Some Thoughts on Relationships

I have never really had much of a reason to sit and think long on this subject, but it has come up so many times in recent conversations that I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that I should write about it. I’ll just begin, and give it my best.

When I turned twenty, I fell in love with Stephanie. Three years later, I married her. For those of you who haven’t met Steph, she is quite beautiful. Her beauty is, in fact, something so refined, so rare, so… beyond words that I’m at a loss wondering how to describe such a thing. Sometimes, when she and I are out with friends, I enjoy just keeping my distance in order to observe men as they attempt to speak to her, watching in amusement as they stumble about. This will certainly appear to be an ostentatious embellishment, but I can assure you it is not. On at least three occasions, while the two of us have dined out at a public restaurant, certain men have gotten up from their tables, left their wives, and approached mine just to tell her that she was, well… beautiful. Now, please don’t jump to conclusions about where all of this is leading. Steph’s beauty is not the focus of this essay; instead, it is a point that must be established in order for the essay to go in the direction that I’ve intended. People have said to me that I must be the luckiest man in the world to have the love and commitment of a woman who is so attractive. But I disagree. You see, Steph has never realized how beautiful she is. In fact, she often times complains that she must be the ugliest girl she has ever seen. So, if I were to base my appreciation for her only on her physical qualities, then she could quite possibly feel that my appreciation was either based on nothing, or that it was at best a feeling that would fade with time.

I met Steph through a friendship that I had developed with her brother Craig. The first time I saw her, I was stopping by her brother’s house to check in on him. How could I ever forget? She was lying on the couch reading a book. I still can remember, as I made my way through the room, simply being overwhelmed by her. I can think of nothing else to say in effort to better describe my thoughts at that moment of first seeing her. Needless to say, I was not disappointed in the least when I discovered that Craig was not home! Steph and I only spoke briefly that day, as I quickly ran out of things to say due to my nervousness. It would be months before we spoke again. Those months passed quickly however, and one day as I was talking to Craig, I asked him why he had not mentioned before that he had a sister. He replied, “Oh her. Yes, she has had a crush on you for so long now. I think maybe years.” My heart ascended into my lower mouth, dropped back down, bounced twice, and landed sideways wrapped tightly around three ribs. But I played it cool. To make the story short, I ended up calling her, asking her nervously to go out with me, she did, and now we live in a little house and have two small children named Alek and Taylor. Alek looks like me with Steph’s dimples, Taylor looks like Steph with my smile.

That moment when I first saw Steph has now been seven years ago. At the time, it was tremendously important to me that I made a way to once again see this beautiful girl who had, with a smile, elicited from within me a fantastic hope. But the thing that intrigues me the most, and the thing that has served as the inspiration behind this essay, is the mystical element of her; the girl behind the pretty face whom has captured my affections and held my heart with tremendous verve. You see, it has not been her looks that has served as the relational glue in our marriage. However much I do still enjoy looking at her, I have noticed that sometimes, when she sits up in bed first thing in the morning, she reminds me ever so much of Claire from LOST in the final season (stress the final season). The first time I observed this phenomenon, I screamed a little inside. But my point is that, rather than her looks, it is the person of her that has held my heart and my desires. Even though those blue eyes may have caught my attention initially, I have since realized that no matter what may happen to fade her beauty, I will still love her the same as I do now, which is more every day. I did not commit myself on the day of our marriage to her body or her radiant smile; I committed myself to the girl. Thus, no matter what happens to her physical attributes, as long as the girl is there, so is my commitment. C. S. Lewis wrote these words, “The idea that being in love is the only reason for remaining married really leaves no room for marriage as a contract or a promise at all. If love is the whole thing, then the promise can add nothing; the curious thing is that lovers themselves, while they remain really in love, know this better than those who talk about love.” Lewis also wrote, “A promise must be about things I can do, about actions: no one can promise to go on feeling a certain way. He might as well promise never to have a headache or always to feel hungry.” And,” Being in love is a good thing but it is not the best thing. There are many things below it, but there are also many things above it. You cannot make it the basis of a whole life. It is a noble feeling but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied upon to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all. Knowledge can last, principles can last, habits can last; but feelings come and go.” (Cited source: C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. From book three titled Christian Behavior: ch 6, Christian Marriage)


