think we oftentimes place too much emphasis on the importance of conveying truth when we “speak the truth in love.” “In love” just softens the blow. It’s about tone or attitude. It’s a spoonful of sugar helping the medicine go down.

But what if we flipped it, where we focused on the “in love” part? And what if we understood “in love” not as a tone or an attitude that the critic assumes, but a relational context — a relational context that isn’t established by firstly or primarily “speaking the truth”?

We might assume that speaking the truth is the most loving thing, full stop. The truth will set them free and all that. There are people out there walking around who claim to be loving or tolerant, but the only thing they do is force their opinion on others.

I don’t think speaking the truth is always the most loving thing to do. Truth — hard truth, confrontational truth, you-need-to-think-about-this truth — needs to be given and received within a trusting, understanding relationship.

We all know how annoying it is when a random person comes into our life or onto our blogs or social media platforms and graces us with their (ahem) pearls of wisdom. Like I said, whenever somebody feels compelled to “speak truth” to us, it’s ten to one completely unhelpful and out of touch.

I can say that, because every time was that person “loving” someone else by letting them know the truth, I later found out that was off base and offensive — and I alienated them from me.

This is not the way of love. Or truth. Truth-speaking must done within a relationship. Truth-speaking must be done when you have the permission and the trust of the person to whom you’re speaking truth. Because…..

…..there is more than one way to present the truth. There are times when certain aspects need to be emphasized, and emphasized in a certain way. It all depends on where a person is at. That’s why it’s absolutely, non-negotiably imperative to know where a person is at before just spouting your opinion.

See first point re: having a relationship.

Knowing where someone is at requires understanding them — not being related to them, or being their friend, or reading all their Facebook posts that pop up in your feed. It requires actually knowing their side of the story, knowing their views, knowing where they are and where they want to go and how they do or don’t want to get there.

My friend once told me that she never gives advice that people don’t already believe themselves.

You are going to get nowhere by speaking a truth that a person doesn’t already believe. You are going to lose their trust. You are going to lose your credibility as a person capable of understanding and empathizing.

Don’t do it. Don’t be that person.

You have to give advice and encouragement that takes into account others’ assumptions, beliefs, and goals.

This doesn’t mean you don’t ever say something “they don’t want to hear.” This doesn’t mean you sit around smiling and nodding and approving everything they do. How many times have we believed something but not wanted to follow through?

Living out our beliefs often requires a cheerleader and a kick in the butt.

And that’s how I now see speaking the truth in love — not imposing my beliefs on others in a “loving way,” but loving other people, understanding them, helping them live out their convictions, and being honest with them when they stray away from what they believe.

**Caveat** I am not saying you should never share your beliefs with someone who doesn’t believe in them or express concern over what they believe — as long as you do it in a way that promotes dialogue and understanding.

A healthy, understanding relationship requires honesty and authenticity: “I hear you. I don’t believe that myself, but I hear you. I see it like this….” That is not confrontational. It allows you to share your piece without triggering their defensive mechanisms. It allows you to express concern without offense. It allows you to understand them better and ascertain how to best help.

To be honest, it is a far more winsome defense of your beliefs when you unconditionally love someone and help them where they’re at while still being frank about your own beliefs.

That’ll get me to listen up, every time.

It might even change my mind.

That’s the power of speaking the truth in love.

Forgiveness as Empathy

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I wrote about how I didn’t understand forgiveness. When it comes to things as serious as major betrayal, assault, abuse, and murder, all of the cliches about forgiveness — forgive and forget, forgive but don’t forget, hate the sin but love the sinner — feel naive.

Within the context of a loving relationship, forgiveness makes sense to me. Forgiveness and reconciliation and deep love go hand in hand.

Within the context of abused and abuser — within a context where reconciliation is dangerous or not possible — forgiveness makes no sense.

A friend of mind suggested that a key component to forgiveness is empathy. It’s not reconciliation, or being an active part of your abuser’s healing, and it’s certainly not excusing or rationalizing their behavior. I guess, the way I’m thinking of it, it’s a honest awareness that humans are a mix of good and bad.

But it’s not saying, “Well, I’m a bad person too,” because the abused is not an abuser, and that’s a night and day difference. It’s not being okay with what they did. It’s not necessarily having pitying feelings. It’s not feeling guilty that you ever felt negative feelings toward them.

It’s just seeing the other person as human.

Not a demon. Not a “sinner just like me.”

A human.

To know what that mean, I think, requires knowing that you’re a human too, which is how forgiveness can be a process, and only comes after your own healing.

These are just my preliminary thoughts. What do you think?

 

How I Learned to Appreciate Computer Games

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It’s been quite the process to go from the know-it-all, spiritually superior girlfriend with a nominally Catholic, theologically illiterate, failure of an immature Christian man to an embarrassed, humbled, clueless wife with the faithful, Christian, decent husband.

