Vain Hopes

“Cast your burden upon Hashem, and He will sustain you.”

Psalms 55:23

Everyone in the world has burdens. Some are heavier than others – some are lighter. You cannot always tell how heavy someone else’s burden is; you only have the subjective experience of your own. But know, with clarity, that just as you have burdens, so does everyone else.

Here we have the ultimate advice on how to handle your burdens: do not do it alone. You never have to do it all yourself. As a matter of fact, it’s impossible to do it all yourself. You can call upon the Almighty, your Father, your King, Creator and Sustainer of the universe to help you. Our verse tells us that you can give over your entire load of baggage to Hashem, and He will sustain you.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
Casting Your Burdens, Daily Lift #595

I had a most illuminating conversation with my wife a few weeks ago. Actually, it wasn’t so much illuminating as it was confirming. I don’t know how we got on the subject. We were home alone, just the two of us. We were talking at the kitchen table. I can’t remember exactly the words that were used but I discovered, or rather confirmed, the reasons that I will never be part of my wife’s Jewish life. She’s embarrassed that I’m a Christian.

I guess that’s why she never invites her friends over to our house. She always meets them for coffee or something. I think it’s just awkward to acknowledge me in front of other Jews. She said during our conversation, “What am I supposed to do? Introduce you as my ‘Messianic husband’?”

I corrected her and said that I’m a Christian and that I walked away from the “Messianic” life, in part, just for this reason. I don’t think it helped. I think, in her eyes, it’s just as bad for a Jew to be married to a Christian as to a “Messianic Gentile.”

At any rate, the end result, which is now finally in the open, is that I will not be attending shul with her, nor any classes at synagogue, nor any public festivals such as Sukkot. I even wonder if this is why she stopped lighting the Shabbos candles in our home. For all I know, she doesn’t go to synagogue anymore because people there know she’s got a Christian husband. For all I know, tongues wag about this misfortune of my wife’s.

That last part is my imagination, but again, who knows?

I never wanted my faith to come between us. For over a year, I’ve done everything I could think of to minimize the “impact” of my Christian faith in her Jewish life. Now I know that nothing I did worked. I’m embarrassing. I recall a situation that happened some months ago when my wife and I were shopping at our local Costco. We had just checked out and were about to leave when my wife ran into a friend from synagogue. They chatted for several minutes and then parted. All during their conversation, at no time did my wife pause to introduce me to her friend. It was as if I wasn’t even there. I guess I know why now.

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53 (ESV)

This compares to Matthew 10:34-39 which also quotes Micah 7:6. I thought I recalled a variant on the Gospel verse that specified “husband against his wife,” but I can’t find it.

Close enough, I guess.

But I don’t want to be against my wife, nor do I want her to be against me.

Tough luck, eh?

I used to say that “in a created universe, there’s no such thing as luck,” but just how closely does God control circumstances? Were my wife and I truly fated to be married, or did God allow random chance to take charge? What about our decisions of faith? I might never have become a Christian if not for a long and what seemed to be, highly orchestrated and unlikely series of events that occurred over several month’s time. My wife became a Christian at almost the same time and for a while, we had similar ways of looking at God, Christ, faith, and marriage.

Then, through another set of long, unlikely occurrences, we have found ourselves where we are now: at opposite ends of the identity of the Messiah, a Jew and a Christian searching for God while living in two very different worlds. And thereby hangs our tale. I could stand to have the rest of the world be the enemy of my faith as long as my wife was by my side. Now, I realize that such a wish is vain and foolish. If “God is in control” as the Christians like to sing in church on Sundays, then what he’s planning to do with all of His control is beyond my comprehension.

Or, as Paul Simon sings:

God only knows
God makes his plan
The information’s unavailable
To the mortal man
We work our jobs
Collect our pay
Believe we’re gliding down the highway
When in fact we’re slip slidin’ away

Or is that too cynical?

And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21 (ESV)

I suppose that could be coupled with:

Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

Job 13:15 (ESV)

Argue? Argue about what? Shall I adopt Adam’s argument?

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.”

Genesis 3:11-12 (ESV)

No, that’s as ridiculous now as it was the minute Adam said it. There’s no blame to be assigned, either to God or to my wife. I can’t even blame myself for being a Christian, since I must be convinced that this part of my experience was and is within the purposeful will of God.

So what do I do? Of late, I had been considering going back to a church. My son David told me he’d talked to a Pastor of a local Baptist church who had lived in Israel for fifteen years (not as a Pastor, but before being called into the ministry). No, he’s not Jewish, but this Pastor did tell my son that he didn’t consider himself “usual” for a Baptist Pastor.

But now I don’t know if it’s a good idea. The wedge is there between my wife and I and if I cannot bridge the gap and heal the wound that gapes wide and bleeding between us, I certainly don’t want to rip it open any further. Right now, I’m just one Christian alone in our house with no direct connection to any larger group of Christians. If I started going to church, how much worse would it be for the both of us?

