This is Us, Advent, and Marriage

Did you see last night's episode of This is Us? Craig and I were bawling! After some reflecting, I realized what powerful implications the ideas in this episode have for our marriages—and (how fun is this!) our search for light.

(I don't think I'm giving too much away in this post, but feel free to save this post and come back to it AFTER you've watched it so you can be sure I haven't ruined anything.)

We knew before last night that Rebecca knew Randall's biological dad. This week, Randall finds out, too. He feels how you would expect him to feel: angry, hurt, betrayed, bereft. During the show, he starts talking to his dad (we know his dad is deceased, so to find out how he starts talking to him, you'll have to watch). At one point, Randall flashes back to his childhood. Even though the particular memory that plays out through a window in the cabin is filled with joy and love, all Randall can see is his mother's betrayal. The pain of his mother secret overrides and overshadows everything.

In one particular moment, after Randall ceases his grown-up ranting at his young mother, he and his dad have this (paraphrased) dialogue:

Dad: Do you feel better yelling at her?
Randall: No, because she couldn't care less.
Dad: Maybe you're looking at this all the wrong way...Relax your eyes and look through it. It's right there in front of you.

Randall looks through the window again. But just as if he's looking at a stereograph, trying to find the hidden image amongst a sea of colors and designs, his vision gets cloudy. The picture that emerges is entirely different from the one that had played out in his memory.

He sees another side of his mother, a side she had kept hidden.  A side that was filled with fear, anxiety, and bottled up pain. Rebecca rushes around to every door, every window, every lock, desperate to keep anything bad at bay.

As Randall watches her, frantic and afraid, he's filled with compassion for her. 

Mom! It's okay! We're right here!

I wonder what would happen within our relationships if we "relaxed our eyes" and "looked through," instead of directly at, what we can tangibly see happening in our spouse and in our relationship. Could there be another reason he/she is acting in a hurtful way? Could there be something bigger at play than what is first noticeable? 

"Relaxing my eyes" means setting down my self-protecting "glasses." I choose to see Craig and the situation without the filter of my pain. I set aside, for a moment, my own anger, my own hurt, my own past wounds, so that I may see him more clearly. When I am not defensive, when I don't assume things, when I choose to not take things personally, I can ask God for insight into the unseen.

It's like staring at a stereograph. In order to see beyond the mix of colors and designs, we have to look just beyond in order to see what is hidden within the picture. For me, I have to have my eyes fixed on Jesus in order to see the fullness of Craig.

And then, just as Randall saw his mom's fear, I can see Craig's. When he comes home from work, stressed and short-tempered, I choose to relax my eyes and see his fear of failure. When I am running around crazy trying to do ten things at once, Craig can choose to see that my desire to control is because I feel out of control and my need for security and love is high.

When we look through the situation, we see beyond the immediate behavior—we see the wounds. We see the true needs of our spouse. And there, there, we can find compassion. When I see Craig's pain, it makes me want to reach toward him. I desire to affirm him, to call out his identity in Christ. And how much more effective is this—for both of us—than me being critical of his attitude and dishing out harsh words right back at him?

This doesn't mean we don't eventually address the negative behavior, but it means we seek to care for our spouse's heart first. We entrust our own anger and pain to God for the moment so that we can be Jesus to our partner, offering healing words and unconditional love.

And then, when the bleeding is staunched, the bandaid applied, love dispensed, we can share how this wound in them needs deeper healing because it causes fresh wounds in us and in our relationship.

Seeing through to the unseen? This requires Jesus' light. We need His light to show us the dark places in ourselves and in our spouse. And this light, though it may initially hurt our eyes because we aren't used to it, this light brings healing. This light eradicates darkness. This light is what keeps us seeking more Truth.

But Satan keeps the darkness alluring. Many times, I have wanted to wallow in my own self-pity, afraid to reach out and see something different because I feel comfortable nursing my own wounds. It seems self-soothing and less risky.

But the greater risk is sitting alone in our isolated wounded-ness. The darkness is ALWAYS risky. The light, though not often an easy road, is what leads us to freedom.

Our prayer is that during Advent, we will choose to see the light in our spouses and that we will ask Jesus to illuminate the unseen. May we have great compassion for each other as we lead one another to the healing power of Jesus.