"She Is the Holy Spirit To You"
On Thursday, Rebekah and I celebrated our twenty-first wedding anniversary. As I think back over the past twenty-one years, I can’t help but give thanks for all the blessings that God has given us, not least our four wonderful children. But I am also struck by how much I have grown as a person as a direct result of being married to Rebekah.
I have a friend who is a priest, his name is Fr. Jim Clark. And Fr. Jim once told me how he does marriage counseling. He sits the couple down, and offers two pieces of advice. First, he looks at the woman and says, “You have a project on your hands.” And then he turns to the man and says, “She is the Holy Spirit [to you.]” Now when I first heard this, my egalitarian sensibilities were slightly offended. After all, this didn’t seem to be particularly balanced or mutual. But for the most part, I think this is how our marriage has played out. Let me offer just one example.
When we were first married, Rebekah would come home from school or work and begin telling me about her day. If it hadn’t been a particularly good day, and she was feeling bad, I would listen, and then I would do one of two things. I would either explain why she didn’t need to feel so bad, or I would offer suggestions on how to fix the situation. I thought I was being helpful, but my advice and explanations rarely made her feel better, and in actuality they generally had the opposite effect. Rebekah would complain, “I want you to listen.” And I would say, “I am listening.” But I wasn’t listening, not really. I hadn’t learned to listen or empathize. Instead life had taught me to solve problems and fix things, to such a degree that I really didn’t know the difference between listening and giving advice, the difference between empathizing and fixing.
So early on in our marriage, Rebekah gave me John Gray’s book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. I read it. Reluctantly and suspiciously, I read it. And my eyes began to open, ever so slowly. For example, Gray writes:
When a woman is talking about the problems of her day, rather than assuming she is looking for solutions and giving solutions, a man can instead recognize that she is just needing to talk about her day and as a result she will feel better. With this insight, he is free to relax and listen without trying to interrupt with solutions (xxii).
Today, this all sounds like common sense to me, but twenty years ago it was a complete revelation. I found it incredible. How could the simple act of listening help Rebekah feel better? But it did, and it does.