My wife doesn’t invite her Jewish friends over because she’s embarrassed by me. She removed any pictures and other items from our home that were obviously communicating a faith in Christ (we once had a framed copy of the Lord’s Prayer written in Hebrew on the wall of our formal dining room), but unless she’s willing to give me the boot, my very presence (though I wouldn’t speak a word) is a glaring inconsistency to her faith and her life as a Jew.

Conversely, I couldn’t bring any Christian friends home, couldn’t host a Bible study, couldn’t have a few church friends around for coffee, not because I’m embarrassed that my wife is Jewish, far from it. No, but because it would be very difficult for her to tolerate.

Of course, she would say that I’m within my rights to practice whatever faith I choose in whatever manner I choose. She would never deny me that. But exercising my rights is still an embarrassment to her, at least in the presence of anyone she knows who is Jewish. Add this to my list of reasons why I can’t go to church.

I cannot do what logic would suggest, though, even for the sake of peace in the home:

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 10:32-33 (ESV)

I sometimes envy those Christians out there in the “Messianic” space for whom faith is just an intellectual exercise. Those folks who are almost obsessed with their sometimes unique take on “Judaism” in terms of personal doctrinal statements, systematizing theologies, categorizing the Jewish mitzvot, and other arcane pursuits, and yet who never actually feel and live a life immersed in pools of infinitely deep faith, transcending the written word and living between life and death, between love and despair, between God and the emptiness of the abyss.

There are all manner of interfaith marriages and many are able to make their way across the differences and to share the commonalities. My wife and I too share many commonalities between us, but our lives of faith and our vision of God are not among them.

As I was “mentally composing” this missive some hours ago (as I write this), I couldn’t help but be reminded of Solomon and Ecclesiasties:

For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity.

Ecclesiastes 3:19 (ESV)

(My son and I built the sukkah in my backyard on Sunday afternoon, just hours before Sukkot began and I suppose the experience is what brought all this to the surface with such force…after all, what business do I have performing the mitzvah of building a sukkah…and notice that I’m blogging during the first two days of Sukkot…however, my son is Jewish so I guess that covers it)

With all of this in mind, I have been examining time, the past, the future, marriage, life, faith, as if they were all in a sealed box that I am turning over and over in my hands. God made the box, inserted all that it contains, locked it tight, and gave it to me. No, that’s not fair. I’ve certainly contributed the vast majority of the items the box contains. We all take the basic materials God gives us at birth and make them into what we are today. I can’t blame God or argue with Him, tempting though that might be.

Maybe that’s why Solomon wrote Ecclesiasties…because no matter what we do, we’re born, we live through whatever happens, and then we die. In the end, what will it matter? Why do some of us who are unworthy live, and others who are very worthy die? (you’ll need a Facebook account to open that last link). It’s a mystery. Who can know the vastness of the mind of God?

I quoted Psalms 55:23 at the beginning of this blog post, but as I’ve been reminded periodically, not everything that is written in the Jewish texts, including the Psalms, can automatically be applied to we non-Jewish Christians. Perhaps my desire to cast my burdens on God is merely vanity as well.

If you are ever feeling sad or dejected, there is a faster and better way to create a more positive feeling that to simply wait until the feelings change through happenstance. There are a few basic choices with a multitude of variations. You can take positive actions. Perform a mitzvah and experience joy for the good deed you are doing. Also, you can remember the good in your life and the positive things that have happened to you in the past. If need be, you can find a positive lens through which to see your present distress.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskn
Creating Positive Feelings, Daily Lift #594

Alone in silenceI can’t stop being a Christian and so I can’t stop being an embarrassment in the home. If I can’t openly express my faith, except in the blogosphere where she never travels to, then the mitzvah I must perform is to try to stay out of the way of her being Jewish. That’s kind of hard since we live in the same home, but I can only encourage her to do all that she can and must do as part of her Jewish community.

And as for me? I originally created this blog, this “morning meditation,” to chronicle my anticipated journey of faith with my wife into her Jewishness. Now that I realize my ambitions were only vanity and foolishness, what is there left to accomplish?

I have several projects related to this blog that are in process. Once those processes have reached their conclusion, the results may well dictate the continuation or dissolution of this experiment. As always, you’ll be the first to know of my decision.

8 thoughts on “Vain Hopes”

  1. My friend, I feel as though anything I could say would be flippant and would belittle your situation, and yet I don’t want to go away from this reading without expressing how my heart aches for you. I don’t live in this situation, but I can imagine how painful it is to be standing in opposition to your spouse in such a way. I know that’s not your intent.

    I will be praying for you and for your family. I encourage you to remember that the Lord is worth it.

