If Ray was married to someone of his own culture, he would never have to have “intense discussions” with his wife about the dishes, but since he’s not… let the games begin!
My culture, my crutch
Ray and I were warned early on in marriage to be realistic about our shortcomings as individuals and to be careful of blaming everything on cultural differences. In intercultural marriages it’s very easy to blame your negative attitude or bad behavior on culture and completely disregard your responsibility to do something about it. Just because it’s a cultural belief that you’ve held since childhood doesn’t mean it’s right or that it should take precedence over doing what you know is right.
Because the premise for this entire blog site is to share how my husband and I deal with our cultural differences, it’s clear that culture has made a huge impact on our lives. What hasn’t been clear to me is how to transcend all the recurring issues that stem from holding too tightly to cultural expectations. There are times when culture can feel a lot like law, and it becomes difficult to keep from holding it in higher regard than we hold each other. Next to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and advice from spiritual leaders, culture is one of the more dominant factors in our decision making process as a couple, and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about that.
It all comes down to love
I’ve shared before about how I desire to adopt a heavenly culture instead of swearing an allegiance to my own or even to my husband’s culture… and that’s about as far as that went. I made the statement, felt it was profound enough to give myself a pat on the back, and walked away from the laptop without any plan of action to make that my reality. Seven months later I’ve come full circle, and this time I aim to finish it right.
When I speak of a heavenly culture, I’m talking about a culture where love is the norm. It is deeply embedded in every relationship, every action, and every motive of the heart both spoken and unspoken. 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the best places to find an explicit list of what the manifestation of this culture looks like. People who are of a heavenly culture are patient, kind, they don’t envy or boast, they’re not proud, rude, self-seeking or easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs, they don’t delight in evil but rejoice with truth, and they always protect, trust, hope, and persevere. Every culture has its stereotype, but this is the stereotype of those who belong to a heavenly race: they act justly, love mercy, and they walk humbly with their God.
If I really am an ambassador of heaven or an alien to this world, I should be living by the standards of my primary culture, my heavenly culture. To set this culture of love in our household means that I should serve my husband without expecting him to do a single thing in return for me. It means that I lose the right to nag about the dishes he leaves in the sink and he loses the right to complain if I don’t wash all the dishes before the ants come to do the job for me.
We’ve been doing it all wrong.
Removing the yoke of law from our marriage
In every conversation we’ve ever had about household responsibilities, we’ve relied totally on cultural expectations. I am supposed to wash the dishes because I’m the wife. It’s my job, as is everything else in the kitchen. Yes, that’s the norm for his culture, but sometimes knowing that it’s my job or my duty can cause me resent it, and honestly it can make me resent Ray when he reminds me that I’m slacking on my responsibilities. But if we operated under the norms of our heavenly culture, there would be no need for either of us to nag each other, because we’d naturally pick up the slack (without keeping record of anyone’s failures), and if we’re truly loving and serving each other to the fullest, there shouldn’t be much slack to pick up.
Side note: I know I just posted a blog about serving with the knowledge that one day you will receive a return on your investment, and that’s still true, but I’m just saying that love can understand the reality of the “you reap what you sow” cycle and still say, “Even if I don’t receive a return, my time serving was well spent.”
Dishes may seem like sort of a trivial application for the love culture, but this principle applies to all areas of marriage. In this particular area we were trying to strategize about how to go about dealing with the dishes: I do them on the weekdays and he does them on the weekends, but we are responsible for doing our own dishes as we use them, unless you take the dishes for the other person into the kitchen, then you wash both, and blah, blah, bliggety, blah. Isn’t that gross? Coming to the realization of how love removes the “need” for law, shuts down the whole conversation. Forget all the guidelines and amendments, just love each other and it will naturally balance itself out. I’ll show honor to my husband and fulfill his expectations of me without having to beat myself up so much about my shortcomings as an American trying to fit into Kenyan culture.
Just as Jesus came to remove the yoke of law from our necks and offer himself as the purest demonstration of love, when we seek to love, the pressure of cultural law is lifted.
Love fulfills everything. Love covers all. Love never fails.