How well I remember the angry exchanges from the back seat: “He’s touching me!” “You did it first.” “Did not!” “Did too!” “Did not!” “Did too!” Another voice, this time from the front seat, interjects itself into the back and forth inanity. “Both of you, get back on your side of the car and keep your hands to yourself!” Immediately, all is quiet, until a few moments later when you hear a plaintive voice from the back seat again, “He’s looking at me!”
Any of you who grew up with brothers or sisters close to your age remember those days. Someone was always getting into your space; always making you uncomfortable and breaking up the relative peacefulness of your life. There was no telling when one or another of the siblings was going to push the boundaries, either real or imaginary, just to see if they could add a little acreage to their own territory, all the sweeter for them if they could take it from your little corner of the world. I’m still amazed that we grew up without hating each other, and in fact, actually loving and respecting each other. But maturity also brings with it a different, and just as confusing, set of problems. The funny thing is, this set of problems has a striking similarity to those of childhood…
One evening, close to 20 years ago, I got a call from an elderly friend, a widowed lady, whose middle-aged son was visiting her. His marriage was in trouble and he had left home for a little thinking time. His mom asked me if I would “counsel” him. I’m not sure why she picked me, but she must have been under the mistaken impression that I had some store of wisdom that could help his marriage. I agreed to spend some time with him, but it would be simply as a friend, not as a marriage counselor. In getting acquainted with him, he mentioned that he would like it if we could talk some about the Bible. I knew a bit more about that subject than marriage counseling, so I agreed that we would do a Bible study and suggested that when we got together the next time, he should bring a passage about which he had a question.
As we sat down at the table, he hit me with it immediately. Ephesians 5:22 was the verse. In it, the writer says, “Wives be submissive to your husbands…” No sooner had I read it out loud than he burst out, “That’s my problem! She won’t submit and let me be the head of our home! That’s why we can’t get along! How can I make her do that?” Well, that stumped me for a few seconds. The obvious answer was that he couldn’t! That’s why he was here in Arkansas and she was in California! But, that’s not what he needed to hear. So of course, the next thing I told him was, “Get back on your side of the car and keep your hands to yourself!”
Okay, what I really did was to ask him a question. “Does that statement give instructions to someone specific?” “Well, yes,” came the reluctant answer. “It tells wives how to act.” “Well, unless you’re a wife, it’s obviously of no interest to you. Move on.” So down we went to the verses below that. He read verse 25. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He even died for it…” He looked at me as if I had punched him. It wasn’t necessary to ask if he got the point. It was pretty clear that he did!
It seems that most things are like those letters I get with the directive printed on them, “To be opened by addressee only, under penalty of law.” If my name is not on the letter, I don’t mess with it. Just so, in my daily life, when the instructions are targeted at me, I should do my best to follow them. Otherwise, I need to leave them alone. I really can’t make anybody else live the way they’re supposed to, so it’s unproductive to try. That’s not my job! And, it does more damage to relationships than any benefit that I’ll ever achieve. I’ve also finally begun to realize that if I follow the instructions I’m given, somehow it becomes a whole lot easier for the people I’m with to do their own part. But as far as obedience goes, I’m only responsible for me.
“Get back on your side of the car, and keep your hands to yourself!” Turns out, Dad’s instruction for feuding siblings was also great advice for most adult relationships, too. If we take care of ourselves, we won’t be getting into spaces that don’t belong to us.
I’m still not sure if he ever figured out how to take care of the “He’s looking at me” problem.
“Child…I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own.”
(Aslan, in “The Horse & His Boy” by C.S. Lewis)
(common anagram used in text-messaging for “Mind your own business”)
Originally published October 19, 2010