Friday, April 28, 2006

ups and downs

Interaction with my wife on the issue of Orthodoxy has had its ups and downs. I guess you get used to certain modes of existence, because if I take a step back and look with a broader perspective, even the ups are never very high. Still, it doesn't take much to get me excited.

Her initial reaction was generally quite negative. I think a lot of the reason was that almost from the start I was talking in terms of actually leaving Evangelicalism, which of course would mean leaving our church of nine years, leaving the many friends we'd made there, leaving anything that resembled familiar religion in her life. If it had just been one more wacky idea I had--something that could just bounce around in my head for a while before moving on to something else, or perhaps at worst changed some of my personal practices--I don't think it would have bothered her. But uprooting our family would be something quite different, and that she wasn't going for. I suppose I balked at the negativity, because after some initial forays, I settled down to my usual mode of reading and thinking a lot on my own without further discussion.

Later, when she was away visiting her brother, I decided to visit another Orthodox service and mentioned it to her (after the fact) when we talked on the phone. It was insensitive and bad timing, and things didn't go well. She had assumed I'd lost interest, and these were not ideal circumstances in which to find out otherwise. Things were said on both sides that we've both come to regret. Anyway, we decided at that point that the issue was not going away on its own, and we would need to work on it more seriously--even get some help from others.

I met with our pastor to tell him about it, and we arranged to meet with him together. We started talking to Evangelical friends and talking to each other more regularly. Although her brother and his family had found out while she was there, they agreed not to tell anyone else. (We happen to have some dirt on them as well.) And so far, no one else in either of our families knows about it. I've thought many times that we should tell them, but she feels strongly, and I agree to some extent, that we have enough to deal with between the two of us, without involving our parents. Fortunately, at this point none of our family lives in this area, so there's not too much danger of someone accidentally mentioning it to them.

Anyway, our conversations about the substance of Orthodoxy never really went anywhere. We'd try to talk about what Orthodoxy had in common with Evangelicalism, but she would constantly look for where the similarities ended. I'd want to explain something in great detail, so I could clarify everything; she'd get lost or fall asleep before I really got going. At one point, it was clearly hurting our general interaction with each other, because she was afraid any time we talked it would turn into a discussion about Orthodoxy. As a result, we set aside one night a week to discuss it. At other times, I could bring something up casually--like if I visited a service and wanted to mention something about it afterward--but nothing too deep. Eventually, we concluded that even our weekly conversations weren't really getting anywhere. She was getting some idea of what Orthodoxy entailed, but none of it appealed to her.

We agreed that she should visit a service. We were unsuccessful in arranging anything until we went on vacation last summer with another couple. We weren't planning on going to church on Sunday, so I decided that I would visit an OCA mission parish nearby for Vespers on Saturday. My wife suggested that I ask in advance if the others wanted to go along, in case they found out about it after we got there and felt bad for not having brought anything appropriate to wear. She said that if they were interested, she would also go. I should have known better than to let her first service be one in a church I'd never attended. I figured other people would think like I did--we're on vacation; we'll want to hit the beach in the morning, so we'll catch a service in the evening. Apparently not--the five of us (including our two-year-old son) outnumbered the regulars. They were happy to have us, but it was by no means the most impressive service I've ever been to. On top of that, my wife generally dislikes very small churches. I later found out that the husband in the other couple that was with us felt the presence of God in that place, but I knew I'd have to get her to another service at some point.

We ended up visiting a couple more services--half of a Divine Liturgy at the nearby OCA parish, and another Great Vespers at an Antiochian parish. Some other friends went with us to the latter. In both cases, our son was a huge distraction for her, and she didn't have much positive to say about the services. She thought they seemed more reverent, but she also suspected that a lot of that was just the form, which might cover up less reverent hearts. Otherwise, the music was foreign, the prayers too repetitious, and everything just a bit too wordy and formal. Are you catching the ups yet?

We decided we ought to get some outside counseling--on how to communicate about the issue, if nothing else. We contacted a Christian counseling center that recommended (among other things) that we talk to a local Anglican pastor. He had started out as a Baptist pastor, considered Orthodoxy and Catholicism, settled on Anglicanism, and was open to talking about what he'd gone through. Also, as it turned out, his wife had disagreed with him to start out. We had some encouraging conversations with him. He recommended that we accept each other's pursuit of God, and if necessary go to separate churches, so we could both grow in the way we needed to. Everything seemed pretty positive while we were meeting, but whe we discussed it later, it was obvious that my wife was nowhere near ready to accept what I was doing. On top of that, the timing was horrible for attending separate churches. Two of her closest friends at church would soon be leaving, and several other changes were all coming at the same time. So, what had seemed like a positive turn fell back into the old groove.

I considered at that point that perhaps God wanted me where I am for a reason. I began to think about staying at our Evangelical church more long-term, albeit with some changes in the way I conduct myself. Not that I would be openly contentious or anything. I just wouldn't keep walking on eggshells forever. If it's my church, it's going to have to be my church; and that means, I'm going to have to say and do what I think is right. I thought for a while that perhaps there would be a way to convert to Orthodoxy on my own but keep going to church with my wife. I reasoned that, if there are plenty of people who were born and baptized Orthodox but who have little or nothing to do with the Church, I would at least be significantly better than them--perhaps not an ideal convert, but not the worst person around either.

Well, needless to say, my plan was not received well when I brought it up with a couple of priests. The discussions were good, though. I was encouraged to pray more for my wife and to work harder on living before her in such a way that she could see the difference Orthodoxy made. I was talking with her later on and asked what she thought was going on in my life--how she could think that I was more spiritually stable than her, had a better understanding of the Bible and theology, but had no clue what I was doing when it came to identifying what the Church ought to be. She explained that she really couldn't see what practical difference it was making in my life, which led to a good conversation about how I really have changed since finding Orthodoxy.

As I was still riding the wave of my first Pascha service (a few hours later on our way to the early service at our Evangelical church), she brought up out of the blue that she had decided not to serve in a regular ministry next year. The reason she offered was that she didn't want her obligation to be an excuse not to work seriously on the Orthodox issue. I was surprised, but I'll take what I can get. I had no idea she was so serious about it. In fact, I'd already encouraged her, when we were first talking about her current ministry ended, to get involved with the youth team, which I knew would need people.

Then, last night, I suggested to her that she visit another Orthodox service sometime without our son. I guess it occurred to me after taking him to a few services in the past couple of weeks that there really is a difference in the way I experience the service when he's there vs. when he's not. For her, it has to be a much bigger difference, since he's a lot more clingy with her, and she's already got enough to stress her out about going. She's also a lot less familiar with the services, so having so much distraction can't be helpful. Besides, even though it is true that she would have to deal with him being there if we ever started attending regularly, he would not always be so attached to her, and over time they would both get used to the situation. And given his sleep schedule, there would undoubtedly be times when we would have to alternate attending individually. In any case, I already know she's not crazy about the idea of having him in the service. I want her to have the chance to evaluate the service itself apart from that. Anyway, I'm happy to report that she agreed to go. We're going to wait until after our vacation later next month, but at least it's on the agenda.

No comments: