Q: I want my wife to attend my church with me, but she says it's too formal and liturgical. And she feels the people aren't friendly. The denomination I attend is very important to me and I will not give up my faith -- but we don't have another church of this kind around us for miles; in fact, the closest is about 45 miles away. What should we do?
Jim: Your ability to find common ground on this issue will depend on the degree to which you're both willing to compromise. Some churches offer a more upbeat, informal service on Saturday evenings. Your wife might feel more comfortable in such a setting. Is that an option at your current church? If your wife feels like an "outsider" to your particular tradition, I'd encourage you to take it upon yourself to help her feel more welcome. Go out of your way to help her make friends.
I know you're determined to be faithful to your denomination, but would you at least consider the possibility of finding a place of worship outside that denomination, for your wife's sake? The beauty of the Christian tradition is that many different denominations trace their doctrines back to the same basic biblical tenets. Switching from a Baptist church to a Presbyterian or non-denominational church, for example, is hardly the same thing as "abandoning your faith." And in the end, driving 45 miles to the other church you mentioned might be worth it. It's certainly a better option than having you and your wife attend separate churches.
I'm reminded of the joke in which a man is filling out an employment application and gets hung up on the question, "What is your church preference?" After thinking about it for a minute, he writes, "I prefer a red brick church." If only the decision were that simple!
Q: Every year, I dread the holiday season ... the noise, commercials, cards and gifts nauseate me. I also dread the parties and get-togethers with relatives. It all just seems so fake. Frankly, I get depressed during Christmas. My wife loves Christmas, so I feel like I have to pretend to enjoy it for her sake. Any help for a Grinch?
Juli: Well, Mr. Grinch, you're not alone in your dislike for the holidays. In fact, depression and suicide rates spike during this time of year. Feeling depressed at Christmas is even worse because everyone is telling you that you should be happy!
Your dislike for the holidays may not be about Christmas at all, but rather what it has become. Christmas is first and foremost a religious observance, the day Christians commemorate and contemplate the incarnation of Jesus Christ. How people celebrate Christmas is a completely different matter. In fact, many people who love the meaning of Christmas are appalled by the materialism and hedonism now associated with it. I think it's just as appropriate to weep on Christmas Eve as you contemplate Jesus' birth as it is to give a gift to a loved one.
Instead of chucking the whole holiday, ask yourself the question, "How can I best celebrate Christmas this year?" The answer may be for you to skip a party and serve dinner to those less fortunate.
In the "spirit of Christmas," we all flex a little for others, spending time with in-laws, going to work parties we don't really feel like attending, and so on. But I would encourage you not to "fake" your excitement for the holidays to make your wife happy. Instead, find the genuine joy of celebrating an event that changed the course of history in your own way.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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