Thursday, March 08, 2007

Trouble Times Two (or More)

There are a number of studies that maintain that those who are married live healthier and wealthier lives. Don Hartwell's journal tells a bit of a different story:
"Verna and I were married 25 years ago today. It would be foolish to say that we have never had trouble. One would have trouble even by himself in that length of time." --The Worst Hard Time, Chapter 24, listened to as an audiobook
He seems to be implying that marriage doesn't actually make things easier, that it might make things harder. In joining your life with someone else's, you not only have your own trouble, but you take on theirs as well. If you are without a partner or without children, you may experience loneliness; you may feel that your life is not on the track that you envisioned for yourself; or you may revel in the time to be self-centered. But an unmarried, childless person still has friends and family, and is therefore not exempt from this burden. In fact, I've seen that the bonds of friendship are often stronger as those people become your familial network. With relationships come trouble.

Are you thinking that this is too harsh? I'm afraid that my experience adds further evidence to these assertions. Think of how you react when a loved one suffers through any of these struggles:
  • Emotional conflict with others: an unfair boss, a schoolyard bully, a closed clique, a lost love, a betrayal
  • Physical: from temporary or prolonged illness or other health concerns
  • Identity: loneliness, self-esteem problems, a crisis of belief, a new anything--job, home, family status
  • Consequences from bad choices
  • Stress: from work/life balance, finances, or any of the above situations
It begins not to matter whether they have a part in their misfortune, or if they've ignored previously offered help or advice. The heart of the matter is that they hurt, and you hurt with them. You may offer physical or financial help or you may offer a listening ear or a prayerful soul. The closer you are to that person, the more their problems are your problems.

Think of the times when you have experienced the above situations for yourself. It may have seemed that you would never get through them, but for the support of a loved one. We all have burdens. We can stumble along with our overloaded packs in an attempt to be self-sufficient, or we can take off those packs and fling them into one large cart and harness up the team so that we can pull them together. In lessening our own pain by sharing it with others, we will also increase our pain by letting ourselves care for those same people. A distributed load may be heavier, but it is always easier to manage.

Can life be made more difficult, and yet somehow easier, due to our relationships?

Galatians 6:2 tells us to "Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." When I think of what Jesus Christ is, I think of love. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers" (I John 3:16). If the burden and the responsibility seems to get harder and harder as we think of what is expected of us, take Jesus' own words to heart (Matthew 11:28-30):

Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.


Beck said...

I was reading the other day about how lower-income women sabatoge their (desperately desired) chances of getting married by being too idealistic about it, which I found really illuminating. For me, marriage is human and flawed and deeply fullfilling but it's also not going to FIX me.

Anonymous said...

I'm thankful for our friendship!! You are that kind of a friend!!

Katrina said...

Good thoughts. Yes, being in relationships with others naturally brings struggles, conflicts, and pain. But we are created to live in relationship, to need community, to benefit from support and to lend support ourselves. I love how God so often works through others in our lives -- a re-affirmation that he desires for us to be interdependent.

Rona's Home Page said...

I found your comments enlightening. Yes, relationships are hard, at times but very rewarding.