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The Most Horrible Marriage Counseling Session of My Life

April 3, 2014

7I started doing a study on the religious domination and internal structure of the Pharisees at the time Jesus ministered on Earth.  These fellows really knew how to set up a system of pious entrapment.  Even a brief look at Sabbath rules are staggering.  Here are just some of the things you were not allowed to do on the Sabbath:

No marking of animal hides or cutting hides to shape
No lifting anything above your shoulders
No writing two or more letters (as in alphabetical letters)
No erasing two or more letters (as in alphabetical letters)
No building
No carrying anything to a house outside of your own home
No demolishing
No extinguishing a fire or kindling a fire
No putting the finishing touch on an object
No carrying an object of distance over 4 cubits within your own house

It became sort of an art to be able to balance all of these rules, and you would need to be something akin to an NFL referee; you had to memorize the list and be able to exercise it during the game of life.

And in the midst of all of this, the very basics of existence is gone: the love and worship of God.

In fact, an early rabbinical question was “Does God keep the Law?”  If you said “yes,” you were stuck with the problem of how God Himself keeps the Sabbath.  The rabbis batted this argument around and sweated it out until they made a decision:  God does mostly light work on the Sabbath.  He doesn’t need to kindle the Sun, nor does He demolish anything on the Sabbath.  He doesn’t really lift anything above His shoulders, so to speak, and since the Law is already established, He doesn’t need to add any letters or erase any, for that matter.

These gentlemen missed the big question, which is why they could not comprehend Jesus Christ’s ministry which was bathed in love.  Self-sacrificing love.

There are numerous times when my students ask about my experiences as a pastor.  One of those times was when we had been studying 1 Corinthians and the problems in the church:  divisiveness in chapter 1, perversity in chapter 5, lawsuits in chapter 6, disruption of communion in chapter 11, confusion about tongues in chapter 12.  Paul’s working at it, though – he’s not going to give up on these believers.  The sophomores were asking a goodly number of questions along the way.

“We hit a turning point,” I said,”Chapter 13 is known universally as the Love Chapter, which is an example of Christ’s love for us.  What a great passage!  Agape love is all over this chapter,” I gestured to the Power Point screen. “Among all of the Koine Greek words for ‘love’, this tops the charts.”

McKenna raised her hand.  “What’s the difference between phileo love and agape love?”

Phileo love is a powerful love, for sure – it’s a deep friendship, a loyal love,” I replied.  “But agape love, now that’s absolutely nuclear in its power.  It’s a love that goes beyond emotion.  It’s a love of commitment, of sacrifice.”

“Like between husband and wife?” asked Lauren.  “Like in marriage vows?”

I nodded.  “Yes, ma’am, good example.  A groom and bride give vows of commitment – a good example of how agape love should be followed.”

“Yet,” said Riley, “numerous couples break those vows. So they didn’t have agape love to begin with?”

“That’s not for me to say, Riley,” I answered.  “I don’t know their attitude and their affection at the time of the wedding.  Perhaps they really meant those vows with all of their heart.  Somehow, somewhere along the line they just gave up on fulfilling that lifelong commitment.”

Then the talk turned to marital problems.

“You’re ordained, Dr. Zockoll,” said Jeremiah.  “Have you ever given marriage counseling?  I don’t mean pre-marital counseling, but the kind where an already-married couple has had problems.  You know, like you were helping them out?”

“Yes,” I replied.  “Over the years I have had counseling sessions for folks who were having difficulties.”

“Well,” said Jeremiah, leaning forward.  “What was the worst situation you were ever involved in?”  The other students saw me reflect.  They leaned forward as well.

I breathed in and sighed.  It wasn’t hard at all for me to recall the worst.

“It was about fifteen or sixteen years ago,” I said.  “A couple in their mid-twenties – I’ll call them Rick and Tina.  I received a phone call from them when I was in a local church ministry, and they were asking if they could come over to my office and get help.  They both claimed to be Christians, but they were at the breaking point in their relationship. Both admitted on the phone that they were at their limit – in fact, they were already separated, for at least a month now.”

The students shook their heads.

“Even worse,” I said, “was that they had two little children.”

