Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are You Waiting For the One?, by Margaret Kim Peterson and Dwight N. Peterson

Today my friend Taia is here, sharing about a book she recently read - Are You Waiting for "The One"?: Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage. As she mentions below, Taia and I are real life friends. While we don't always agree, I enjoy hearing her take on things. She challenges me to think through my beliefs and positions in a healthy way and I was glad she wanted to share about the following book.

I do feel like I should preface this by saying that just because I'm posting it doesn't mean I necessarily agree with the book. (The quote, in particular, raises question marks.) I take a markedly different view of marriage at times, being much more conservative. However! Like I said, I respect the way Taia approaches me with differing opinions and hastily agreed to post her thoughts on this particular work.

Lastly, I would like to point out that I have not (yet) read this book.


I know Carrie from real life and started following her book blog to get to know her better. Margaret Kim Peterson is one of my favorite Christian authors, although she’s written only three books. (The others are Sing Me to Heaven, about her years caring for her first husband, who had and died of AIDS when its treatment was not well understood and Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life.) She is a theologian/professor, a widow, a wife again and a mother. My background is in engineering and I appreciate her practicality. She decided to write this book as an outgrowth of a course on Christian marriage that she and her husband (a professor of New Testament) taught to college seniors and it is appropriately subtitled “Cultivating Realistic, Positive Expectations for Christian Marriage.” The book definitely has Margaret’s “voice”, although I haven’t read anything by Dwight to know if he likely did any of the drafting.

They gently criticize many existing popular books on Christian marriage for creating unrealistic expectations of perfect love. They attempt to describe “real love” in marriage and family, with an emphasis on the imperfections that, on one level or another, plague all families. They use scriptural examples to make the point that these problems have always existed and will always be with us. They also value singleness and ponder how the modern church seems to consider singleness a transitional state, rather than a lifelong state of being for many people. Many of their examples refer to the historic church as well as scripture- they are interested in the many ways Christians have lived over the past two millennia.

They identify qualities- hospitality, compassion, justice and reconciliation- that ought to mark Christian marriage. They believe neither in male headship nor in egalitarianism because both emphasize power in the relationship. They use the perfect peace and mutuality between God the Father and Jesus Christ and their oneness as the true model. I quote,

“ is most emphatically not the case that God the Father is in the business of making decisions on behalf of the Holy Trinity when the Father and the Son are unable to reach agreement in any other way. On the contrary, the relationship of the Father and the Son is characterized in Scripture by perfect peace and mutuality. When Jesus says, ‘I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me’ (John 6:38), his point is not that God the Father calls the shots, and he, Jesus, is a lesser deity who just does as he is told. His point is that God the Father and God the Son are on the same page; they are a team; they’ve talked it over and made a plan. They have different parts to play- the Father sends, the Son is sent- but they are coauthors (with the Holy Spirit) of the drama. This, we think, is the kind of mutuality that husbands and wives should be striving for…”

They emphasize the value of children and the emphasis that the church has historically placed on welcoming them into marriage. Their discussion of the history of marriage in the church cannot be easily summarized but will probably be informative to most readers.

Are You Waiting for "The One"? is one of the few that discusses family economics in a world where medical insurance is expensive and pensions are a memory. For most families, a lifelong full-time stay-at-home wife and mother is not economically realistic. Neither they nor anyone else can resolve the tradeoffs for each family, but their work with college students in recent years led them to observe that fathers who are largely absent, due to the hours that they work in order to afford a mother at home, are also a social problem.

“A lot of fathers who have stayed married to their children’s mothers are nonetheless absent from those children’s lives because they are at work. The Christian exaltation of the stay-at-home mother has a flip side that is not so often talked about: the always-at-work dad. The children of such parents often express powerful feelings of ambivalence toward their fathers, who they know worked long hours or traveled many weeks out of the year specifically so their wives could stay home with the children, but who thereby denied the children their own presence.”

When we were married, we were required to complete a workbook with budget guidelines by Christian financial author Larry Burkett. Guidelines for medical insurance/expenses (3-5% of income) were laughably low, even for a family with healthy children. Housing in urban areas has increased in price. At the same time, the work of nurturing and caring for one another is important. (That’s why Margaret Peterson wrote a book on that topic as well, on keeping house, my very favorite of her books.)