Raising Children From a Beginner’s Perspective

Stephanie and I have chosen to raise our children with high, but not unattainably high standards. Some of these standards might seem somewhat parochial, according to modern logic; nevertheless, we actually expect our children to adhere to them. Don’t misunderstand, when I say we expect them to adhere to our standards, I certainly don’t expect this to be accomplished without the occasional hiccup. Instead, our intention is to not lower the standards that we’ve set for our children simply because they fall short of achieving them a time or two. To lower the standards to something more achievable would not give our kids an accurate perspective of the “real world”. Lowering standards or changing rules to suit the needs of the rule breakers is not a common practice in the everyday life of a grown up, yet parents so often seem dead set on providing such conveniences for their children. Notice that no matter how many times we are caught speeding through a particular area, it seems the powers that be never even consider raising the speed limits to help compensate for our inability to adhere to the existing ones. If we arrive late for work a few days back to back, the boss never calls us into their office to discuss changing the time to something that would be better suited to our needs. Instead we are expected, even after failing once or twice, to eventually conform and live up to whatever standards are put before us. In this same way, should Stephanie and I some day catch our son Alek stealing, rest assured that our response will not be to lower our standards because, through his falling short of our standards, Alek has proven his inability to achieve them. Nor will our response be to keep our high standards, but determine that Alek is simply not capable of living up to our expectation of moral behavior. The appropriate response, should we find that Alek has been stealing or falling short of any standard that we might place for him, will be to sit him down and explain to him that he has done wrong, but that his wrongdoing does not make him a bad person; instead, his behavior has created a condition by which he must make right his wrong and leave it at that. He mustn’t dwell on his wrong doing and consider ways to steal the next time and not get caught, or consider ways to excuse it and perceive it as right. Instead he must own his wrong, believe that it was wrong, and turn his focus from the atrocity and back to the standard, which is still exactly where it was, unmoved. It seems that a Rousseauian influence has crept into many homes around the globe. When I say Rousseauian, I’m speaking of a modern philosophy edicting new standards of sexual liberty, neglect of discipline, compassion for rebellion, and a general acceptance that a fourteen year old is growing and maturing and therefore should be regarded as a fellow adult by her parents. All of these are considered by modernists to be important freedoms for an evolving generation of species, but really they are nothing more than examples of poor parental leadership. Leadership is one thing that is no longer held to a high standard because in a world where modernism rules, there is no existing standard to which one may hold leadership accountable. An obvious and surely overused example would be Bill Clinton. Upon hearing the news of his promiscuities, most of the world recoiled a bit and maybe even threw up a bit in our mouths. Then someone blurted the question, “What did he do that was so different from what any of us has done or at least been tempted to do at some point?” This question would only be valid if it held true that, when we are tempted to engage in an activity that was previously perceived as immoral, the activity suddenly becomes permissible, or justified once we grow comfortable enough with it. The president committed adultery while inhabiting the respected position of our nation’s leader, and then lied to us about his affair. It’s time we stop making excuses for our leadership and ourselves, and realize that the fact that a particular sin may have at some time been on our own plate doesn’t excuse or justify the sin or the sinner. Immorality does not find salvation in numbers or with familiarity. Now, remember that the president’s actions are still forgivable, only not justifiable. (More on the subject of forgiveness vs. justification in a  following paragraph)

