Each time Ryan comes home from seminary, he’s physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted. And, after two weeks with our two young boys (ages 5 and 3), I, too, am pretty beat. You would think, then, that we’d both just collapse the minute it’s over (like that’s an option!) but we usually do the exact opposite. We both talk non-stop, excitedly relating things that happened while we were apart. The conversation continues for hours, days, even weeks later I’m hearing details as Ryan remembers them. And I am genuinely interested in MOST of it…he, he, he! This extensive conversation is crucial. It’s our way of reminding the other that he/she is home and we no longer have to be “on”. Slowly, methodically we begin the process of reconnecting.
Ryan has been traveling with his job as long as we’ve been married and, at first, I expected far too much of our phone conversations. While phone conversations ARE very important, for us we agree that they are strictly a chance to assure the other that all is well and that we are loved and missed. (That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped screaming at him tearfully during a mid-point, ill-timed call but at least we now have goals!) We both look forward to his return when we can resume our long conversations about everything and nothing as we slowly find our way back to “us”.
Last summer, we went to our first Lutheran Marriage Encounter (LME) retreat. Frankly, that weekend was so over-scheduled, intense and exhausting that we couldn’t wait for it to end!! Now, however, when I think back on that weekend, I realize I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned so much about how to really know my husband and how to allow him to know me. The new skill I value most is listening without judgment. I know married people who would freely share intimate life details with a stranger that he/she would never share with his/her spouse. Our fear of judgment and punishment can be really inhibitive. When I make it my goal to listen to Ryan fully, without trying to analyze or advise, I realize that I have only begun to know this man that I thought I knew inside and out. That’s intriguing! In turn, when I feel that he has truly listened to me, I am relieved, refreshed and renewed.
So my best advice for welcoming your seminarian home (besides the obvious…wink, wink) is to listen fully. I feel compelled to share some of the discussion questions from my LME handbook. Remember that you are asked to retreat to separate rooms and spend 10 minutes (set a timer) journaling your answer to a question (non-stop writing even if/when it becomes senseless). Then, take 10 minutes together to read your responses and discuss or “dialogue“. Also, dialoguing is NOT for problem-solving! OK…here goes:
When I reflect on the gift you are to me, I feel____. How do I feel sharing this with you?
When have I experienced your acceptance of me this week? What feelings have I not shared with you this week because I thought you wouldn’t accept me?
Do I listen better to you or to others? How do I feel about my answer?