  2. I appreciate it, Marie. Thank you. It gets better, though. I have my moods. For me, writing is a form of therapy, a way of cleaning out the cobwebs in the old brain pan. Tomorrow’s “morning meditation” will be hopeful. I promise.

  3. “I can only encourage her to do all that she can and must do as part of her Jewish community.”

    James, I feel for your predicament, even though I do wonder if your wife really is as “embarrassed” by you as it appears to you. In any case, I think that you being self-sacrificial and encouraging is the right and loving thing to do, and frankly the only course of action that makes sense.

  4. Thanks, Gene. Actually, I’ve had time to mull things over and to consider God’s role in all of this. I have to reconcile myself to the reality of my situation and realize that how I see things isn’t going to be how God sees things. Really, I wish she would be *more* observant, not less. As much as I’d like to be connected to that part of her life, I’d just be grateful if she’d be Jewish, even if I’m left out of it.

    According to one quick and easy source, there are around 2.1 billion Christians in the world (about one third of the total population of the planet) but maybe only about 14 million Jews. God never intended His covenant people Israel to be erased from existence, so they must be preserved, encouraged, and allowed to flourish. If it’s my lot to make sure that just one Jewish person, my wife, is allowed to exist and to thrive, then God has given me a great honor (even if my wife doesn’t see it that way).

  5. James – I teach Religious Studies here in the UK and to me your situation expresses the divide that very sadly still exists between Christianity and Judaism. Now, I’m not really a Christian (if I fall short of accepting the Resurrection then by definition I can’t be), but I do believe that the most powerful force in the universe is love. Your love will cut through the embarrasment your wife feels and in time it will repair this rift. To an outsider like me, Judaism always seemed far more bound up with cultural identity than religious belief. I hope that does not offend because I certainly dont mean it in that manner. From the Conference of Jerusalem onwards, Christianity was always more inclusive.

  6. No, you’re not offending me at all. I appreciate you taking the time to read and comment. My wife and I have been married for 30 years and we’ve raised three children together. It’s had it’s ups and downs, but we’re still together and still love each other. I suppose if we were both religious people when we got married, it would have been different, but we both “discovered” our faiths after being married for quite awhile.

    In a sense, it’s a little like rediscovering each other all over again, at least along one type of attribute. I suppose that 1 Cor. 13, the so-called “love chapter” applies here, though Paul wasn’t talking about romantic or marital love. Verse 7 states, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

    Then there is hope.


  7. Ya know, I sit here now, having read your post from today, and find myself unable to comment. Not because I have nothing to say. But because I have too many thoughts running through my head that I can’t organize them into any semblence of an organized point supporting a well thought out premise from which to form an opinion. And I know you’re not looking for a lecture of anykind. But wow…what a post. I can’t begin to tell you the depths of sadness I experienced while reading that post. See, the Bible is clear about being “unequally yoked” but it’s cruel when the “unequally yoked” occurs AFTER marriage, as it seems to have here (if I understood everything right, and forgive me if I didn’t).

    In any case, I agree with Gene Shlomovich that I don’t believe she’s as embarassed by you as you believe she is. It’s quite possible that she is frustrated with the same things you are, spiritually speaking, and that’s how she manifests it…by acting aloof…by not introducing you…by possibly not attending synogogue. maybe that’s how she deals with those things internally. You may have more in common than you realize when it comes to struggling to reconcile the religious differences between you both. Psalm 1:1-2 says “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the cousel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.” Delight yourself in the Word of God and get your counsel from Him. God’s Will always starts with God’s Word. My strongest caution against seeking counsel from any other source than God’s Word. Start in the Old Testament and find commonality between you and your wife.

    I will pray for you every morning this week, as I generally pray for couples I know personally who are having marital troubles. I will include you both in my prayers now…take care and God Bless!

  8. Hi and thanks for commenting.

    Actually, as I mentioned in another comment above, things aren’t as grim as I paint them. I tend to use this blog as a nearly unfiltered expression of what I’m experiencing at any given point in time. Tomorrow’s “morning meditation” reveals the “next step” in my thinking/feeling on this subject, and yes, there is a flip side.

    I feel I’m something of an expert of the whole “unequally yoked” thing. Of the intermarried couples I’ve encountered, none seem quite as “unique” as my wife and I. On the other hand, I had dinner in the sukkah after work and just turned on the lights its decorated with as the sun set, and I’m reminded not only of God’s beauty, but of His providence. If I weren’t intermarried, I’d never experience Sukkot (Festival of Booths) or have seen the Shabbos candles lit in my own home. I’m reminded of how beautiful it is to hear the Shema in Hebrew, and to watch the Torah scrolls be carried around the synagogue with dancing joy and abandonment on Simchat Torah (though it’s been a long time since I’ve been to such a service).

    Off to bed now. Blessings.

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