The first part of my interview with Margaret and Dwight Peterson about their book, Are You Waiting for “The One”?, can be found here.
In contrast to concealing the truth, you devote one chapter to friendship within marriage. While you acknowledge that friendship hasn’t always been seen as an important or even expected part of the marriage relationship, you do advocate being intentional about cultivating a friendship between partners. Why is this important? And what have you seen hinder marital friendship?
We do value friendship in marriage (and our own friendship in our marriage), in large part because life and marriage are a lot more fun when you’re friends with your marriage partner. It is fun to enjoy the company of your spouse, to know (and be known by) him or her more deeply as the years go by, to accumulate a shared history of work and play and conversation, to cultivate a maturing appreciation of the things that led you to marry this person and of things you had no idea characterized your mate when you married him or her.
Something that increasingly hinders friendship of any kind is an unwillingness (or inability) to pay attention to another person for any sustained period of time. We live in an increasingly distracted and distracting culture in which we’re surrounded at all times by dozens of competing claims on our attention–TV, computers, cell phones, digital devices of all kinds. No one who is glued to a screen or a keypad is in a position to be a friend or have a friend.
Churches will occasionally hold marriage conferences or feature sermons about marriage. What are other ways that churches can provide nurture for the kinds of marriages you envision in this book? Alongside that question, how do churches support marriages without seeming to lift the married life up as the goal and standard in contrast to singleness.
“Something that increasingly hinders friendship of any kind is an unwillingness (or inability) to pay attention to another person for any sustained period of time.”
It might seem counterintuitive, but we think one way to nurture marriages is to talk less about marriage per se, and more about relationships more generally, and the qualities of character (kindness, patience, helpfulness, honesty, empathy, reliability) that can help to sustain and deepen relationships. In our class, we often assign a book about the fruit of the Spirit, and we’ve had students say that they wondered why such a book was assigned in a class on marriage–what, they wondered, did the fruit of the Spirit have to do with marriage? Then they read the book, and listened to us talk about it, and thought, Oh, I get it now. Marriage isn’t something different from loving relationship; marriage is a species of loving relationship, and anything that fosters a person’s ability to be in relationship will foster that person’s ability to be married well.
Which speaks to the second part of your question: both single persons and married persons are equally called to faithful Christian relationship. Some of the specifics are different for singles and for married persons, but fundamentally, these are just different ways to be a Christian, and neither is intrinsically better than the other–each has its own challenges and its own rewards. Acknowledgement of this from the pulpit, along with efforts to foster relationships of a variety of kinds among church members, can go a long way toward supporting both single and married persons in their various relationships (including the marital relationships of married persons).
This makes me think about your chapter on families in which you identify four characteristics of Christian families: hospitality, compassion, justice, and reconciliation. Our adoption by God changes how we think about family, yet it’s easy to define ourselves through the expected categories of single, married, and family (once children come along). How might a church push against the division created by these categories such that each person expects to experience and participate in the characteristics of Christian families?
The efforts made by some churches to offer “ministries” to singles, couples, and “families” (usually defined as parents and young children) can have the unfortunate effect of making segregation by age and stage of life seem normal and desirable. We think this is really impoverishing, and would far prefer that churches make an effort to create opportunities for differences (like age and life stage) to be bridged rather than reinforced. One strategy for helping this happen that we’ve employed in our own life is that we try to make sure we have friends in every decade above and below us. We’re both 50 now, so that means we try to cultivate friendships with older friends (in their 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s) and with younger friends (in their 40s, 30s, 20s, teens, and childhood). The older we get, the more intentional we have to be about making new young friends. When we were younger, it was the older friends we had to be more intentional about seeking out. At any age, it’s been really enriching, and has really helped us to experience the whole church as a family, not just those members of it who happened to be at a similar place in life.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. I’ll end with a final question. From your vantage point of years and experiences, what do you most hope your college students will consider as they ponder marriage at some point in their futures?
We hope that our students will be able to engage both their hearts and their heads as they consider whether they will choose to marry at all, and whom they might want to choose as a partner in the married life. And, we hope that they will approach the whole subject of marriage with confidence that they can make good choices, and find great satisfaction and enjoyment in their lives and relationships. Marriage can be a great blessing–to marriage partners, to families and children, to churches and to social and political communities. It’s not the only good way to live the Christian life, but it is a good way, when it’s done faithfully and lovingly.