Managing a relationship is more complicated than managing yourself. Managing an intimate relationship is even more difficult. Mending a marriage that has a history of “attachment injuries” sometimes seems impossible. But Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy seems to provide the most powerful way to mend broken relationships. It doesn’t just restore things to where they’ve been. It helps people relate at levels of compassion, respect, empathy and intimacy like never before. This is what Dr. Keith Edwards spoke about at last week’s CAPS meeting. This approach softens the interface between the couple that has become calloused by pain. It equips each individual to care for the other, to comfort each other, and to contribute to the edification of the other. Even though this approach, founded by Susan Johnson, is not grounded in Christian theory, its product is very Christian. I think it could serve as a practical application of all the New Testament passages that deal with how we should treat “one another.”
In preparation for a class I teach on “Counseling and Law,” I was brushing up on the debate over “covenant marriages.” I don’t know whether this is a hot debate or simply some folks trying their darndest to strengthen marriages in the United States. Not very many couples are standing in line for it. Only three states have legislated it. Research into its effectiveness is very limited. Speculation and convictions are anything but limited. Rather than diving into the middle of the fray with my list of pros and cons, I thought I’d back up and try to clarify the difference between and covenant and a contract.
Dr. Samuele Bacchiochhi quotes Paul E. Palmer, a Catholic theologian, as saying:
“Contracts engage the services of people; covenants engage persons. Contracts are made for a stipulated period of time; covenants are forever. Contracts can be broken with material loss to the contracting parties; covenants cannot be broken, but if violated, they result in personal loss and broken hearts. Contracts are witnessed by people with the state as guarantor; covenants are witnessed by God with God as guarantor.”
Clearly, there is a theological tone to “covenant” that renders the notion more binding, more permanent, more sacred. It is in this context that Roger Sider says, “This contractual way of relating to others works quite well in business. Yet it is disastrous in personal relationships.” It seems to me that a contract outlines legitimate ways to part company, while a covenant specifies the ingredients that will preserve an enduring relationship. Whatever you call it, our marriage agreements need to be more binding in our hearts.
Michael Kinsley’s OpEd in the New York Times focuses on the political promises from our presidential candidates. It seems that the battle cry that rallies the strongest responses from voters is “change.” I’ve provided a link to Kinsley’s article because I think it’s worth the read. But it triggered some overarching ideas in my mind about the discrepancy between what many people want and what they seek.
We want love, but seek admiration.
We want acceptance, but seek attention.
We want autonomy, but seek only difference.
We want healing, but seek numbing of symptoms.
We want progress, but seek only change.
It’s in this context that I invite you to read this excerpt from Kinsley’s article about change.
There is nothing contemptible about a reluctance to change. Most of us have it pretty good in this country, and can’t be blamed for wanting things to stay that way. For that to happen, though, will require some wrenching changes. The list isn’t surprising, or really very long, compared with the list of our blessings. We need to use less energy and borrow less money. We need to fix our schools and reform our health care system. We need to end a stupid war.
Is this what people mean when they demand “change”? Are these things what the candidates have in mind when they promise to deliver it? If so, great. But all of these (except, maybe, ending the war) will require some changes that are unpleasant. We as a society have shown no tolerance for unpleasant changes, and politicians have shown no enthusiasm for trying to persuade us that they might be necessary.
If all you want is happy changes, you really don’t want change at all.
Michael Kinsley is a columnist for Time magazine.
All this makes me wonder what it really means to seek personal growth by seeking wisdom because without wisdom, I cannot decide what to keep and what to change:
“I [wisdom] love those who seek me, and those who seek me find me.” Proverbs 8:17
. . . or to seek personal growth by seeking the person of God because without a God in my life, I cannot expect to manifest the personal characteristics of God:
” ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” Jeremiah 29:13
. . . or to seek serenity by seeking the kingdom of God because everything I really need and want in life is a byproduct of this focus:
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, shelter, clothing] will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” Matthew 6:33
I think we all need to examine what we really want in life and then look at what we need to let go of in order to pursue what we really want, and then identify what we need to seek as a primary focus that will yield what is truly good.