I started visiting a new church in the city we’ve moved to. It’s as different from Shack Church (our previous house of worship) as peanut butter is from humus. Both creamy, both legumes… and those are where the similarities end. They both have their merits, depending on what you’re looking for. In this new season, I’m looking to be in and out of God’s house in an hour and fifteen minutes. Brevity is a virtue. I’m sure that’s written somewhere in the Bible.
So in this new church, the pastor is very amiable. He wears jeans and suede Adidas while he’s preaching. His wife has a taste for linen and off the shoulder blouses. The pair is blonde and athletic, pronouncing each syllable of every word they utter with intention. I’ve never been a member of a “white church”, so I don’t know if this is remarkable or not. I know that every Black pastor (and his wife) I’ve served under has a specific Sunday uniform, and it does not translate from pulpit to Perry Ellis photo shoot without effort. All that being said, I can finally relax on Sunday because I know no matter what I wear, I will never be deemed underdressed.
The pastor – and I’ll call him Blake, because although I still don’t know his name, I observe that he has certain has Blake-ish qualities – centered his message around Valentine’s Day. Every Valentine’s Day, your Local American Church ™ is almost certain to talk about the love of Jesus as the ultimate love one could hope to attain. Blake mentioned Jesus once (though he alluded to Him throughout the message). This Sunday, Blake was all about his wife, Hayle.
You and I have spoken previously at length about the institution of marriage and its significance to the church here on this blog. Christians guard access to the establishment with fierce jealousy. More than any other group of people, Christians are preoccupied with the proliferation of marriages amongst their ranks. African aunties are a close second. Countless books, seminars, ministries, magazines and podcasts are dedicated to the subject. So it came as no surprise that when Blake got serious about God, he got serious about marriage.
He described to us how after receiving Christ, he began to make a list of things he wanted in a wife. ( I don’t know how he made the immediate leap from salvation to walking down the aisle, but this is Africa.) He wanted her to be Afrikaans, (weird, because he’s English) patient, pretty, trustworthy, responsible, prudent in all things, and all the other things that one thinks of when the term “wife material” is bandied about. The deeper he got into his relationship with God, the longer and more detailed his list grew.
And then he said something remarkable, something I don’t often hear African preachers make mention of at all, or ever. He said one day while he was praying, he felt God give him a smack.
As he recalled his list, he felt compelled to ask himself if the person who had all these qualities would be praying to meet – and consequently marry – a person like him.
Would a patient woman want to be yoked with someone with a quick and violent temper?
Would a financially responsible woman be praying to marry a man who spent recklessly?
The obvious answer was ‘no’. And then it occurred to him: He was praying for the woman of his dreams. In the state that he was in, would he be the husband of her dreams…or the man of her nightmares? Fortunately, Blake possessed enough self-awareness to recognize that he was no one’s knight in shining armor. He still had work to do on himself before he strode down anyone’s aisle. In his own words, he said: “I am responsible for my own fruit. My wife, my kids, my boss…no one else can make me a bitter, angry person. If the tree is bitter, the fruit will be bitter. I can’t control their actions, but I can control my response.”
This is not a groundbreaking revelation. What was revelatory for me was the phrasing Am I the man of this woman’s nightmares? He confessed with humility and forthrightness that he did not want to be.
This weekend, some of you …someone you know…or you yourself… are going to approach the adventure that is marriage with a jeweled band and a gimmick. Because it’s Valentine’s Day and because it’s cute to hide diamonds in hamburgers and watch your girl choke. Before you do, ask yourself the same question Blake asked himself: Are you about to be a blessing, or the Freddy Krueger of this person’s dreams?