I don’t know famous people, but this summer I was able to become friends with one of the actors on “The Middle” because his dad and I were in architecture school together. We were all together at a conference where I spoke, and I learned about the challenges and opportunities that come to Christ followers who are professional actors. He told me Patricia Heaton, who plays the mom in “The Middle” is a committed Christ follower. So it was with great interest, two weekends ago, that I listened to this interview of her on NPR.
Funny, articulate, intelligent, devoted to her family, and a lover of Christ – I don’t know Hollywood firsthand, but this seems like a rare combo! She speaks openly of wrestling with her calling and of ultimately opening herself utterly to following God’s will. I sat with my coffee, alone, early on a Saturday morning, and soaked in the interview, telling myself that “The Middle” is my new favorite TV show, even before I’ve seen a single episode.
She spoke of being “off-Broadway” in a play where, night after night, she needed to kiss the man who was not only her husband’s best friend, but also the best man at their wedding! In the context of sharing this story, she offered some practical marital advice, that I’ve summarized like this: “as if”.
No matter where our emotions are on a given day, Patricia suggests that we continue to do the things we do when we feel the emotions of love. I realize that her advice might be fraught with problems if taken absolutely, realize that she’s not a therapist, realize that if your spouse is being abusive, you don’t bring flowers and pretend nothing’s happened.
Still, the core principle she offers here seems priceless to me, and I’ve said it this way many times: Let’s keep showing up! Let’s keep showing up for each other when we feel like and when we don’t; when we’re excited and when we’re bored; when we’re feeling the thrill of the relationship and when it’s wearying. Act AS IF this person is the most important person in the world because he/she is. And while you’re at it, act AS IF God is at work in the world, at work in your world, even when your legs feel like concrete mix, and your prayers like ashes. Go ahead and show up.
Previous generations had the liability of duty. Routines, commitments, and relationships, would continue, even though all the life and meaning had long ago been sucked out of them because of that overblown word: duty. It implied that you just kept showing up no matter how you felt. People sometimes ended up in lifeless marriages, and sterile relationships with God, but the ‘hung in there’, and were proud of it.
This is not that. This is, instead, a response to the liability of this new century, which is authenticity. This word implies that you only invest in your commitments as you long as you feel like it, as long as you can see the payoff. I’m here to tell you, at 54 and during the week of my 31st anniversary, that there are days, sometimes even weeks, when the payoff is buried under activities, obligations, words that sting, health or money challenges, and a boatload of other things. So you don’t see the payoff on some particular day; big deal. Invest anyway, not out of a sense of duty, but out of a belief that the investment will payout someday soon. The payout won’t be some sterile boast that you did the right thing, or that you stayed together. It will be that you’re more in love than ever before. At least that’s the way it’s been around my house lately
Act AS IF God is sitting there with you, when you read your Bible, and then let God know, in your journal or words, how frustrated you are with the parts of the Bible you don’t get. Understanding will come, little by little. Act AS IF he hears your prayers, and you’ll find God answering yes, little by little.
We can do this, must do this, if our lives are to ripen and enjoy the fruitfulness of faithfulness.