I’ve recommended this book to friends with college or post-college children. Some information- that 95% of people in the United States engage in premarital sex, for example- is useful to know for decisions about public policy, but not at a young age. There is nothing graphic, but the effects of infidelity, divorce and pornography are discussed. It is a practical book, written for a world of real, not perfect, love.

For those who might be interested, you can read much of the first ~40 pages in the Amazon preview.


Brooke from The Bluestocking Guide said...

This sounds interesting. I don't believe that there is necessarily complete partnership in marriage. I believe the husband is the leader; however I think Biblical marriages are more egalitarian than most Christians would admit.

I whole heartedly agree that most churches view singleness as a transitional state. It has been a challenge for me because I'm looking to buy a house. I will probably have to get something that requires fixing up, but other Christians do discourage me because they think I should wait to get a husband. My response is, I don't know if God intends for me to marry. Why shouldn't I have a place to live.

Carrie said...

I think there's a good point here about the husband spending so much time out of the home providing for his family that the wife is essentially a single mother. That also happens more often that we'd like to see and it's worth considering.

Speaking personally, that's a dangerous thing we recognize for our own family. It's a situation we pay close attention to and hope to make some changes within our family to allow for Jonathan to be with us more hours of the day than he's away.

Brooke, I'm so glad you commented. By some standards (those I grew up with) I married later in the game. (By today's standards I married at a reasonable and average age.) I didn't buy a house but I did want to take a job in a state where my family didn't live and that raised eyebrows. I wanted to be married but it wasn't happening and I had no reason to believe that it was going to immediately. So I took the job and moved. Why should I not work or travel?

#1 - I think it's important for women to not live as if the only thing that they can anticipate is marriage.

#2 - I think it's healthy and right to desire marriage.

But God's timing is often not our own and we're not supposed to be in the business of wasting days.

bekahcubed said...

This does sound interesting--although I'm a bit confused as to how the view of "perfect peace and mutuality" between husband and wife can be a realistic expectation for a marriage.

Like, you (Carrie), I have some questions about the quote. It seems to me that likening the relationship between a man and his wife to that of God the Father and God the Son is an inappropriate analogy (although, now that I think of it, I have heard that analogy used in defense of a complimentary model as well.) I don't see anywhere in Scripture where marriage is said to imitate the relationship within the Godhead. Rather, I see marriage described as a cosmic play-act in which the husband "plays" Christ and the wife the church. In this, we see the self-sacrificing servant leadership that the husband is supposed to demonstrate and the trusting submission with which the wife responds to her husband's love.

Models for husband-wife relationships aside, I'd be interested to read the Peterson's thoughts on economics and marriage--something I've been reading up on off and on over the past half dozen or so years.

Taia said...

From Taia the blog post author:

The Petersons emphasize the mutuality and oneness that ought to characterize marriage and use the relationship between God the Father and God the Son as an example of perfect mutuality and oneness. (Eph 5:21 and I Cor 11:3 are among the scripture references) They admit that perfect mutuality is unachievable and propose a "real love" solution called cooperation and consensus, which they contrast with "headship as decision making authority."

I'll follow up with a couple more quotes:

"Marriage is not fundamentally about conflict and control. Headship and submission are not about decision making and acquiescence... and leadership is not decision making authority. "

on mutuality: "Mutuality takes time. It takes effort. It takes a willingness to talk with one another and listen to one another, for long enough that it can become clear what the issues are, what the feelings and desires of both spouses are, and what some possible plans of action might be. Headship as decision making, by contrast, can seem quick and easy and far less personally demanding"

They go on to say that couples often don't deal with their differences in a headship-as-decision-making authority model, they just do an end run around them and end up no more united than they were when they began. They also believe that

"by idealizing rigidly defined gender roles and assigning power in relationships disproportionately to men and encouraging both men and women to see this as spiritually appropriate and desirable, a theological ideology for abuse in intimate relationships is set in place" and go on to describe specific problematic situations they've observed in their years of teaching.

Since two girls from my high school class were murdered by their significant others, another watched her father murder her mother and two other girls were pregnant as victims of incest (that their mothers must have known about yet tolerated), I probably think more about the risks of patriarchy than people without such firsthand experiences. I hoped my observations were of rare events, but I now don't think so. I think society and the church often ignore the part of society where such problems are most common, because it seems so little can be done.

Shonya said...

hmmmmm. . .how's that for a deep comment?? :)

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