Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. – Hebrews 11:1
In the months leading up to our wedding, my father and I transformed their basement into an apartment for Rachel and I. It was maybe slightly bigger than our honeymoon Boathouse, with each room connected and open to the next – bedroom flowed into sitting room flowed into half-kitchen (minus the sink). The laundry room we shared with my parents, as well as the downstairs bathroom. There was no separate entrance.
Before we left for our honeymoon, I was working a ten dollar an hour internship in the finance department of the Port Authority Transit Corp. It was scheduled to end almost simultaneously with our wedding. Looking back, how I was thinking to support a family, I do not know. I didn’t know what was ahead with my career, and honestly, I wasn’t thinking much about money at the time. All I knew was that living in my parents basement was going to allow us to get married sooner than we otherwise would have been able to.
I remember expecting a job to come find me. Besides, I was a College Graduate. I studied Economics. Couldn’t prospective employers tell how smart and hard working I was? Couldn’t they smell me out? Didn’t they sense that I could figure out how to do anything if given enough time and the proper training?
When we returned from our honeymoon, my employer graciously extended the internship for another few months if I wanted. Why not? I had no where else to go. But eventually I got tired of the office bickering and backbiting, complaining about the “man,” the pale-purple carpet, paneled walls and no windows, and not enough work to keep an ant busy for more than a minute. I wanted physical activity. So one day after work, I applied to Trader Joe’s. Before I knew it, I was waking up at 4 am for the early shift, breaking down pallets of dairy and grocery. This was actually a decrease in pay, but at least it kept me busy.
I didn’t really want a job that paid anything close to a reasonable income. Well, let me re-phrase: I wanted it, but I was afraid of it. I was afraid of money. Money seemed to corrupt, and I wanted to steer clear of its powerful grip. (Whether or not it was true was another matter.) I chose only to see the people, situations and circumstances where money did seem to go hand in hand with materialism, over-consumption, greed and selfishness. I did not take the time to talk with older Christian men and women who had reaped the financial benefits of their investments, and who were also extremely generous toward others.
It wasn’t only fear, but laziness. I didn’t want to have to think hard about how to use money. I wanted to have only one talent, and I wanted to bury it deep into the ground. More than that, I wanted to give it away. Let someone else bear the burden.
I read the biography of Hudson Taylor sometime during our engagement, and I relayed many of the stories to Rachel. Here was a man who gave up everything to follow Jesus into the mission field in China. He was like the disciples who took “nothing for their journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money.” He was free. Or so it seemed. “Why carry around such a burden if I can just give it all away and let the Lord carry it for me?”
In my head it all made sense. “Trust God to provide and he will.” But in reality, it was not so simple. I felt trapped in a net that I had woven. I had convinced myself (and Rachel) that to be godly was to not concern myself with money and material possessions. The preacher, the Christian conference, the online sermon, the book on Christian living – they were all telling me to give up everything for Christ’s sake, and to take up my cross and bear it.
I was laying everything down, but was left with nothing of any substance to take up. “What does all this mean?” I’d wonder. The refrain I was hearing was, “Tell others about Jesus!” “It’s the best news ever. How could you keep it to yourself?” “There’s only one thing you can’t do in heaven, and that’s evangelize.” “Don’t waste your life.” And these words of Spurgeon: “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” I didn’t know whether to feel embarrassed or emboldened.
Perhaps their intentions were good, but all I heard was evangelism, evangelism, evangelism. It seemed that to occupy my time, money and thoughts with anything unrelated to this task was a waste of my life.
So I tried to make it my life. I tried to live free from the burden of money, but instead became more enslaved, reducing generosity, evangelism and following Christ to a formula. I tried to tell others about Jesus, only to find that the message I was sharing died on my lips. And the harder I tried, the more dismal and joyless I became.
This philosophy had a profoundly negative impact on the early months of our marriage. It was hard for us to stay grounded in our thoughts. It seemed like every few days we’d be thinking about some new venture, a new potential “calling.” We seriously considered becoming missionaries in China, just like Hudson. We switched back and forth between so many options that it not only made our heads spin, but also all those around us that had to listen to our endless ideas.
