(Parentheses)

Our first fight was about chicken.

The details aren’t important, which I’m sure will surprise you. After all, what could be more important when tending the vulnerable bud of a new relationship than chicken?

We were 18 and full of confidence in our inherent rightness on matters of life, politics, theology, and of course, chicken.

I wish I could say that we’ve matured since the Chicken Fight of 2005, but two days ago we fought about mail.

We are 33 and full of confidence in our inherent rightness on matters of life, politics, theology, and of course, mail.

The couple doing our premarital counseling gave us tips for “fair fighting” which we ignored completely. They told us things like “don’t yell” (we did), “don’t use sweeping ‘always and never’ statements” (we always do), and “sandwich complaints between compliments” (we don’t).

Wisdom rarely comes from advice but rather is the result of daily acts of stupidity slowly morphing into a deep and unspoken understanding.  

In our almost 12-year marriage, we’ve had 18 jobs and seven homes in three states; we’ve survived family crises, broken relationships, alcoholism, two ordinations, job promotions, and terminations. We’ve started a business, paid off debt, and collected some more. We’ve taken on home projects, and we’ve purchased cars, appliances, and a few degrees. We also threw three children and a few pets into the mix, just for good measure.

We’ve had a lot of opportunities to fight, and we’ve taken most of them.

Fight by fight, we’ve learned more about ourselves and each other. We know that I’m more likely to play victim, and he’s more likely to deny fault. I’m blunt, and he uses too many words. I see connections between this fight and that fight, and he sees each disagreement as an easily explainable and isolated event.

Since we have three kids and are rarely alone, we have had to perfect the art of text-fighting. Unlike an actual conversation, text-fighting allows more time to hone your biting response, or if you can muster it, one that is more grace-filled. But the downside to text fighting is that sometimes you have to communicate non-fight-related information mid-argument.

Enter parentheses.

So imagine us, text-fighting about how he always forgets the mail and how he never remembers to bring it in and how horribly insensitive and unfair he is for this mail-related atrocity, and he’s like I know I forgot it THIS time, but it was just this ONE time, and it’s completely explainable and not at ALL like all the other times I’ve forgotten the mail.

Back and forth we go, one beeping notification of moral superiority after another.

And then: (I’m walking into Trader Joe’s. Need anything?)
(Yeah. Apples and eggs.)
(On it.)

Other times it’s: (We need to pay the mortgage) followed by (I was just thinking the same thing. I’ll do it now.)

I text, he texts, I’m rude, he’s rude, then: (Oh my gosh, Case just said, “If you exist” instead of “if you insist.”) to which he responds (My heart. I miss y’all.), and I say (We miss you too.)

The unspoken rule in our text arguments is that anything spoken outside of parentheses is part of the fight while anything inside parentheses is a pause.

And sometimes a pause in the middle of the battle is a holy moment.

The parenthetical statements remind us that we’re connected on the big things, even when we’re divided on small things. The parentheses say, “My illogical infuriation about chicken stands (but our life together is invaluable to me).”

Parentheses remind us that a bigger story is a play.

Our parentheses hold in tension the reality of our disagreement and the reality of our love.

Millions of Christians around the world are in the middle of Lent, one of the penitential seasons of the Church year. The point of Lent isn’t to lose weight or give up social media. The point isn’t to become a better mom or vow to have Instagram-worthy quiet times, journaling in quiet piety while sipping tea. The point of Lent isn’t for all Christians around the world to have a trial run of Calvinism, wherein we all decide for 40 days we’re wholly depraved.

Lent is parenthetical.

Lent is a time to hold in tension the reality of our security and the reality of our brokenness.

We are fulfilled. (We are barren.)
We are enlightened. (We are wandering.)
We are empowered. (We are confined.)

It’s a time to reflect on our lives, the highs and the lows of our human experience. It’s a time to ask ourselves the hard questions about our weaknesses, our temptations, and our sinfulness. It’s a time to face the sobering reality that we’re powerless to make ourselves well. The fracture between our natures, the sacred and the sinful, is too vast.

Lent reminds us that we need a Savior who integrates and redeems.

And so this holy pause of Lent becomes more than a time to fast, repent, recalibrate.

Lent is a time to remember that all of the “lifey” things that are part of our human experience are also part of our spiritual experience. Lent doesn’t say none of this matters; it says (ALL of this matters.)

Lent is a time to hold in tension the reality of our human failings and the reality of our redemption.

We are broken. (We are made whole.)
We are sinners. (We are made sacred.)
We are Lent. (We are Easter.)

6 thoughts on “(Parentheses)

  1. Linda Newton says:

    I liked this a lot because it paints a clear picture of the complexity of our most important relationships – our frustrated feelings can become toxic if we cannot carefully deal with them. More great writing!

    Like

  2. Brenda Sharp says:

    Oh My Gosh, this is wonderful. Heart warming, honest, loving, witty — I could go on and on but I’m sure you don’t need to read more words. However, my praise is from my heart. Excellent writing and Lenten reading.

    Liked by 1 person

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