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The Value of Conflict

The Value of Conflict

To be honest, it was love at second sight. I’d been a compulsive romantic for far too long and my friends were beginning to doubt if there was a wolf in the woods. So it didn’t surprise anyone that, when I met Shruti for the first time, I had already married her in my mind and argued with her about names for our children. She lived in Delhi, where I had lived since I was 3. But I lived in Chennai now, 36 hours away if you travel by train. Besides the miles between us, my friends counseled me to be patient and resist the urge to plan the proposal.

A month earlier, I shut down my Facebook account because I was convinced that spending eight hours a day refreshing my news feed wasn’t the way to find authentic community or lasting love. So I couldn’t stalk her just yet. But when I felt I had paid the price for my indulgence, I returned to Facebook and looked up Shruti Ailawadi. It was love at second sight. I remembered how my eyes were plainly fixed on her at the conference, even though her father was preaching a few feet away from me. I remembered how, right there and then, I felt like I knew all I needed to know about her. All that was left to do now, was to fetch a ring.

But I wasn’t going to be overeager this time. I was going to be cautious. We became friends on Facebook and I held my breath, waiting a week before she broke the silence. And then the floodgates opened. We exchanged messages daily and decided to meet the next time I was in Delhi. We met a few times in the company of friends and I returned to Chennai, oddly bemused at the possibility that love might be just around the corner. I was a 30-year-old virgin who’d served as best man for my best friend, watched sadly as many others got married (sometimes to each other), had his heart broken, faced rejection a few times, wrestled with God over the futility of abstinence—and never kissed a girl. All of that was going to pay for itself a hundred times over, if this girl would wear my ring. She was a good girl in a bad girl’s body and I was the good guy who was finally going to get his due.

I moved back to Delhi a few months later. On our first date, she told me she didn’t believe in dating. We talked about trivial and important things and confessed our obvious interest in each other. On our second date, she told me I’d have to speak to her father if I wanted this to go any further. A few days later, I called him on the phone and when he asked me to come over at 10 in the morning, I asked him if we could make it 3 in the afternoon. With mind-numbing stupidity, I said to him, “I’m usually not up that early in the morning.” That he still agreed to see me is testimony to his patience.

Shruti and I are globalized Indians. We’re influenced by Western thought and committed to Eastern values. We were suspicious of casual dating and frightened by arranged marriage. But when we met, we felt like we knew enough of each other to take our desire to our parents and see how they felt about it. After facing some tough questions from her father, I went to God in fervent prayer and returned with answers that satisfied his concerns. Shruti was promised to me and we started dating. I took her to watch Inception and felt compelled to hold her hand, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Later, she told me I was an idiot for chickening out.

Seven months later, we got married. Sometimes purity pays off, with interest.

But marriage demands more change than I’d ever imagined. I was an only child with a 30-year monopoly on personal decision-making. All of a sudden, I’d lost a 50 percent stake in the market and had to think with two people in mind. I didn’t know I could be angry with someone so beautiful, and I was genuinely surprised that someone could find me selfish and insensitive. Who would’ve thought?

Shruti and I were given the heritage of those who fear God’s name. Though it’s commonly expected in India that the bride should leave her parents and be submissive to her husband, we were taught well that the Bible presents a blameless Groom who left His Father’s house and gave Himself up on the Cross, for the sake of His scarlet bride. Peter even says that God will not hear the prayers of a man who doesn’t cherish his wife. God wants men to treasure their wives sacrificially because He gave His bride a Husband who cherishes them sacrificially. Marriage is also that relationship which reflects the submissive yet equal relationship between each member of the Trinity. Where there are submissive wives without sacrificial husbands, there is a poor reflection of the Trinity.

But theology is easier read than lived. I love being married, but I hate fighting. My wife and I respond to conflict in our own ways. She’s the rhino who runs toward it, and I’m the hedgehog who curls up and gets all pokey and allergic to touch. But conflict is woven into the fabric of God’s purpose to make us like Jesus. It loses its power over us when we make the choice to change—to die to ourselves. The more we choose to change, the more we become agreeable to each other. Our love grows deeper because it’s proved by our eagerness to change for the sake of the other—for the sake of our Maker.

The force of conflict seems less threatening when it’s met with a genuine eagerness to change. It’s a high calling to love your spouse like Jesus—to give yourself up for him or her. But the truth is, although it’s daunting and difficult, I’m committed to love my wife like Jesus, even if it be the death of me.

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