I recently watched the Ron Howard film “Parenthood”. There are lots of great things I could say about the film, but in an effort to stay on course, I’ll only describe one scenario that pertains to the heart of this essay. In a compelling scene set in the nineties, an aged Woodstock flower child is depicted trying to figure out how to be a single mom of two rebellious teenagers. At one point in the film she manages to break into her thirteen year old son’s padlocked bedroom where she discovers the boy’s stash of violent, sadomasochistic porn. She becomes concerned for her son’s well being, and thus turns to her daughter’s nymphomaniac teen husband, Todd Higgins, for advice. Todd decides that it would be best to discuss the issue directly with the boy, and in the next scene we see Todd emerging from the boy’s bedroom to rest the worried mother assured that the boy is in no immediate psychiatric danger. He informs her that he put the boy at ease by letting him know that masturbating to porn is, “Just what little dudes do”. It comes as no surprise that we see the same thing happening in Hollywood that we see from our leadership in the White House. That is, condoning misbehavior rather than correcting it; “Hey, I did it when I was young so it can’t be that bad”. I have been tempted to use that same mentality with my own children. I have even been heard saying, “Alek will probably get into a lot of fights growing up. That is, after all, just what little dudes do.” When I said those words, I was really just attempting to trivialize my own shortcomings. By saying that fighting is just what boys do, I was excusing myself from any guilt of my immorality. Rather than dealing with the reality that I should have avoided fighting while growing up and accepting the fact that my sin has brought on many consequences and much heartache, I chose to excuse it by saying that not only did I fight, but so will Alek. Had I kept up that attitude, I would have been predisposing my child to a particular immoral behavior from my past that I was unwilling to deal with and seek forgiveness for. Here’s a challenge for all of us, no more making excuses for our shortcomings. Whether our sins involve lust, pornography, stealing, overeating, overspending, violence, dishonesty or any one of millions of other examples, let’s view them for what they are, own them, repent of them and continue striving for the standard, that of biblical morality. If we as parents are willing to do that, then will be assisting ourselves in coaching our children around the land mines that we trotted through at their age rather than sitting by and watching them make the same mistakes that we did, all the while excusing their immoral behavior as something that is “just what kids do.”


Christians have a slightly different way of wording their condonance of other’s sins. Often times Christians, in their theological ineptitude, will refer to justification as “forgiveness”, and they explain it away by saying that we should not judge (C. S. Lewis effectively communicates the distinction between justification and forgiveness in his short essay titled “Forgiveness”). This new doctrine of not making an animadversion on immorality, even if it kills us, is only an attempt to excuse our own equally unjustifiable behavior. Funny, I don’t remember Samuel in the Bible ever saying to Saul, when Saul disobeyed the Lord’s command and spared the king, “Who am I to judge you Saul? Heck, I might of done the same thing if I were you”. Instead, Samuel chopped the king’s head off and told Saul that his sin would have consequences that would affect entire generations. Then there was Nathan who told David that Bathsheba was just hot, and it would be difficult for any man not to commit adultery with her, and the murder that ensued was simply a byproduct of man’s gradual evolution and praescindere from his animalistic, territorial instincts. Obviously that was not how the story went. Christians, let’s read the Old Testament, and learn how God expects his people to function in society. Now that we have grown quite adept at justifying the misbehavior of our nation’s leaders and Hollywood’s finest, why stop there? This is where we come back to the subject of our children, yours and mine. Modernists claim that we are evolving. They also claim that the evolutionary process consistently yields improvements to the evolving species. Yet these same modernists allege that with each new and improved generation, our children become increasingly less likely to make good, sound, moral choices. Should our response to this obvious paradox be to lower the standards for our children in hopes that their more evolved generation could more easily achieve a standard that is less rigid? This seems an absurd notion, but I can’t tell you how many of my students have told me that their parents have informed them that they are incapable of making good choices when it comes to sex, given them condoms and told them to hope for the best. These students wonder aloud why their parents have so little faith in them. Of course, I’ve never told them that this may be their parents’ way of excusing their own shortcomings. There is a tendency to reason that if we as parents were unable to make good choices in the area of our sexuality, whether in thought or in action, then certainly our children will be as hopeless as we were. Only, we were not hopeless. The Lord promises to provide a way out of every misguiding temptation. That we may have failed to notice the exit door doesn’t doom our children, thank God, to being so blind as we were.

How might things change for our children if we were willing to own up to the fact that our breaking the law was inexcusable, our adultery was immoral, and our overindulgence was damaging? What would happen if we stopped making excuses for our misbehavior and began discouraging our children from making the same mistakes we made. Think about it, do you really expect your children to not smoke? Probably so if you don’t smoke: probably not if you do. Consider this, your willingness to observe your own trespasses against moral standards could be the very thing needed to break the generational pattern of a particular behavior. Our view of our own moral behavior affects our expectations of our children’s moral behavior, and our expectation of their moral behavior is the influence that molds that behavior either closer to, or further from the biblical standard of morality.

Nathan Gray