Friday, October 13, 2006

words and deeds

Lord, have mercy on me a sinner!

I pray for my wife, because she has such a miserable example of an Orthodox Christian to look at. Our interaction about Orthodoxy has changed over time, but it never really seems to get any better. Early on (for quite some time before I encountered Orthodoxy), I didn't talk to her about what was going on in my head. I didn't share with her the changes in my thinking about truth and revelation, or how that was affecting my faith in Christ, or how desperately I needed to find a supportive community. I didn't talk to her when I was thinking about leaving Christianity for Judaism. I mean, we talked--just not about anything particularly important or directly related to faith. I just kept going through the motions at church and kept my mouth shut. The reason I gave myself for this silence was that she would take things too seriously, too personally, too emotionally, and she would overreact to ideas that might or might not stick around. Of course, I know now that it would have been better to start talking with her--and with others--about this stuff a lot sooner. But there it is anyway.

Eventually I realized that my thinking was leading me dangerously close to real action--going to a different church, or converting to a different faith, or something along those lines--which would inevitably affect her. The only way I could move forward in any sense was to talk to her about what I was thinking. By that point, we were so far apart in our thinking, that nothing ever really connected. From Messianic Judaism to Orthodox Christianity, the best we could ever do was occasional discussion about the issues involved, mixed with long stretches of silence, hoping that things would somehow work themselves out.

After several unproductive attempts at discussion about Orthodoxy, I began to get advice that I should just pray and live my faith before her, and trust God to work in his timing. So that's what I started to do. My prayer life became more stable, I was reading Scripture regularly, I was learning and growing and strengthening in my faith, and I was trying to make substantive changes in my life. None of it seemed to have much effect, but it's not like I was doing it just so she would be impressed. It was all stuff that I needed to do anyway. Still, it would have been nice to see it have some kind of effect.

Now I'm wondering, though, if I took the advice further than it was meant. Was the point to expect actions alone to make the difference? Or do actions need to be explained to have any effect on others? Take an example. During the Dormition Fast, I decided not to watch Simpsons reruns during the week. For several years now, one of the local channels has aired two Simpsons reruns every weekday evening (6:00 and 7:00). Most evenings I would watch one or both of them--usually episodes that I had already seen multiple times. For some time, my wife had been bugging me about it, since I get home at 5:00, and Ian goes to bed at 7:30. At some point during the fast, I decided that I was going to give it up entirely. I knew I was watching too much TV anyway, and that was the biggest single change I could make to my viewing habits. As a side effect, I was expecting her to notice. It was a few weeks before she even noticed that I wasn't watching Simpsons anymore (aside from the Sunday evening episode--usually new or recently released). When it finally did come up, I tried to simply acknowledge the change and drop the issue, without making a big issue out of my reasons. Some time later I was asking why she didn't seem to credit Orthodoxy with any of the changes in my life, and it turned out she had never put together the connection. I don't know if it made any difference in her opinion of Orthodoxy when I finally did explain my thought process, but the point is that she never would have had any clue if I hadn't explicitly spelled out what I was doing and why.

Last night, I brought up an idea I'd been mulling for a few days about how we might change our TV viewing habits during prime time. I won't go into the specifics here, but one of my main objectives was to create enough flexibility that we could interact more directly in the evening. She brought up that often she spent the evening watching TV because I was reading in the other room. I responded that I was reading in the other room because she was watching TV. Again, the thinking behind my actions never came through until we actually sat down and talked about it.

So, what does this mean? Was I wrong to think that my actions would speak for themselves? If so, is it a general rule, or is it a problem with my own execution? If not, why does it seem like nothing ever gets through until we talk about it? And how do I make a point of discussing what I'm doing and why, without an attitude that she should look at what a great job I'm doing?

No comments: