Anarchists feel that rules are like prison bars, so do rebellious teenagers. There is something of the rebel in all of us: it's human nature. However, most of us learn to accept rules and acknowledge that, paradoxically, although they do impose restrictions, they also provide freedom.
For example, I feel safe and free when I drive because of the road rules, and my faith that the majority of my fellow motorists know the rules and obey them. We all bend these rules to some extent, but generally we acquiesce to the order they impose.
Relationships require rules. They may seldom be called rules, and are often spoken negotiated agreements rather than codified laws, but they are invariably established within all relationships. Sometimes, they just happen as in one person's reaction to the other's breach of an unspoken rule which results in an apology and a promise to "never do that again". At other times, they are more purposefully constructed. A person entering a second marriage will want to discuss the issues which contributed to the demise of their first marriage in an effort to make sure the mistakes of the past are not repeated.
My wife and I discussed big issues like money, sex and parenting before we married. It was the second time around for both of us and we each wanted to ensure that we understood the other's expectations. An early obstacle for us was religion. I'm a protestant Christian and she is a Roman Catholic Christian. Despite our mutual faith in Christ, we had to deal with the matter of church rules versus the teaching of the Bible. We agreed to be tolerant, and not to force each other. We agreed to disagree about somethings. For example, the Catholic rule which prevents my devoted wife from ever taking communion because she is a divorcee. I strongly disagree with this church rule, but I respect my wife's right to accept it. This has become a "rule" in our relationship which we both understand and adhere to, and within which we are free and feel safe. She knows I will not go on about it, nor criticize her or force her to do something about it.
Another catholic church rule which is not Biblical is abstaining from meat on Fridays. I understand this is a mark of respect for Christ who was crucified on a Friday. However, my understanding of the Bible is that we are free to eat whatever we want to, whenever we want to. Peter's vision is instructive, but Paul adds some words about food in relation to respecting other people which also need to be taken into consideration.
In the continued search for more common ground, I decided to not eat meat on Fridays. It makes very little difference to me. Even though I eat meat almost everyday, I considered it an inconsequential sacrifice. My wife was overjoyed at this simple gesture. It is now something we do together to demonstrate our mutual faith in Christ, and to show respect to our Saviour and to each other. By doing this, I am being respectful rather than just talking about being respectful.
I eat well and regularly. My example has influenced her to not skip meals. I used to eat sandwiches and drink Coke everyday. Under her gentle influence, I have reduced my Coke consumption by half and dropped one of my lunch time sandwiches for a hot meal. Some of these changes were negotiated and others have just happened as result of the time we have spent together, positively impacting on each other's lives.
My wife once told me that she didn't like rules. At the time, I challenged her about this, but have since accepted it is not true, not as a blanket statement anyway. I don't go on about it. This is another example of one of our rules, but we don't need to be explicit about its existence. A good set of rules should just operate in the background, underpinning the relationship.
To finish I return to Paul's words:
Romans 14:3 "The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not everything must not judge the one who does, for God accepts both."
I think this is an excellent culinary rule for healthy relationships, and by extension an admirable goal for relationships in general. What say you?
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