I’m venting, pounding my palms on the car steering wheel as I drive the 20 minutes to a Franciscan center where my church is hosting a day retreat. I’m resentful, mad at my husband, and mad at myself because I feel he talked me into something I didn’t want to do.
This keeps happening. It’s been a hard year and a half. We’ve moved, and as part of reconfiguring our finances, I’ve taken on more work. When my husband asks me to consider another freelance project, I usually say yes and then complain bitterly as I work, creating a vicious circle of his resentment in turn. “But we agreed on this together,” he says with frustration.
Leaving our half empty coffee cups on our tables, the other retreat attendees and I are sent off after a time of lectio divina, slow and quiet pondering of a passage from Isaiah 55 that begins, “Come, all you who are thirsty” (niv). But the words that stand out to me are about listening: “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good . . . Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” Our leader tells us that one translation of this verse is listen “that your soul may live” (ESV). For over an hour, we’re asked to silently bring our inner “empty places” to God.
What emerges rocks me: Why do you listen to your husband as if he is Me? This scares me. Isn’t my husband supposed to speak God’s truth to me? Won’t it hurt my marriage if I don’t listen him?
And then more: The god you treat your husband as isn’t Me. The passage states, “Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” I realize that I’ve assumed a transaction with my husband: I’ll say yes to what you’re requesting, so I will feel safe. If I say yes, you can’t be angry with me long term for disagreeing with you. You can’t make sarcastic side comments for weeks afterward.
But the person I fear that response from is not God, nor my husband. It’s my hungover father from my childhood—the father (now a recovering alcoholic) who once said, “If you had gotten home earlier, I would have made a fencing sword for you” when he knew I had no plans to be home quicker than usual. From his careless treatment of me as a child, the thought leached into me that God must be capricious and toying with me. I’ve had multiple counselors and yet this lurking campaign for my soul persists—that God is not good and that I am not beloved. This is my “empty space.”
Since that retreat, I’ve been holding two thoughts prayerfully in outstretched hands.
- Fear has driven too much of my relationship with my husband. Almost at our ninth year of marriage, I’ve witnessed my husband’s fierce loyalty to his friends when they’ve quarreled and disagreed—how he returns to them with love. This is my husband. When we have an argument, he momentarily may be angry, but he continues to love me.
- I need to listen to God more about who I am. If my husband offhandedly mentions my inability to clean efficiently, my hunger for affirmation turns into a supposedly rational analysis. I pepper him with questions in a desperate, controlling attempt to make him revise his words or tell me one small behavioral modification so that he’ll change his view. Instead, I must remember that he could be right, or partially right, or maybe just wrong. My husband gets to be human. Maybe there is something I need to amend or maybe not. That’s something to listen to God about.
More importantly, as much as my husband loves me, I can tell myself, This isn’t the last word about me. Only one Person can have the last word about me. He’s the one who loves me best, and he’s the only one who can ultimately cause transformation.
Oh, God, help me to listen that my soul may live and my marriage can thrive.