I'm sure you remember my description of marriage, the words that every good Christian couple read right before feeling a profound nauseous shudder--"It's hard, but it's great." For most people, the word 'hard' conjures up ideas of suffering and pain and guilt and regret. The definition that I had in mind was something more like: "Not easy, in the sense of requiring genuine effort." Actually, I wanted to just write, "Not easy," but I'm pretty sure I would have faced the same fallout as the last post.
In rewriting that section, I would say, "Relationships are hard, but they're great. And the deeper the relationship, the harder it is. But the more effort you apply, the greater the reward." And keep in mind my definition of 'hard.'
Every interpersonal interaction we have every day is in fact a relationship. But the shorter the interaction, and the more superficial your knowledge of each other is, the more likely it is to continue without conflict. For example, my relationship with the cashier at our local supermarket is great. We've never disagreed about anything. Ever. We exchange our obligatory "Bonjour," she checks my food items (usually apples for Valérie and cookies for me), I give her money, and we say our obligatory "Au revoir." That's it.
But it's only that easy because of how lame it is. If I really cared at all about her, I would invite her to eat dinner with Valérie and I, and after she left we would both give a huge sigh of relief and say to each other, "She's got problems," or, "She is SO annoying," or, "Do you think she is on drugs?"
Now, increase the level of intimacy to solid friendship, or even further, to marriage, and you have multiplied the complexity and delicacy of the relationship by a million. I don't have to do a whole lot to convince the cashier that I'm a nice person, but my wife and my closest friends have seen me be a complete jerk. The likelihood of hurting the cashier's feelings is a lot lower than that of hurting my friends' feelings. And I'm a lot more likely to say or do something that upsets my wife than my friends, and it's not as though my wife is overly sensitive. In all reality, I'm the super sensitive one who takes everything way too seriously. Anyway, the closer the relationship, the more maintenance it needs.
This is because there is more at stake. We've got more to lose should this close relationship turn sour. So I say something stupid to the cashier and she thinks I'm an idiot. Big deal. Our entire interpersonal world is built on saying "hello" and "goodbye" to each other, and that's only because we're expected to be polite. So I'm having a bad day and I'm rude to her even though I know it's wrong. In the long run, who cares what she thinks about me? I don't have to prove anything to her.
But the deeper the relationship, the more we've got to prove, or at least that's how it feels. I guess it is unfortunate that we think of it that way. We spend all this time and effort to get close to people, earning the right to be comfortable being ourselves around them, and when we get there, we find out that it's not true. We can't be ourselves, because we are the problem laden annoying drug addict cashiers that we can't stand. And it is only in these relationships that we come to this hard realization.
The shocking revelation that we are complete losers is accompanied by a call to vulnerability. It isn't enough that through relationships we come to see our own faults, but God doesn't want us to cover them up. This goes against everything in our nature. Everything about our world seems to revolve around saving face or making ourselves look better than we actually are. When I see pictures of smiling celebrities I think about how much their life must suck. It must be awful to wake up with a huge zit on your face and know that you can't leave the house without covering it up because millions of teenage girls' hopes and dreams and ideas about beauty depend on your pretending to be perfect. There really isn't any difference between that and Adam and Eve covering up their mistake with a fig leaf.
But why does God want us to be vulnerable? First, because only when we're honest and vulnerable with Him does He get all the glory He deserves. To the extent that we try to make ourselves look good to God, we steal the glory of His victory over sin. Second, because only when we are vulnerable with God do we begin to realize how truly great our salvation is. As I begin to understand how terrible a person I really am, the good news that God's mercy and grace are infinitely greater than my sin increasingly looks like "Good News." Third, God wants all of our human relationships to reflect the first two reasons I gave. In relationships, this means that when I cover up my sin I'm actually stopping my friend, wife, etc., from seeing the worth of God and the magnitude of His love for them.