Here, ‘On Relationships’, we’ve been following Nonso and Nnamdi’s story – a couple whose marriage is going through some serious issues – serious enough that Nonso considered getting a divorce. We’ll take a short break from that to post this piece, recommended by one of our beloved contributors, Bob Oji. Please enjoy!
Making It Work: Unity in Diversity
She was raised Catholic and came from a very strong Catholic background. Just to put into perspective how strong her Catholic background was, when Pope John Paul II visited Nigeria in the 80s, he presented her grandmother with an award for 50 years of meritorious service in the Catholic Church. So she wasn’t just raised Catholic, she was Catholic.
When she and her husband were courting, since he wasn’t Catholic, she pondered over some questions; would she be willing to leave the Catholic Church, where she had been raised? Where would their children worship? She didn’t want the kids to attend church with one parent only, while the other parent went to church somewhere else…where was the family unity in that? And so she decided to test the waters. Her husband – boyfriend at the time - invited her to a service at the Inter-denominational Pentecostal Church where he worshiped She still remembers the service so vividly – the Pastor’s message was powerful and filled with humor – it was gripping. A few months later, she attended another service at the same church and was so affected by the message that she was speechless! Eventually, they got married and she joined her husband’s church.
Now, attending a church as a visitor was not half-bad. You didn’t pay attention to the details, enjoyed the service and left; but going as a member? A different story altogether. And so, the wahala (problems) began. Hmm…no one told her it would be so hard to transition from being Catholic.
Almost everything was strange...
She had one too many questions for her husband!
She was used to praying in silence, and solemn worship, but at her husband’s church, people would yell, scream and distract her from her quiet communication with God. She just couldn’t concentrate! Why can’t they let me worship in peace, she wondered. She saw people screaming at the tops of their voices, disconcerting because she was not used to this ‘style’ of prayer. She also had immense difficulty with the praise and worship. She loved music, but apart from a few Don Moen and Ron Kenoly songs, she didn’t know any of the songs the choir sang ... after all, they were not in her Catholic hymn book and they were not traditional songs. She didn’t know these songs so she couldn’t sing and that was frustrating.
Another big issue was understanding the pastor's instructions: what did it mean when he said 'Turn to your neighbor and say ...' She wondered why she had to turn to the person sitting next to her and say anything. Couldn’t they hear with their own ears? They were both sitting in the same service, weren’t they? Her husband struggled to provide answers to her many questions.
Another thing that struck her was that people in church were always lifting up their hands …praying out loud (with their hands raised), singing (with their hands raised), meditating (with their hands raised) ...even when the pastor said a prayer, they had their hands raised intermittently. She later understood this to be ‘claiming the word’. It totally confused her. And then in numerous services, when the pastor said something particularly motivating someone would shout things like “Preach Pastor!”, “Word!”, “Tell them Sir” or any combination of all three. And she would turn to her husband and whisper, isn’t this rather rude? Why are they heckling the pastor while he is preaching?
She continued attending her husband’s church but was still loyal to the Catholic Church. For the first few months after they got married, she continued to make her financial commitments to the Catholic Church. After observing for a while, her husband had a conversation with her. He used this analogy to explain his position: "Babe, you can’t drink a cup of coffee at a Starbucks in London and tell them you will pay at Starbucks in America. Yes, it is still the same company, but you pay where you have been filled …where you drank the cup of coffee”. In other words, if she got her nourishment from the church in Port-Harcourt, then why was she making her commitments somewhere else? He advised her to open her heart, listen to the substance of the message and forget all the other little distractions. And so she agreed. She opened her heart and just listened ... and listened and listened and faith did indeed come.
The bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. And so one day while the praise and worship was going on, she saw her hands raised high up in worship. Wow, how did that happen? And as they prayed, she saw her hands raised, and then the unthinkable happened – her lips moved …alas! What happened to me, she wondered in amazement.
The whole process took some work, but she made a personal decision with the help of her husband to converge with him on that particular issue. She was determined to make it work and her husband stood by her, buying her CDs and helping her learn the lyrics to the worship songs. Something else that helped her transition was being part of a smaller unit in the church – the Couples Fellowship. Sometimes, it’s easy to get lost in a big church. The Couple’s Fellowship and other smaller units of the church help to bridge that. But more than that, it takes a personal commitment from both partners to make a marriage work: patience, understanding, love and above all prayers are all elements key to having a successful marriage in Christ. This is fundamental.
In the end, this is what she learnt:
- Marriage is a union of 2 different individuals; a ‘convergence’ of two diverse backgrounds and experiences.
- This ‘convergence’ requires compromise. No marriage ever worked when both individuals involved take parallel paths; convergence is imperative.
So your story might not be similar to hers: it could be differences in culture (to kneel or not to kneel, pounded yam or Poundo); differences in the way money is managed or utilized based on the way you saw it with your parents; it could be about how you address each other’s older siblings; it could be with table manners (some don’t like to hear the sound of cutlery hitting teeth while eating); cultural, religious, tribal differences are numerous; or it could be something even more divisive. But as a spouse, empathy, love, patience and understanding are some of the ways we can overcome or learn to accommodate our differences in marriage. We can make it work, if we determine within ourselves to find our unity in the midst of diversity.
Do you have a similar story to share on how you overcame and made your differences work? Please share if you can and bless someone who may be going through some challenges in that area.
Thanks for reading! God bless!!