Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In

I was pissed. If I didn’t feel it emotionally, my hoarseness revealed it. The children had scattered to their rooms. Even Isaac who was foolishly brave during “knock-down, drag-outs,” had retreated to his bedroom. That’s when it happened. I yanked the suitcase out of the closet. 



How had it reached the point that, even a small part of me, would consider breaking covenant? How could I possibly survive without my beloved? 


I looked at the suitcase in my hand and slumped down to the floor; all energy draining from my body. I became uncharacteristically silent. 


It was in that moment that I was finally able to hear the loving pleading of my wife. “You need help.” Yes, she was right. Yes, I would call first thing Monday morning.


***


Nearly thirty-three years ago, my wife and I publicly entered into covenant with one another. With the covenant revealed in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) between God and the Israelites informing us about how to live in relationship, we were married. We covenanted with one another, and with God. (See “The Core Secret of Our Marriage for more about covenant.


The dripping humid day when we committed our lives to one another was only the beginning. Maintaining a relationship takes emotional energy and regular time spent focused on one another. Human beings are constantly evolving and changing. We have ups and downs. There are times when we’re not so much fun to be around.


The challenge for two people in a covenantal relationship is to choreograph growth and change. Finding ways to dance through the stormy weather is perhaps the most intricate choreography. The steps are not always obvious.  Uncomfortable emotions tempt us to leave the stage entirely.

This is the second in a series about living in
covenant with another person.

Living in Covenant Series
The Core Secret of Our Marriage
Keeping Covenant When the Storms Roll In
It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! No, It’s My Wife!

That morning when I pulled the suitcase out of the closet was not our finest hour.   We’d bought an old 1850s house (think Tom Hanks’ Money Pit) in upstate New York. Both children were still living at home. I was working multiple jobs. We were both working too much. Our lifestyle was not sustainable. I know I was not fit to live with during those years. 


I was also unable to see that I was making poor choices. 


***

An unwavering commitment to one another–even during times when we’ve felt distant from one another–is indeed central to our long marriage. Our success is more than that, however. We truly like each other. We allow–no, we embrace–one another’s evolving growth and change. We truly want the other to be who they are called by God to be. 


We revel in one another’s joys and always have one another’s back. Yet, when one of us is not living into who we’re called to be as a unique human being, we speak forthrightly. That is, we call one another out.


During those years, my wife could see clearly that I was making poor choices. She knew I was working too hard and that I was physically exhausted. I couldn’t see it and would hear none of her pleadings.


Living in a covenantal relationship requires sticking it out when things are not going well. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel angry with one another. It doesn’t mean you don’t have good reason to dislike the other person. Likewise, part of a loving covenant – which includes God – is that we must each take care of ourselves. (There are times when leaving the relationship is the most appropriate thing to do. I will write about abusive relationships in a future blog.)


I was not taking care of myself during those times. The result was that I was taking it out on myself and those I loved the most. I am quite certain that my wife was irritated with me. I am quite certain that she was angry and worried about me.


In Judges 10, God is so frustrated with the Israelites poor behavior, with their breaking of covenant, that he laments, “Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14 NRSV).  God was tempted to break covenant with God’s people. Who could blame God? The people had left and worshiped other gods until they were under attack by the Ammonites. Then they came running back begging for God’s help.


Ultimately, however, God honors covenant. Because God “could no longer bear to see Israel suffer” (Judges 10: 16b NRSV), God responds compassionately. I imagine this was not unlike my wife’s experience. She had every rational reason to break relationship. Who could blame her? But in the end, her compassion and her commitment, reigned supreme.  



During that difficult time, my wife offered up the truth about me, sometimes with a little sugar and sometimes with a little vinegar. But still I could not hear her. Still, she hung in there with me. My wife saw the imago dei (image of God) through my armor of hurt, fatigue, and nastiness. Her patience and compassion and her commitment – our covenant – waited for a time when I could hear her pleading.


***


I looked at the suitcase in my hand and slumped down to the floor; all energy draining from my body. I became uncharacteristically silent. 


And I sobbed. Her arms around me, I felt God’s presence in our covenant. Then, I could hear God in the voice of my wife. “You need help. You can’t keep this up. I love you.”


***


God of Covenants,


Thank you for the extravagant love,
   that puts up with us no matter what.


Thank you for the love that forgives,
   even when we’ve ignored gentle pleadings,
      and angry pleadings.


Help us to include you,
   to accept your presence,
      to hear your voice in our relationships.


Help us to see the imago dei,
   in ourselves,
      and in one another,
          that we might be more loving.


In the name of the love which flows,
   within and throughout creation.


Amen.

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