Before I was married, I loved wearing cowboy boots. I was reared in a western state, and as I tugged on my boots each morning, I was reminded of rodeos, riding horses, and good ol' country music.
Not that I was a real cowboy. I was a city kid, but a western city kid. I loved attending the annual rodeo in our area, and I wore boots all through high school.
When I went to college in the Midwest, my western roots were part of my identity. While going to rodeos as a spectator might not qualify me for the Cowboy Hall of Fame, at a school where no one else could tell steer wrestling from calf roping, it was good enough. My boots fit the overall image—as a guy who knew trail rides, backcountry jeeping, and the difference between country and western music.
It wasn't until I got married that I began to hate those boots.
It started shortly after our honeymoon when Trish, my wife, lamented as we were going to a dress-up occasion that she couldn't wear her favorite shoes anymore.
"Why not?" I asked.
"Because I like to wear shoes with a heel," she said. "If
I wear any heel at all, then I'm taller than you are."
An utterly average 5'9", I'd never been aware of a height deficiency before. Trish is also 5'9"—a fact I'd never considered to be anything but another sign that we were meant for each other—a matched set! But she didn't see it that way.
I tried to be gallant. "It's okay with me if you wear your favorite shoes—I've always looked up to you anyway." Nice try, but it didn't work.
"You don't understand," she said. "It's not okay with me. I don't want to be seen with a shorter man. All the other men in my life have been tall enough that I could wear my favorite shoes, and they were still taller than me."
That hissing sound was my ego deflating.
I knew Trish's dad and uncles were all over 6 feet tall. Worse, Trish's ex-fiancé;, who'd broken up with her shortly before we met, was also a 6-footer. Suddenly 5'9" seemed insufficient.
Throughout the first year of our marriage, I was obligated to adjust to the reality that I was shorter than desirable. As Trish continued to work through her feelings about my height, I began to wonder if height was really the issue. Or was this a way of working through unresolved feelings of attraction for her ex-fiancé;?
At times Trish would say, "Can I share a frustration with you?"
Like I had a choice.
But I'd brace myself and say, "Sure, tell me what's on your mind."
Once she said: "I wish you were taller. I'd love to go walking with you and have your arm resting on my shoulder."
"Yes, that would be nice." I didn't know what else to say. I knew from experience that when you're the same height, you can walk with an arm around your wife's shoulders, but you can't rest it on her shoulders. I suspected what Trish was referring to were her walks with Mr. Ex-fiancé;.
"Does it help when I wear my cowboy boots?"
"A little. But it's not enough."
After that, I didn't want to wear my boots at all. Pulling them on, I was no longer thinking of rodeos and trail rides. I was thinking, Even with these on, it's not enough.
I fought irrational feelings of inadequacy. Maybe stature isn't the only area where she sees me as undersized. This is stupid, I thought. There's nothing you can do about this. It's not your fault. Trish is trying to deal with her issues as best she can.
She didn't mean to hurt me. Surely. Don't let it get to you, Josh, I told myself over and over. Forgive and forget it.
But I couldn't. For the first three years of our marriage, every time I saw my boots, every time I saw a pair of Trish's shoes with flat heels, I winced. I didn't see this as my shortcoming, however, but hers. Every day I was reminded that in my wife's eyes, I didn't measure up. What was I to do with these recurring jabs?
The years since have brought some perspective. I've learned that lots of married people live with daily reminders of an ongoing source of pain, some of which make my size syndrome look rather petty.
For some, there's a daily reminder of a spouse's incompetence in some area. For one couple, every time she looks at the checkbook, she's reminded that he's incapable of earning enough to support the family without her income. For another couple, each time he sees the pills in the medicine cabinet, he's reminded that she suffers a depression that prevents them from having the kind of family life he always dreamed.
For others, it's having dinner with children from your spouse's first marriage. Or writing monthly checks to pay off loans, the result of bad financial decisions.
How do you deal with daily reminders of painful aspects of your relationship?
Many things in a relationship have to be forgiven—not just once, but every time you think about them.
For me, it helped to remember that there are plenty of things about me that Trish has to forgive on a regular basis.
I first realized this after I took our 2-year-old daughter to the grocery store and, foolishly, allowed her to stand in the shopping cart as we were heading back to the car.
She was facing forward, holding on to the front of the cart, when the front wheels suddenly hit a crack in the pavement. The cart jerked to a stop, and Jessie flew out, landing face first on the asphalt with a sickening thud.
For a moment she was silent. I feared she was dead. Instantly, I picked her up, cradling her head in my arms. "Jessie, oh, Jessie! Are you okay?" Then she began to scream. As bad as the screams were, they were better than that eerie moment of silence.
I buckled her into her car seat and rushed to the emergency room. I prayed and she cried all the way.
There I explained what happened, and the medical staff, I thought, looked at me with barely disguised scorn. I couldn't blame them. I hoped they weren't calling child and family services.
Physicians checked Jessie's eyes and vital signs and kept her under observation for an hour. Fortunately she had no concussion and nothing worse than a scraped face and a nasty lump on her forehead.
When I got home with Jessie, Trish turned pale and demanded a full explanation. For the next several days, she had daily reminders on Jessie's face of my failings as a father. I'm grateful she forgave me—after I promised that never again would I allow a child to stand in a shopping cart. Forgiving wasn't a matter of forgetting here. Every time Trish saw Jessie's face, she had to decide whether to forgive my negligence all over again.
Forgiveness for things we're reminded of daily is something we both grant and receive.
Note to self: forget it
One of the stories in the Bible that haunts me is Joseph's naming of his sons. Joseph, of course, was Jacob's self-assured favorite son whose jealous older brothers beat him up, sold him into slavery, and told his father that Joseph had been killed by wild animals.
The Book of Genesis reports Joseph's life as a slave was bittersweet. Far from home, he earned a position of trust in his new master's household. But when his master's wife tried to seduce him and he refused, the spurned desperate housewife turned venomous, falsely accused him, and had him thrown into prison.
After years in prison, Joseph's ability to interpret dreams brought him to the attention of Pharaoh, who rewarded Joseph's wisdom by giving him a position of great responsibility and a wife. After 13 years as a slave, it would have been natural for Joseph to brood over his lost years and the mistreatment he'd received.
But when Joseph had a child, he named his firstborn Manasseh—taken from the Hebrew word that means forget. Joseph said, "It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household" (Genesis 41:51, italics added).
Naming your son "Forget" puts a whole new twist on "forgive and forget," doesn't it? Every time he saw his son or called his name, Joseph was reminded of what he was forgetting. More precisely, he was reminded to forget.
Forgetting, as it complements forgiveness, isn't an absence of awareness. This kind of forgetting is a conscious decision to put the matter behind us, to embrace the situation without malice, without bitterness, without reopening old wounds.
Joseph's decision to forget the hurt was tested when his brothers showed up in need of food and didn't recognize their formerly despised brother. His creative response demonstrates not only that his brothers had changed, but that he had, too. I like to think that a few years of calling "Forget" every day helped give Joseph the grace to forgive when he encountered the real source of his pain.
Not long ago, I grabbed my cowboy boots from the closet. I was looking at them, lost in thought, when Jessie, now a teenager, walked into the room and saw the silly grin on my face.
"What's your problem?" she asked.
I thought a moment and said, "I forget."
I'm glad my boots reminded me. They're older now, but they still fit just right.
Josh Summitt is a pseudonym for a writer living in the Midwest.
Copyright © 2005 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.