Imagine for me, if you will, a time when some one you knew announced, "We're engaged!" or "We're having a baby!" Think about it. It probably has happened quite a bit in your relational world. If not, you've surely seen these kind of announcements made on your favorite TV show or heard about it from friends of friends.
Both of these announcements are exciting, to say the least. Both usher the announcer into an entire new chapter of life. Bonding your soul to another and creating a new life are no small feats! Marriage and baby-birthing are incredible, miraculous, joy-filled, soul-stirring reminders that we are meant for depth, togetherness, sacrifice and love.
All that being said, I have been musing lately about the reaction that one may get from these announcements. Usually the response to the proclamation of marriage or up-coming baby, include shrieks of delight, tears of joy, laughter and high-fiving, parties thrown, gifts purchased and champagne flowing. Of course, all of these responses are warranted. Like I said, these events are so monumental that they should not be glossed over or dismissed. They are worthy of celebration. But I am also wondering why there is never really social space for reactions that are more appropriate for the reality of what is about to happen. Rarely is there discussion of how painful marriage and parenting can be. Seldom are there invitations put on the table for question-asking and counseling about the sacrificial, painful, lonely, frustrating, nerve-wracking, embarrassing, anxiety-inducing moments that come with "becoming one" and raising children. It would be viewed as totally inappropriate and pessimistic to even mention these things in the early stages of engagement and pregnancy. So then, it's not a wonder why so many newlyweds and new parents are stunned, bewildered and desperate when they do inevitably face the reality of new life with spouse or child that is not in fact, a fairytale but can at times be more like a nightmare.
One of my best friends just recently had her first baby. A sweet, tiny, precious, lavender-scented baby girl. London Ruby is her name and she is perfection. Brandi Michelle [her mom] can melt into tears just by looking at her sleeping peacefully in her little white eyelet bassinet. But just as easily, she can melt into tears with horrific helplessness when she's not sure how to make her stop crying, if she's had enough to eat, is she sleeping enough/too much??? As we drove together in the car for one of her first outings after the baby was born she said so honestly, so vulnerably, "I wish people were able to be honest about marriage and parenting. Sure the parties are great and the celebrations are fun. But I wish some one would have the guts enough to tell the full story. That marriage and parenting are hard. That you feel like you loose sometimes more than you feel like you win."
The fact is, that intimacy and vulnerability [and both are required in copious amounts for marriage and parenting] come with a mixed bag of outcomes. Vulnerability opens us up for intimacy. It exposes our weaknesses, strips us of our security blankets and asks, "Will you love me?" While intimacy creates space for deep relating, safety, being known, it can and often produces the painful reminder that our love and affection can sometimes go unrequited. Being married demands that we lay down our own rights [and let's just be honest, who LIKES to do that?] and give, give, give until it hurts. Parenting requires the same and also adds sleeplessness to the equation.
But it is because we love so DEEPLY that it hurts so BADLY. Being married has caused me more pain than all other experiences combined. But the only way for my husband to have so much power over me is because I let him. I invited him in to all the muck and mire of my own heart, asked him to get his hands dirty with my story and my woundedness. And he accepted. Being a mother has brought me to my knees so many times and it didn't take long for me to realize I feel completely ill-equipped yet instinctively capable at the same time. My kids in their innocent and completely unmarred understanding have brought me to the brink of despair only to yank me off the cliff with a cuddle or a soft touch from chubby fingers. This intense roller coaster of emotions can truly cause people to crack under the pressure of processing it all. And believe me, I've cracked more times than I care to talk about in public!
So from now on, when friends of mine make a big announcement, I will jump up and down and pop the cork for a champagne toast. But I will also send a card or an email, inviting them to coffee, asking them to talk about their fears, misgivings and down-right weaknesses that may contribute to the future pain of relationship. Because the reason for all the celebrations, the ceremonies and the gifts is because marriage and parenting produce some of the most gut-wrenching, jaw-dropping, hair-pulling, tear-jerking moments that lead to a new, refined, creation of you.