"The Blessing of Differences"

Our son got married a few days ago to Isaiah, the man of his dreams. Hardly ever in our work with couples have we seen such depth in love, respect and commitment. Whoever feels that only a man and a woman can truly love each other, has not witnessed the kind of deep love that Isaiah and our son, John-Nuri, have had for each other for the past four years. Love truly can take on many forms.

Even with such depth of love in their relationship, Isaiah and John-Nuri have big differences. They have used these differences to fuel their relationship, to bring about more depth, and to find the common place of passion in their work together. People sometimes use their differences as an excuse for their lack of closeness. And yet these differences can be a great blessing, and almost force a couple to go to a deeper place where the differences do not exist. Difference exist only on the surface. The couple that goes deeper discovers more and more similarities. Differences exist in the mind. Love and similarity exist in the heart.

Our son is the third born of three children, coming much later than his two sisters. He was adored and fussed over by all four of us. Much of our family time was spent outside, hiking, backpacking, river trips, camping and traveling in the wilderness. John-Nuri worked as a river guide by the time he was sixteen, and spent much of his summers on the river, sleeping on the ground under the stars. Isaiah was the first born to a very young African American teenage mother who could not care for him. He was raised by his grandparents who loved him very much, and yet Isaiah often felt like he had to take care of himself. Several times as a young child, Isaiah saw things no child should have, and was in dangerous situations. Isaiah does not really feel safe outside, though he is opening up to this with John-Nuri’s help. His idea of a great day is spending the whole day inside, even if it sunny outside. Isaiah’s diet consists of meat. Our son is a devoted vegetarian like us.

Isaiah and John-Nuri have some pretty big differences, but these differences have forced them to go deeper in their love and commitment to the place where the differences do not exist. As far as I can see, they keep returning to this deeper place, and each gives the other the freedom to be who they are. John-Nuri spends time each day outside and Isaiah enjoys the beauty of their home which he has elaborately decorated. They do not put much attention on the differences, and instead keep going deeper in their love to the place where there is unity.

When Barry and I met, we soon realized we had a very big difference that seemed insurmountable. Barry was raised in a traditional Jewish home and had his bar mitzvah. I was raised in a traditional Christian home and was confirmed in the church at the same time as Barry’s bar mitzvah. We met in the year 1964 on the east coast. Every one told us that our differences were too big, and we should end the relationship right away. Barry even took my hand the day we found out our religious difference and with much seriousness said, “You know we can never get married!”

And yet, even at the young age of eighteen, we took our love deeper than the difference. We stayed in this beautiful place until someone would comment that we would never make it as a couple, that the difference was just too big. Then we would go back into our minds and try and figure out a solution. Since we could not, we felt we should break up, and actually did that one time for four months. It was an agonizing time for each of us.

When we were both twenty two, Barry was in his first year of medical school in Tennessee, and we wanted to get married and live together forever. At the time that we got engaged, not one person believed we could make it as a couple. In looking for a person to marry us, we asked the minister of my parents’ church, Reverend Davis. He sat us down for a very serious talk and said to us, “I will marry you on one condition. You must promise to honor each other’s differences. These differences are important to who you both are, and by honoring your differences you will grow stronger in your love.”

That compassionate man gave us the advice, wisdom and belief that we desperately needed. He learned the Hebrew prayers to honor Barry, and married us in the most beautiful way, honoring both religions. Barry and I went deeper than the initial difference and found a strength that shapes and inspires us to this day. What was our biggest difference is now our biggest strength.

If one person has an addiction and is unwilling to work on that addiction, then it is impossible to go deeper to a place where the difference does not exist. The addiction must be handled first and, if there is unwillingness, then the relationship has little chance of survival. The same is true of betrayal, violence and lying. But differences beyond these can be a great blessing, giving the relationship the fuel and incentive to go deeper.

Some people we have seen in our couple’s workshops seem identical in many ways. Perhaps they are both the first born into very similar families. Perhaps they both took the same type of family vacations, went to similar schools, studied similar things, and have the same interests. Seems perfect right? And yet without some significant differences, there can be a tendency to keep things on the surface, and just rest on how similar they are. Soon their relationship can fall into a place of boredom. Because there are no obvious differences to force them into a deeper place, they must take the initiative and go to the deeper place on their own. Some couples do this and some do not.

Honor differences and trust that they can bring about a great blessing in all of your relationships. Differences invite us to a deeper place of love, where we can stand in the way of harmony, peace and beauty.

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