We haven’t changed much. I just realized my superiority was all pride and bluster, and his “failures” and “immaturity” were just me being embarrassed that he didn’t live up to the perfect complementarian divinity student I’d imagined I’d always marry. But he is incredible, and his faith is incredible, and when I allow him to be himself, instead of holding him to my fundamentalist standards of holiness and maturity, our relationship is incredible too.

One of the biggest turning points with us had to do with computer games.

My husband doesn’t play first-person shooter games (thank God). He doesn’t have an Xbox. He just really loves this online, multiplayer computer game called League of Legends. It’s his hobby. He knows the lore, the characters, and the fine points of playing. He puts in a good amount of time mastering a character or skill. He follows the international championships, and he is currently hot and bothered about his fantasy team. (Yes, there is a fantasy league for an already fantasy computer game.)

This used to bother me. One, because I thought all video games involving death and fighting were evil and would more than likely produce serial killers — even a game like League, where the characters are cartoons, there is no gore, they regenerate every thirty seconds after death, and the draw of the game is strategy rather than glorying in the graphic death of your opponent.

Two, I thought only immature people cared about such frivolous things as video games. Any time a college male tried to explain the deeper purpose of video games to me, my eyes glazed over and my eyes wanted to roll so hard.

Three, it can get addictive. Games at three in the morning. Homework abandoned in favor of a five-game streak. Not being able to pause the game at will to help in an emergency — like everyday when I had my routine existential breakdown.

So I did what every responsible, godly, mature girlfriend does — I ridiculed him for it.

I argued against his love of this game from all different angles — particularly attacking his character and his maturity and his common sense. That’s always a great way to change somebody’s mind.

Instead of changing his mind, he began begging me to play with him.

Eventually, begrudgingly, I caved, watching my morality and my maturity crumble around me as a prepared to battle on Summoner’s Rift.

It actually wasn’t the worst thing ever. It was rather fun.

Instantly, I became a girlfriend hero. “You play computer games with Erich? That’s so cute! I wish my girlfriend would do that!”

Ah, yes. Look at me, the model girlfriend.

But the fights still continued into marriage. Some of them were legitimate. Sometimes he did spend too much time on League (not that I spent too much time on Facebook…). Sometimes he did procrastinate on important things in lieu of his favorite pastime (not that I was guilty in this area…).

Perhaps the biggest strain of all, though, was that I cared nothing about computer games in general or League in particular. Lego Star Wars and Mario Cart are the only games I’ve liked. But he talked so much about it. He talked to me as if I knew what he was talking about. He talked to me as if I cared.

I didn’t.

He would go on and on about League, and I would sit and nod and pretend to listen, all the while thinking of something else — normally, about how it was possible for two people to speak English and yet completely not grasp what the other person is saying.

I didn’t have a glamorous breakthrough, except that I hated pretending to listen. I hated not caring. I hated fighting him on this. I hated wishing this part of him would go away. I hated feeling embarrassed about something that brought him joy.

And so I found myself talking about League. At first, I just tried to pay attention when he talked. Then I started asking clarifying questions, like, “What does KS mean?” Then I started asking him questions about how his game was going or how his fantasy team was doing. And then I found myself as his #1 counselor regarding all things League. I was giving my opinion on things, ribbing him for not following my advice, expressing sympathy when he got frustrated with the stupid people in the bronze league, and kissing him happily when things went his way.

This makes so much of a difference in our marriage. 

Not only not judging, but actively participating in something he cares about, even when it’s decidedly not my cup of tea. Surprise, surprise, I find us liking each other more, understanding each other more, and connecting better. He seems far more interested in my hobbies and thoughts too.

GO US!

(Why does it always take me so long to realize these things?)

Of course, I feel a bit self-conscious about his love of League. My friends who aren’t into video games think it’s a bit strange. He had the League world championship up on the big screen when the movers dropped off our couch, and for a second, I wanted to apologize and poke fun at him to show that am a mature, well-adjusted adult who cares nothing about frivolous games.

(Erich has just informed me that the movers exclaimed, “Oh, you have the LCS up! How’s it going? Who are you watching?” Good thing I kept my mouth shut.)

But pooh pooh to the haters.

You know what? Go ahead and judge. Go ahead and laugh. Go ahead and leave links to articles about the sad state of youth these days. We live in an odd world where people pay millions to watch people kick a ball around. We connect with each other via social media and get addicted in the process. We all have weird passions for series on Netflix and awkward hobbies like writing bad fantasy novels and too many opinions on things that don’t matter much to the fate of the world.

And so I say, embrace those crazy, allegedly immature hobbies — especially for the sake of those you love.

Don’t Pick Up After Your Husband

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Have you bumped into the “butthole wife” controversy? “Stop Being a Butthole Wife” laid down the law with Christian wives: stop your bickering and finger pointing and just pick up the dirty socks already. It got lots of likes and hearts and “SO TRUE!!!!!” from complementarians on my social media feed.

Then Christian Feminist Daddy fired back with, “Nope. Don’t you dare call my wife a butthole.” And that got lots of likes and hearts and “THANK YOU!!!!!” from the egalitarians.

