With This Ring, I am Dead

I remember one day soon after we married, my husband came home to the apartment […]

Stephanie Phillips / 12.8.15

youre_the_worst_cast_stillI remember one day soon after we married, my husband came home to the apartment I had cleaned and buffed into sparkly brilliance like the new ring on my hand. He didn’t notice, so I had to tell him: “I cleaned the whole apartment! The shower grout too! With a toothbrush!” His smile was friendly, but it didn’t reach his eyes, which were darting about as if looking for an escape route. I think he mentioned something about this not being a prison? And that I didn’t have to go to such lengths? Which maybe would have been a relief except for the fact that I had just cleaned the grout with a toothbrush and where was my medal, dammit?

We still enjoy watching TV together–there’s that. And one show we’ve gotten into, our cute little cynical selves, is a dark comedy I haven’t heard many people talk about. So allow me to do what one of my most trusted friends, Entertainment Weekly, did and recommend it to you. Though I’ll include the following disclaimer: it is vulgar beyond all decency and (if you are wearing them) could make you scramble to clutch your pearls. It contains graphic sexuality and flippant drug use. There is divorce, adultery, and profanity.

Still with me? Okay. The show is called You’re the Worst, and it may be the best/worst thing you’re not watching. It’s about a couple of commitment-phobes who find themselves in a live-in relationship. Chaos ensues! Jokes occur! Tropes are paraded about! And then…shit gets real. In recent episodes, the backgrounds of the main characters have been revealed, allowing the most amateur of armchair psychologists to gather from where these commitment issues arose (Spoiler alert: it’s their parents’ fault. Sort of. Isn’t it always? Love you, Mom and Dad!). Even more recently, the show has delved into clinical depression, specifically that of the female half of the couple. Gretchen’s descent back into her emotional valley has been hard to watch–and that’s not always a bad thing (unless you’re my husband, who doesn’t like it so much when people get into talking about feelings. I think it may be a chromosomal issue. #prayers). Watching an ostensible comedy wrap its arms around such a mine-laden and relevant issue has been uncomfortable, shocking, and breathtaking–kind of like life.

It all reminds me of one of the less meandering scenes from Meet Joe Black, in which Joe asks Quince about how he knows he and his wife are in love with each other.

She knows the worst thing about me and it’s okay.”

Back to me and my beloved.

There are all kinds of annoying things about my husband that I didn’t notice when we were dating, most of them having to do with socks on the floor and a lack of appreciation for my cleaning skills. So much of it amounts to a wounded sense of pride over not being seen for my efforts. Then I think back to when we were dating, a period of time characterized by a distinct lack of effort–something that set it apart from every other relationship I’d ever been in. We had fun. I mean, sure, there were disagreements–that girl did not just want to be friends, dummy–but they were blips in comparison to the raging alarms I seem to turn lesser things into now. I GUESS WE DON’T TURN OFF LIGHTS ANYMORE?! I spend a considerable amount of time drawing comparisons between myself and Cinderella–before she met the prince. And lately, there’s been the unattractive belting of “Master of the House” in a voice that sounds suspiciously like mine.

My erstwhile (and still occasional) counselor, Gordon Bals, wrote a book about marriage called Common Ground (he also performed my wedding ceremony, which is not the same as–but also not totally unlike–how Jesus died for me while I was still a sinner, considering all the intel he had on me and the baggage I’d be bringing into marriage). “Marriage holds a designated place in God’s story of redemption,” he writes, which made me keep reading because I’ve been working on my husband’s redemption story, so this could be helpful. “God’s heart is to take the brokenness you bring into marriage and the sin you perpetrate against one another and weave it into forgiving love.” Well…that sounds like work. And it is–Ben Affleck taught me that. But not the kind of work I’ve been doing. No toothbrushes or grout necessary. More like work done on my behalf. I keep reading and spot one of my life truths: “The Gospel is always about more.”

tumblr_mc0u5oXI4O1qbqxsmo1_1280It is, inconveniently. Kind of like the comedy we signed on to watch that has ventured into darker and fuller territory. Kind of like the Bible verses I used to casually reduce to simplistic instructions that have transformed into deeper commentary. Kind of like the parables about wild young men that have turned into reflective narratives about older brothers. Layers upon layers of grace to sift through and find myself within–and I thought marriage, ordained by God, would just amount to a fun sleepover?

It stands to reason that we see the worst of each other within the walls of domestic bliss; the only way not to would be to hide underneath makeup and behind politeness and be anything but our true selves. Brennan Manning writes,

Only in a relationship of the deepest intimacy can we allow a person to know us as we truly are. It is difficult enough to live with the awareness of our stinginess and shallowness, our anxieties and infidelities, but to disclose our dark secrets to another is intolerably risky. The impostor does not want to come out of hiding. He will grab for the cosmetic kit and put on his pretty face to make himself ‘presentable.’ Whom can I level with? To whom can I bare my soul? I cannot admit that I have done wrong. I cannot admit that I have made a huge mistake, except to someone who I know accepts me.

I find them incredibly painful, these daily deaths to self brought on by marriage and parenthood–not the least of which involves being forced to see my own darkest places and worst inclinations. And y’all, I’m talking about much worse than wasted electricity. This sacred covenant we’ve entered appears constantly threatened by the desecrating forces of my own sin and inadequacies. But it’s not. The union holds; the institution remains; the vows are intact–and none of it is made less beautiful in the end, only more real. This is a battleground where the distinction between my efforts to obtain approval through the law (armed with a toothbrush and expectations) and the “it is finished already” truth of the Gospel are writ large and daily. There are failures; oh so many. There are wounds. At the end of every day, there are two people lying in a home that often doubles as a battlefield, casualties of our own characters. 

But there’s also this: the waking to each other, still here. Nobody disappeared in the night. (Yet.) And, to be mildly spoilery, the awareness of the gift we give each other, echoed in that TV narrative:

You stayed?!

Which echoes the gift given to us on the cross, at Christmas, and throughout the history of grace: He stays.