When it came down to it, our struggle was this: we did not want to let ourselves enjoy life too much, for fear that it was at someone else’s expense. It felt like every choice we made, particularly having to do with money, had some sort of eternal repercussion. We felt guilty spending more on ourselves than we thought necessary. Where we came up with the standard for what was “too much” I do not know. It felt like it was all or nothing. Give all, or risk not being called a radical follower of Jesus.
It was a dichotomy too heavy for us to bear. Talking to others didn’t seem to help. “What if they, too, are deceived,” I thought. “What if we are surrounding ourselves with a ‘multitude of counselors’ who all think the same way? What if they are all blinded by materialism?”
There was something else that compounded the difficulty in those early months. Rachel had moved into my life. My family. My friends. My church. My town. She did not work much outside the home at that time, except a few hours a week at the church office. But besides that, she had no organic way of getting to know anyone in the area. This was the complete opposite of her four years prior in college. Now, she felt desperately alone, and in that soil of desperation, depression took root. And grew.
It was exactly one month after our wedding day. We kept a journal at the time, in which we would write back and forth to one another, in hopes of capturing some sweet and blissful moments of life together. Instead, I felt that as I wrote (for I ended up doing most of the writing) I was grasping. I was trying to capture something in that first month that was buried deep, and would take years to fully unearth.
It was a Tuesday. We had a hard time falling asleep the night before. Something seemed to be bothering Rachel but I couldn’t tell what. I left for work early, as usual, to make the 5 am shift. Rachel was still sleeping. By 2 pm I was back. “Hi mom.” Down the stairs.
There she was, sitting at the foot of the bed. I could tell she had been crying. Despite my best efforts at questioning, she remained silent. This I could not understand, so I pressed harder, thinking that if I only asked the right questions, it would be like a key opening the floodgate of her mind. My questions were half-jokes, hoping to lighten the mood. But it only darkened.
My questions exasperated both her and me, and I reluctantly gave up. In my defiance (if you could call it that) I picked up Crime and Punishment in hopes of accomplishing something, getting somewhere in a book. Raskolnikov was pacing feverishly in his apartment, subtlety plotting murder. Rachel picked up the journal and wrote:
You asked me how I am. And I hate that question when I am full of feelings that make me want to run until I die. Do you ever feel that way? But feelings are a mess. I shouldn’t listen to them, but I don’t know how to fight them very well at all. So I’ll tell you some of the things I’ve been wondering about in my head. Stop if you think I shouldn’t.
One thing I wonder is why you don’t talk to me much anymore. I guess I’m not much to talk to. And why do you joke around so much of the time? Your humor is one of those things I’ve always loved about you. But now it seems to be so much of the time. It seems you don’t care to be serious much.
And I still don’t understand that you love me. I understand that you are willing to live with me and support me. And that is a lot. Thank you of that. But I thought it was something more than that – a wanting to know one another, for one. I thought that was something you wanted. But I’m not very good at initiating that either, so I’m not blaming you. But I say it because it just doesn’t make it easy for me to understand that you love me.
I don’t really like being married so far. I thought our unity would grow significantly. We are allowed to do things now that we couldn’t while we were dating and engaged. But so far I think I enjoyed those times better. I feel further from you than I can remember.
Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong. I’m sure that I am. But I don’t know how I’m off, and how I should be thinking. Do you feel the same way as I do? I know we made a promise to each other that we can’t keep without the help of God. Please God, help me. But I thought I would share this with you. I do love you. I am committed to loving you. I want that to grow. I know that God wants our love to grow, and to be a reflection of his love. Maybe it’s so hard for me because I still don’t understand his love. That’s still so hard for me. But I want to grow in that, too. I don’t want all this that I say to hurt us, but I want to get it off my heart and let God change my heart.
He can do that, I hope.
“Do you feel the same way as I do?” I did. But I hadn’t the courage to say it. I, too, was imagining it would be so much more than what we experienced in that brief month. We desperately wanted it to work. We had made a promise. A promise we couldn’t keep without the help of God. And now we really needed his help. We were looking back on life before marriage, longing to go back in many ways because we felt closer then. Life seemed simpler then. Yet we pressed forward in the hope that what we longed for would somehow, someday, come to fruition.
Part eight. Part ten.