At first, I didn’t read either. I kept coming across them in public spaces, and assumed “butthole wife” was something too embarrasingly kinky to risk a stranger looking over my shoulder. Then I learned that “butthole” is now (apparently?) a hip and holy version of “a**hole,” and (who knew?) it’s an adjective?

(Side rant: Christians, stop with the sanctified vulgarities. A**hole has a known meaning. Butthole conjures up the grossest of images. Please — swear, or don’t swear. Pick one.)

Well, now that I understood this was about jerk wives (and I certainly feel like a jerk more often than I admit), I read the piece. And I am still reporting that I am very much confused.

I get the part where blaming, shaming, and complaining day in and day out is a toxic thing for a marriage. But then there was the running theme of dirty laundry, to the point where many people easily made the takeaway that her worst offense as a “butthole wife” was complaining about picking up his socks every day.

If I was going to call myself a modified swear word, this wouldn’t be the offense that triggered it.

I support the article’s general idea of not nagging, nagging, nagging about everything your husband is and does, because such nitpicking shows a lack of perspective. But this is what I find most interesting and troubling: her confusion of being a butthole and feeling ticked off that she has to clean up after her grown husband like he’s one of her four kids.

Honestly, many women are juggling the roles of wife, mother, and homemaker — sometimes as their primary or sole identities — and those roles lack distinct boundaries from the other. Wives, as wives, hate feeling like they are their husband’s mother, but they’re so used to picking up after kids and tending the home that they feel guilty about not picking up their husband’s dirty socks. If you’re staying at home all day anyway while he works his butt off at a job, isn’t it your responsibility to pick up the slack?

(Side note: Is it just me, or is there a subtle implication, even by those who swear to the power and importance of homemaking, that a man’s career outside the home is more consequential than her unending labor in the home?)

Maybe I am a butthole wife, but I don’t consider picking up after my husband to be within the scope of marriage or homemaking.

In my marriage, we each retain a level of individual responsibility in many areas of life: I clean up the clothes I dump on the floor, he cleans up the clothes he dumps on the floor. If I make a mess, I pick it up. I keep track of my own stuff, he keeps track of his. If my car breaks down, I take it to the garage, if his car breaks down, he takes it to the garage. I keep track of my phone bill, he keeps track of his. We are responsible for putting our dirty dishes in the sink, our trash in the trash can, our books and toys and electronics away.

And if one person fails to act responsibly with their stuff, that is definitely grounds for husband or wife to confront the other person and say, “Look, you’ve been slacking to the point where it’s creating extra work for me. Can you not?”

This is kindergarten-level responsibility. I teach my own kids this: it is not my job to clean up after them. They wipe down their tables after lunch; they throw away their trash; they pick up their own mat; they fold their blankets; they clean up their toys when they’re done playing. It is not the teacher’s responsibility to clean up after them. It’s theirs.

And that is a sanity-saver — to hold my kids responsible for their own messes. It means I’m not the frazzled teacher running around with the sole purpose of picking up after nineteen six-year-olds.

I should think it’s the same for grown ups on the equal footing of marriage.

This isn’t to say I never pick up my husband’s socks or refuse to clean up after my kids. I just don’t consider it my responsibility, and don’t factor it into my evaluation of whether I’m a good wife or teacher. When I don’t pick up after them , it’s not abandoning my duty, and when I do pick up after them (and I do), it’s an act of solidarity: we are united in the common goal of educating your little brains or marriage, and I am happy to further that goal.

If the kids have to rush off to Spanish right after finishing worksheets, I’ll pick up their pencils and papers for them. If my husband and I are cleaning the house, I’ll toss his stuff in the correct place. If I’m doing laundry or straightening our dorm-level disaster of a room, I’ll fold and sort his clothes.

But it’s key, for me, to realize that I am doing no favors to my husband or my kinders by enabling them to think that somebody will be and should be there to clean up their own messes. That’s perfect ground for frustration and burn-out for the party always picking up the slack, and for ingratitude and entitlement for the party always let off the hook.

Neither bodes well for a healthy marriage or individual growth.

Now, I will say I have this easy for two reasons: one, both of us work full-time, so we share an equal amount of homemaking and breadwinning. (Read: no guilt.) If I were a stay-at-home mom, I would probably feel guilty if I didn’t clean up my husband’s messes (because that is a cherished virtue among women — household, motherhood, and wifely guilt).

And two, I am not a neat freak. I don’t require my husband or myself to keep an immaculate house. Some women seem compelled to pick up messes every five seconds, so walking past a husband’s pile of dirty laundry on the floor would be a Herculean test. It’s not for me, so we minimize our spats on clutter and reserve our energy for blowing up at each other if someone was supposed to do the dishes and didn’t.

(I kid you not, the dishes are the bane of our marriage.)

In a sense, then, I do treat my husband like a child: I expect the same responsibility and thoughtfulness from both my husband and my class, as they have a right to expect from me.

If that makes me a butthole, then so be it.

P.S. Letting little things slide and wifely submission