A woman from a war-torn country told an American, “The difference between Americans and the rest of the world is that you expect everything to go fine and are surprised when something bad happens. The rest of the world expects life to be dreary and is surprised when something good happens.”
I don’t know about “the rest of the world,” but when you come from a country where the government has always been corrupt, most people regularly face destitution, and food supply has never been certain, I’m sure many Americans must seem rather spoiled. In this woman’s view many of the people rioting about “injustice” here in this country, so filled with outrage, wouldn’t last a week where she comes from. That’s not to say there aren’t any reasons here for outrage—it’s just to challenge our expectations that we could live in a country where everything is expected to always go right and to assume that we will always agree with the people who are in elected office.
Writing from Houston in the aftermath of Harvey, with some dear friends displaced from toxic water, perhaps makes me especially sensitive to this insight. When you see the pictures in Houston with homes flooded, just know that’s not “nice” river water flowing through homes. It’s worse than sewage—a toxic stew requiring houses to be stripped and bleached before they can be rebuilt. Second Baptist, leading the way with recovery efforts, has a nurse on staff giving tetanus boosters and antibiotics to volunteers. This is nasty stuff.
“Good” people don’t get to avoid bad things. We know a married couple who have heroically served many pastors and our church and still, their office was flooded. You might hope “special” servants could get a miraculous pass from the Hurricane, but that’s not how it works.
On one of my first longer runs following Harvey, I slipped on some mud, fell against a buckled sidewalk, and tore some cartilage in my chest. It only hurts when I move, take a deep breath, or, God forbid, sneeze. Lisa immediately got me on turmeric, arnica and some lotion with mustard in the name, but she also began recounting the litany of running injuries I’ve faced through the years, with the implication, “Are you sure you should keep doing this?”
Next year will mark some forty years of running for me, and that must mean at least 50,000 miles on roads and trails. I can’t deny several medical issues (or the funny look in the doctor’s eyes this time when he asked me what I was taking for the pain and I replied “arnica and turmeric”), but my reply to Lisa was, “Given that I’ve run 50,000 miles, I think I’ve come through surprisingly well. Running in the dark, in storms, in bad weather conditions, with dogs and careless drivers, I’m surprised it hasn’t been worse. Yes, I think I should keep doing this!”
When we look at any marriage with occasional bad episodes, no matter how many miles we’ve travelled together, we might also ask, “Should we keep doing this?” We pledge to stay married “for better or for worse” but most of us never really expect the “for worse.” So when something bad happens, if our expectations are that only good things should happen, we can question our commitment.
Let me ask: do we truly think we can be married for a long time and never have bad things happen? Do you think a couple can be married for twenty years with no medical emergencies, no financial hardship, no major weather events, no employer or investor issues where you’re treated unfairly, no relational frustrations?
If we get married only expecting the “for better” and are surprised and resentful of the “for worse,” we’re going to be like the masked rioters who live in outrage because everything isn’t going exactly as we think it should.
Do you expect to raise several children without one of them having medical issues, developmental challenges, or any spiritual rebellion at all? Do you think you can be a member of a church and never be disappointed by a pastor or fellow church member? Do you expect to agree with all parts and every one of a pastor’s sermons and every decision made by the church leadership? Or do you get outraged at one disagreement and loudly storm out the door, telling everyone on Facebook why?
Do you think one disagreement with a spouse, one behavioral issue, one lethargic season is one too many?
Just what does it mean, really, when we pledge to be together, “for better and for worse?” Is there a place in our lives for the “worse” or are we going to make the “for worse” even more miserable because we’re outraged that life isn’t always perfect and then storm out the door?
When I see in a documentary a husband and wife leading their kids out of a bombed-out city, carrying everything they own on their backs, walking through the rain, and then I talk to a couple who leave their million dollar mansion to tell me why they can’t be happy together anymore, you’ll have to forgive me, but sometimes I think that woman from the war-torn country was on to something. As long as we expect every day to be perfect and every season to be “happy,” every storm to be minor, and every marriage to be always connected and euphoric, I don’t know why we ever pledge to be there for the “for worse.”
I don’t think it’s possible to run 50,000 miles without an occasional injury. And I’m not sure it’s realistic to be married for 50,000 hours without some major disappointments. But that, alone, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep doing it. Let’s thank God for the “for better,” but let’s not curse him (or each other) for the “for worse.”
Every marriage, every life, will have plenty of both.
[Note: with the other blog posts I’ve written, I trust readers will understand I’m not considering abuse as a part of the “for worse” that needs to be accepted rather than fled.]