[notice]A new, monthly column by Vivienne Solomons who is a legal consultant who passionately believes that God wants His people to make a difference right where they are and to stand up for what is true and just. She is also passionate about encouraging young women to walk victoriously with God and she is engaged in a challenging faith journey as a parent of a child with special needs.[/notice]
The events on our university campuses in recent days have given me pause for thought as well as an opportunity to reflect on my own journey ‘within’, particularly as it relates to differences in race, culture and language, through the lens of my closest personal relationship, which is my marriage.
It’s been more than 25 years, but I still remember the day I first met my husband. It was 1990 and we were both students at the University of the Witwatersrand. Although we found ourselves in the same place at the same time, our stories could not have been more different. He was from a Christian home in a coloured township, a couple of hours’ drive outside of Johannesburg. I was born in Wales, having emigrated to South Africa with my family a few years before, and was (just a few months) young in the faith. On the face of it, we were separated by race, culture and language. But as it turned out, we had a number of mutual friends and soon enough, we found ourselves not only in the same local church, but also in the same home group. Needless to say, our friendship grew.
Fast forward a few years, and his anticipated departure for a medical internship in the Eastern Cape served as a catalyst for some long overdue introspection on my part, followed by much prayer and counsel from my spiritual leaders. With a green light every step of the way, all that remained was for us to have a ‘heart to heart’ of the serious kind. You can imagine my relief then, when he revealed that he felt the same way, believing that this was indeed God’s plan for our lives.
Our differences loomed large
But when he left town for the year, my courage failed me and my anxiety about the future threatened to overtake my love for him. Not once, not twice but over and over again. Suddenly, our differences loomed large. Given the changes in the ideological landscape of South Africa at the time, our union was a relative novelty, even to our loving friends and family. So the fact that we were the only ‘mixed’ couple amongst our peers meant that we would pretty much have to figure things out as we went along. Every marriage has its challenges; our differences meant that we would have to work that much harder to build a life together. And with God’s help, that’s what we did.
Truth be told, we are still learning — about each other and from each other. I know that our experience has moulded and shaped us in the deepest parts for the better, without a doubt. During our 17 years of marriage I have learned that difference is not to be feared and that conflict is an opportunity for growth — in myself, in my husband, and in our relationship. In order to navigate our differences in an honouring way and resolve conflict when it arises, I have found that it helps to bear the following in mind:
1.I am, first and foremost, a child of God. The fact that I am a white South African of British birth is secondary. This knowledge informs (or should inform) my every action and reaction (or should I say, response) in life, from developments in the political landscape to how people treat me, and I them — no matter how difficult or uncomfortable the situation may be.
Kingdom culture first
2. Kingdom culture trumps white and or coloured culture, as well as every other culture, all the time. Every time. Without exception. While there is a place for the acknowledgement of customs and traditions, along with their accompanying expectations, in our relationship, where they are not aligned with the Word of God, Godly principles and values must take precedence in my life. Not only does this posture please God, but it also builds unity in the midst of our diversity and brings harmony to our otherwise divergent thought patterns. As a result, we are able to forge a joint vision for our life together and prioritise accordingly.
3. Open and honest communication on a regular basis, that is effective communication, is the key to any thriving and mutually beneficial and fulfilling relationship. All the more so in a relationship where there are differences in race and culture, not to mention language, and opportunities for misunderstanding and unmet expectations abound. Effective communication ensures we are ‘on the same page’, even when we disagree.
These principles have not only helped us to grow in our own marriage relationship but also have given us valuable insight into our relationships with others, including those across racial and cultural lines.