I’ve talked about how hard it’s been here over the past year. There have been deaths and serious illnesses of friends and in the family. We’ve suffered recurring distress that I probably won’t ever be able to talk about on the blog because it involves more than just me. (I am wide open when it comes to my own life, but I don’t have that liberty when it comes to other people’s lives).
Someone crashed into our car and refused to take responsibility for it. Of all these things – without factoring in the loss of loved ones – what was probably the greatest hardship is that we hired a reputable construction company who came in and basically destroyed our house. Never mind that it wasn’t intentional. Never mind that the guy who owns the company is on the brink of ruin and is probably too depressed to call us back. We are looking at a house full of holes and mold, broken window guards and broken marquise… with no means to hire another company to correct and finish the job.
My husband and I have a peaceful marriage. Our fights are few and far between, and to his credit, he’s a peacemaker. A non-reactionary. To mine, I can see quickly when I’m wrong, and I’m a good apologizer. Those of you who’ve been married any number of years are not likely to be surprised when I tell you that this pressure that threatens the peace and stability of our home, going on a year now, has caused more fights between us than everything else we’ve faced put together. Even the year’s unemployment and collapse of our church following 9/11.
I’m a go-getter. My husband’s a strategist.
I’m a warrior. My husband’s an ambassador.
I’m rash. My husband is cautious. In the grand scheme of things, we’re a good match. We balance each other out. But the situation in our house has caused each of us to struggle in different ways, and it’s caused each of us to react in different ways. And it was over this difference in reacting that I lost it Friday morning.
There are no screaming matches between us. But when I feel my words are failing to sink in and we are at an impasse, I’ll get up and get busy. I’ll open the windows and fling open the iron shutters with a satisfying clatter. I’ll yank open the dishwasher and let the dishes rattle as I put them away with loud clanks. And when I saw my husband quietly making his good escape to sort out his thoughts in his own way – when I heard the door close – I did something I’ve never in my life even been tempted to do. I looked at the porcelain dish in my hand, and without a second thought, I hurled it on the floor with the greatest force I could muster, and listened to it smash.
It felt satisfying.
It did. There was an immediate need to get the broom and dustpan, of course, and sweep all the larger fragments into piles. And then I knew I needed to vacuum immediately or someone (probably me) would end up with a shard in the foot and would probably have to return to the emergency room to have it taken out. An experience I was not keen to repeat.
The first thing I noticed in cleaning was how far-reaching the effects of the smash were. There were porcelain bits in other rooms that were not even in the direct trajectory of the kitchen. I was astonished that the pieces could reach that far, and obtain such obscure resting places.
Having to tidy the mess I made gave me occasion to think. It made me think how far anger reaches. How that rash, satisfying explosion of anger can creep into places we could never see coming. How it affects people and future circumstances we never imagined would be affected.
It didn’t take much sweeping before I was able to see the real problem with smashing a dish. The plate was cheap and the act seemingly innocuous, but while it might once have been cute and forgivable (I’m not talking about God’s forgiveness, which covers everything, but more in the sense of being understandable), at 21 years in the faith, it’s no longer the case. Before I had picked up all the pieces, I was convicted that I had sinned against God.
The truth is, anger is not one of my major struggles. I could have resisted the urge. Maybe someone else needs more grace in the area of anger, like I need more grace in the area of greed – you know when it’s THE major character struggle? But anger is just not mine. I smashed the plate because I felt like it, and I wanted to express LOUDLY my discontent. And that’s all.
The situation reminded me of Moses in the desert when the Israelites grumbled because there was no water.
The first time this happened, Moses went to God with the complaint. He warned the people that their complaints were not against him, but against the Lord Almighty, and he urged them not to test God in this way. He not only helped them to see the broader spiritual picture, he got them the water they needed.
The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”
Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Exodus 17:1-6)
Moses obeyed God, he struck the rock, and water flowed out to meet the needs of the people. That is a beautiful story.
But after much time had passed in the desert (and much time had passed in my marriage – are we still dealing with this same issue?), when Moses was growing old in both years and in the faith – at a time when his intimacy with God should have brought about a faithful response, a similar scenario occurred. This is what happened in Numbers 20:
Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. The Lord said to Moses, “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”
So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (Numbers 20:2-12)
At first glance, you think – what’s wrong with striking a rock? That’s what God told him to do the first time, so why is it a sin now? And was it such a big sin that he had to be excluded from the promised land? Come on, God! Isn’t that a little harsh?
Moses sinned because he was angry. He sinned by taking God’s glory for himself (as if he was the one who brought forth the water). He sinned by misrepresenting God – anger instead of grace. Moses spent 40 days on the mountain of the Lord communing with God! He should have known and trusted God enough to listen, and to meet the needs of the people the way God instructed him to …
Speak to the rock.
Instead, he vented his spleen. I hadn’t even vacuumed up the last shard before I was convicted of my sin before God. I hadn’t finished cleaning before I was asking God’s forgiveness and realising, you know what? No matter how convinced I am that my husband should deal with the contractor situation my way rather than the way he’s doing it, I would rather be right with God than be right.
And that pretty much rings true across the board whether it’s dealing with marital conflicts, handling political turmoil, or facing different ideas on what it means to practicing holiness. I would rather have God’s approval than be right.
That same morning, I told my husband what I’d done and what I had learned. In turn, he shared with me how he had gained certain convictions about what he needed to do, and then he did them. The conversation brought us closer.
We’re still stuck in the construction mess … for now. The circumstances haven’t changed – that was the theme song of 2016, by the way 🙂 – but our hearts are at peace, and we’re at peace with one another.
If you’re married, don’t you agree that you can handle just about everything else as long as that is in place?