Tell Me What I Want (What I Really, Really Want)
By Janel Breitenstein
I used to think I was a perfectionist. My husband finds this amusing.
Because for me, following recipes exactly feels restrictive. Math, though necessary, is vexing and high-maintenance. And when it comes to housekeeping, occasionally I fail to see filth.
Eventually I pinpointed something: The reason I thought I was a perfectionist was actually because I hated my own failure.
(I’m not speaking for other perfectionists. You obnoxiously detailed people can relax.)
To use a math term (ugh), who I am and who I thought I was were incongruent.
It’s part of the human condition. Our desires and identities don’t line up.
We might want to be the kind of parent who’s home, loving on our kids. But work or distraction or image or money pull our very selves apart. Like Gumby in mom jeans.
In the intimate closeness of marriage, we have the ability to see our spouses’ incongruence. As Thomas Merton pleads, “Ask me what I think I am living for … and … what I think is keeping me from living fully for the thing I want to live for.”*
Compare this to the beginning of the shema, the most important Jewish prayer:
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
God is described, of all things, as One. He is utterly congruent.
And then we, too, are commanded to be utterly unified, loving God with all of us.
In fact, James 1:6-8 describes the person who doesn’t have faith as double-minded.
Ruth Barton writes that in transforming relationships, we’re “increasingly able to see what is truest and most essential to us and call us to it over time.”** The intimacy of marriage allows us to see the ways our spouse’s desires war inside of them—and beckon them to a truer, higher version of themselves.
Together in marriage, let’s help each other live what we long for most deeply. (Unlike the rest of math, this kind of congruence matters.)
The good stuff: Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. (James 4:8)
Action points: In what places do you spy a gap between the person you wish you were, or say you are, and the person you actually are? Discuss this with your spouse. Is there a way you’d like them to (lovingly) hold you accountable? What desires are most likely to compete with those you want to hold in first place?
*My Argument with the Gestapo (New York: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 160-161.
**Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community. Downers Grove, Illinois (2014), p. 75.
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