"Do now, do now, what you will wish to have done when your moment comes to die." [St. Angela Merici]

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Parallel Paralysis?



By Micky Wolf



For those familiar with the ministry of Marriage Encounter, there is a term used to describe the phenomena of people living together yet functioning in very separate lives—spiritually, emotionally and intellectually. The term is “married singles”. Written or spoken, it does not have a positive ring to it, and for good reason. A defining tenet in this kind of relationship is the belief that “because we can agree on what constitutes you doing your thing and me doing mine” we will have a happy and peaceful marriage. This approach may work for a season, even years. However, too often the two people involved eventually begin to realize that although they live in proximity, they also dwell in a state of dullness, or worse, disinterest and distance.

While the term married singles may apply most directly to marriage, it seems the associated attitudes and behaviors extend well beyond marital relationship. Socially and culturally we have become deeply affected with singleness. Where once existed intentional connecting that respected and valued all participants [in circumstances more than those of casual acquaintance], people now tend to engage in superficial associations. In many ways, we have become a nation of friend singles, family singles—even Christian singles. Such together-singleness speaks of a mind-set which places greater emphasis on self than on encouraging full participation in developing healthy interdependence.

As we examine relationships we consider important or meaningful, we often discover that although we desire to love one another, each of us is equally satisfied, if not more so, with the interests and activities we experience alone or with others. Rather than invest the time—and occasionally the blood, sweat and tears which are integral to nurturing and building interdependence—we miss valuable opportunities to draw closer to those nearest and dearest to our hearts and hearths. Note: Nurturing and building up does not mean both people doing each and everything together or dissolution of self and one’s unique personhood.

Flourishing and enduring Christian relationships are built on a foundation of belief, faith, trust and love, ingredients intrinsic to a healthy and maturing God-centered-three-ply cord. When any of those elements are weak or absent, our relationship reality may more closely resemble parallel paralysis. 

In the awareness God desires more for us, what might be some indications of single-togetherness in relationships?

1.      Self-indulgence rather than healthy self-awareness.

Understanding self—our strengths, our weaknesses, our thoughts, feelings and emotions—helps us to more authentically love and serve God and others. However, focusing too much on self can result in indulgence. How do we know when we have crossed that fine line?—when we make our thoughts, feelings, activities and plans the focal point rather than joining with the other person in prayerfully considering our individual yet shared obedience in the larger picture that is “God and us”.

When two people honestly and lovingly incorporate healthy self-awareness in the relationship, both experience understanding and acceptance. Slipping into attitudes and behaviors of self-indulgence, on the other hand, usually manifest as various darker shades of control—either as the one choosing to control, or in hyper-focusing on avoiding being controlled. 

2.     Playing safe by allowing distractions to rule and reign.

It would be easy to point the finger at technology as a primary form of temptation to live singleness. Truth is—all the bells, whistles and buttons available to us may well be ‘blamed’ for encouraging such behaviors. At the same time, we need to take responsibility for our willingness to rely on these modern conveniences to interact with our human companions rather than engaging in the body, mind, spirit and emotional exchanges that are the heart and center of person-to-person-in-person connecting. 

The real challenge? Growing and maturing interdependent relationships God’s way invariably includes passing through conflict, a process clearly described by Jesus as iron sharpening iron. Fearing what that might mean, we allow self to be seduced by the one thing technology can do very well—erect barriers between us and the other person in order to minimize the kind of face-to-face experiences God can work through to bring about authentic, Christ-centered unity. 

3.     Seeking by slipping away.

Related to point two, any relationship of any depth or authenticity—including our relationship with the Trinity—will involve various seasons of confession, repentance, healing, forgiveness, and renewed commitment to loving and accepting the other. One might even apply this understanding in relationship with self. 

One of the greatest temptations we face, as Christ did in the moments leading to the Cross, is to seek or at least consider, if there is a way to avoid the pain and discomfort associated with allowing death to the parts of self not of God. As God works through the people and circumstances of our life, we are confronted with “fight or flight” of a spiritual nature. Not wanting to suffer—let alone endure and persevere through any pain—we seek comfort in some habit or object, or in the arms or presence of another person. Ironically, for a moment, we enjoy some relief—only to be confronted once again on a new occasion with the very pain we previously tried to resist.

Being in a three-ply cord relationship is—being fully present as one of three. Every time we try to avoid taking responsibility for our part by wiggling off into what we deem more pleasant circumstances or surroundings, we tear at the very fiber of interdependence foundational to Christ-centered togetherness and unity.

 Truly intimate relationship is fully grounded in…

  • our senses and emotions—as beings created in the image and likeness of God
  • our will and reason—intellect 
  • our body—as a temple of the Holy Spirit
When all these aspects are alive and well, parallel paralysis is much less likely to take root in our hearts. Living ‘single in relationship” will simply not be given breath or opportunity to displace true unity. [John 17:20-23 and Ecclesiastes 4:9-12]

Am I ‘living single’ in an important relationship? 

What are the characteristics of self-indulgence? Healthy self-awareness?

Am I resisting full participation as one member of a Christ-centered three-ply cord?

Do I find myself wanting to slip away from certain relationship moments? Why?



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