I moved to the center of the room and continued.

“Rick and Tina came into my office, pushed their chairs as far away from each other as they could and went at it, loud and emotional.  Not screaming, but getting pretty close to it at times. I listened, gave counsel, and even played the umpire at times.  This went on for at least ninety minutes, with the session ranging between quiet discourse and bitter accusations – but nothing really had substance, no matter how I tried to bring the problem to the light.”

“Tina would shake her head and tell me ‘He’s not an idiot.  He almost made it in professional baseball, all the way to the top.  He was one step away, but he was playing in the top minor league system.  He’s smart, and he’s alert.  But this…’ Her voice trailed off.”

“I looked at Tina. ‘Do you love Rick?’ I asked.

‘Yes,’ she answered immediately.

‘Do you want to go back home to Rick?’ I asked.

She didn’t hesitate.  ‘Yes, I do.’

“I turned to Rick.  ‘Do you love Tina?’ I asked.  He nodded.  ‘Yes, I do.’

‘Do you want Tina back?’ I asked.

He nodded again.

‘Then what is the problem?’ I asked.  ‘Give me the top problem, the main thing, now, Rick.  The main thing. What is the very thing that is splitting this up, sir?’

He leaned forward and set his jaw.  Glancing at her, he gestured.

‘Every night, Brad, after we have dinner, there are the dirty plates, you know? We finish dinner, and those plates are all over the dinner table.’

He pointed at her.  ‘She’ll pick them up and put them in the sink.’

He looked at me for five seconds with out speaking.

‘And you know?  She’ll let them sit there.  Won’t wash them right away.  She’ll let them sit there, sometimes for an hour!  I’ve told her that she’s got to wash them right away, because there’s dirty food on those plates.  Will she do it?  No!  She’ll let them sit, sometimes for an hour!” He nodded at sat back.

‘An hour,’ he repeated.

I blinked.

I was waiting for something else.

There was nothing else. He sat back, triumphantly.

‘You mean to tell me,’ I said slowly. ‘That this break-up is mainly because you cannot stand dirty dishes in the sink?’

Both of them nodded.

I sat for a moment, collecting my thoughts.

‘Now you said you loved her, right, Rick?’ I asked,  He nodded and glanced her way.

‘And Tina, you said you loved him and you were willing to come back. Right, Tina?’  She nodded.

‘Well then, Rick,’ I said carefully, ‘let me ask you a simple question that might bring this whole afternoon to a conclusion:  For the sake of bringing Tina back home and being a wife to you and a mother to your children, don’t you think you could put up with a few dirty dishes in the sink for an hour?’

The room grew quiet.

For ten seconds he didn’t give an answer.  Then he replied.

No,’ he said as he shook his head.

‘No, I couldn’t.’

Tina looked at the floor and slowly got up.  She walked to the door and opened it without ever looking back.  She closed the door and left.

I sat there stunned, looking at him. “Are you kidding me?” I asked.

He shrugged.  ‘That’s just the way I am.’

I never saw Tina again.  They were divorced within the next month.  Rick had a rule that left love at the doorstep.”

“And that,” I said to the stunned students, “was – and still is – the worst marital counseling session of my whole ministry.”

Love does not keep a record of wrongs. 

Love never fails.



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  1. Tell the idiot to wash the dishes himself!!

    • Mary, I think I was working toward that when Tina walked out. After he realized she left, everything fell apart.

    • Becky P. permalink

      I have to admit that “wash them yourself, guy” was my immediate reaction to his objection to dirty dishes in the sink. If dirty dishes in the sink evoked such a reaction by him, I’d be pretty sure that there would be other issues unless she was as equally OCD as he apparently was. Since he didn’t offer to wash the dishes himself I think probably didn’t really love her as much as he claimed to–at least not as much the Bible tells the husband to love the wife–“as he loves himself.”

      I read one blog where the guy wanted his wife to bleach down the kitchen every night before heading to bed. !!! They got divorced–the daily bleaching of the kitchen showed just a tiny bit of his personality. She couldn’t handle it.

      • Becky, you are right. If these couples would apply agape love, we wouldn’t see such odd issues as this.

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