Affirmation

Affirmation
Lk. 6:17-26

My wife, Faye, had just started teaching, and I had started graduate school at a major university. One of Faye’s co-workers, Carol, was an outstanding teacher who had been cited nationally for her brilliance. She happened to live in the same building as we did. Her husband, Casey, was an intern, doing a surgery residency at a teaching hospitals. We were acquaintances but not friends.

Faye and I were packing our suitcases to go away on winter break when there was a knock on the door. I opened it to find Carol standing there with tears streaming down her face. She and Casey had had an argument, and she had stormed out of the apartment. Faye did most of the commiserating, and I busied myself with packing. It seemed that Casey had been working sixteen-hour days and had a break between assignments, which coincided with Carol’s teaching break. He was an avid skier and wanted to spend his break skiing. She wanted to hit the museum-and-concert circuit, plus see some good theater. Casey said, “Look, I’m going skiing. I need the physical exercise and I have got to get away. If you don’t want to come, that’s fine. I want you to come with me, but if you don’t I’m going anyway.” Carol told him that he was a Neanderthal, a Philistine, an insensitive jerk. She couldn’t live with someone like that.

Her German temper was up against a stubborn Swede. Carol looked at Faye and said, “What do I do? I don’t want to give in. I hate skiing, and I won’t respect myself if I let him win.” She then turned to me and said, “You trained to be a minister. What do I do?” I suggested that she talk it over with Faye, but Faye bounced the ball back in my lap. I chewed on my pipe for a while and replied, “Go skiing with him.” Faye gasped. Carol’s eyes blazed and I cringed. “Look,” I said, “Hear me out. You asked what I think, and you will do what you feel like. You are looking at this as an either/or situation, as a win/lose situation. It is tempting to see yourself as being forced to do something and as a victim. You don’t like being given an ultimatum. There is a winner and a loser, rewards and punishments.

Try looking at it from a different perspective. Let’s start with the simple assumption that Casey is a decent sort of guy. You wouldn’t have married him if he weren’t. You knew that he was a skiing fanatic. It is also true that Casey probably still loves you. After all, he wants you to go with him. Why does he want you to go with him? It is because he loves skiing. He wants you to enjoy something that he is passionate about. He wants you to share in something that he thinks is really neat. Because he loves you, Casey wants you to share that which gives him great satisfaction.

It is easy to set the choice in the context of “he is making me do this.” It is also obvious that he might meet female skiers on the slopes and at the lodge. But don’t set this situation in the context of fear. Also don’t set it up in a bargaining context. Don’t say, “Well if I go skiing then you have to go to the symphony on our next vacation.” When you do that, things become win, lose, or draw. You are trampling on the love that Casey feels for his sport, and you are demeaning the love you feel for the arts.

Go with Casey and participate. Don’t just be a reluctant good sport. Let him teach you and show off for you. Help him have a good time and let yourself have a good time. And then something will happen. Over a period of time, what will really count will be being together. You will go to concerts and plays later. But don’t force Casey to go with you. Eventually he will. He will because he will like being with you. He will miss being with you when you go to the theater. He will find that he wants to be with you when you do the things you love because they are part of you, and he loves you.

You are not demeaning yourself by going skiing. You are not giving in. You are not trying to change Casey. You are being with someone you love. And, after all, you married him because you loved him. Love will change both you and Casey.”

Carol blew her nose and went back to her apartment. Faye looked at me strangely. “I blew it, didn’t I?” I asked. “Don’t ask me!” she snorted. We left on vacation the next day. A couple of weeks later, I asked Faye if Carol went skiing with Casey. She had.

When I told this story in a pastoral counseling class years later, I was practically stoned for being insensitive and “taking the man’s side.” Even so, I held to my belief that marriage is not a win-lose situation, nor is it a series of compromises. It is a matter of affirming individuals and affirming what they do and love.

We lost contact with Carol and Casey. Eighteen years later we got a Christmas card from them. Enclosed was a picture of them with their two daughters on the ski slopes. The note said that Carol continued to teach. Casey had a successful practice in their city in the snow belt. Casey was also the president of the arts council and of the symphony association. I looked at Faye and said, “I’ll be darned. I was right!” “Maybe Carol had already decided to go with Casey when she stopped by,” my wife mused. “You got me.” I replied.

To bless is to affirm. When we affirm someone, we bless them. In return, are we not also blessed? Amen.