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July 31, 2012 - Porcupine Wisdom and Marriage
By T. Ray Rachels
It is possible, I believe, for a marriage relationship to find renewal by embracing the meaning of Francis of Assisi’s prayer: “Lord, grant that I may seek more to understand than to be understood.”
Paul Tournier, Christian author and counselor, says, “It is the desire [for this understanding] which the Holy Spirit awakens in couples and which transforms their marriage.”
As long as a man is preoccupied primarily with being understood by his wife, he is miserable, overcome with self-pity, along with the spirit of demanding and bitter withdrawal. As soon as he becomes preoccupied with understanding her, seeking to understand what he had not before understood, and with his own shortcoming in not having understood her, then the direction of events and life begins to change.
“As soon as a person feels understood,” Tournier says, “he opens up, and because he lowers his defenses, is also able to make himself better understood.”
A couple who love each other but lack this quality of true understanding will suffer pain, continual biting pain, in their relationship. Understanding connects us to a willingness to give, adapt and adjust at the right time.
Somebody has likened a couple’s adjustment in marriage to two porcupines who lived in Alaska. When the heavy and deep snows came, they felt the cold and began to draw close together.
However, when they drew close they began to stick one another with their prickly quills. When they drew apart, they felt the cold once again. To keep warm they had to learn how to adjust to each other.
“Letters to Philip,” Charlie Shedd’s book of marriage wisdom to his nephew, tells of two rivers flowing smoothly and quietly along until they came together and joined. When this happened, they clashed and hurled themselves at one another. But as the newly formed river flowed downstream, it gradually quieted down and flowed smoothly again, now much broader, more majestic, and with more power.
A good marriage is often like that, Shedd says. When two independent streams come together, there will probably be some dashing of life against life at that juncture. Personalities rush against each other. Preferences clash. Ideas hit the rocks, all jockeying for power and position. And like the two rivers, what comes out of their struggle may be something wider, deeper and more powerful than they were on their own.
Many people today lack the kind of understanding necessary for a marriage to grow deep and strong. Understanding does not mean there will be no differences. It does mean that you are able to accept the fact that your partner may think, believe and do things differently from you. It means that you accept the fact that your partner’s past is different from your own, and because of that she/he will likely react to events, ideas and people differently from you. The beginnings of satisfaction and joy will follow that understanding.
The best advice for marriage partners I know is what the apostle Paul told the Early Church: “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it” (Colossians 3:12-14, The Message).
— T. Ray Rachels served as superintendent of the Southern California District of the Assemblies of God for more than 22 years.
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