Nathan’s Corner: Lessons Learned

Hi, this is Nathan. If you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably heard of me.

And if you’re anything like me, you’ve probably thought, “Wow, this guy sounds too good to be true.”

It’s fun having such a glowing publicist, but the rumors of my husbandly deification are greatly exaggerated. Emily has kindly overlooked my several unsuccessful attempts at cooking dinner, or the fact that I brought in the trashcan last week without noticing that the garbage man hadn’t been by to empty it yet. She leaves out the frustration she must feel when I’m not communicating clearly or listening carefully.

Yet she continues to forgive me and focus on the positive because she loves me well.
I have a lot to learn as a husband, but I have the advantage of 36 years spent preparing for this relationship. There have been some pretty lonely years in there, but I certainly know more now than I would have if I’d married fresh off my mission (which was what, at the time, seemed to be the natural order of things).

1. I have learned how to take care of myself spiritually.

In a Christmas blog entry, Emily mentioned that she gave me a copy of The Little Prince in which she had written a special message for me. In that message she listed all the things she loves about me, and said that her favorite thing of all was that I am committed to my spiritual life.

As a single member in this church, you really have to be committed to your faith, or else it’s easy to become unmoored and fall away. I’ve had to stand strong without being surrounded by the built-in support of a wife and kids. Scripture study and frequent prayer have not only helped me to build my testimony and understanding of the gospel, but also have grown to be precious parts of my life. I’ve learned how to give priesthood blessings, bear testimony, and receive direction from the spirit. It turns out that all of those things are helpful in learning how to be a good husband and (hopefully one day!) father.

2. I have learned how to take care of myself emotionally.

Those who have met me know that I am a naturally cheery person. I love to smile and laugh, and I try to use those qualities to bless people around me.

But it’s also true that I have struggled for much of my life with depression. In male culture, it’s easy to see depression as some kind of failure. There were days when depression would pin me to my bed, when I felt like an infinite weight of sadness was pressing down on me. And all the while, I would doubt myself, questioning whether really I was just being lazy.

Emily can tell you there are still times when I feel overwhelmed, and she is a great comfort to me.
But I also haven’t just idly allowed myself to be washed around by my emotions. I’ve gotten help. I have read psychology and self-help books. I’ve gone to therapy, both individual and group. And if one particular methodology didn’t seem to be working for me, I would move on to another.

What that means for my marriage is that, while Emily truly makes me happy, she is not responsible for making me happy. I am not dependent on her for my happiness. She adds to it. I can be emotionally balanced and provide support when she’s having a bad day, or even when she’s frustrated with me. When I maintain my emotional health I am able to more fully enjoy Emily’s love, because she is able to give it to me freely rather than having me grasp at it for a lifeline.

3. I have learned to let go.

Over the years that have passed since leaving home, I managed to amass a large amount of stuff. So much so that I have developed a theory that stuff is actually parasitic: it needs us in order to live. Every time I moved to a new apartment over the years, I would carry countless boxes with me, so many of which seemed filled with things I didn’t care about but that I couldn’t seem to part with.
Then came a time when I discovered the concept of “voluntary simplicity.” What I took from it was the idea that the less junk that I held onto, the lighter that I would feel. But letting go of my stuff seemed so traumatic at first! I gave away all kinds of things, including my entire series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs. I told myself that books were the one thing I could never part with, but in time they began to go as well. What amazed me was that the idea proved to be true: it wasn’t just my room that felt less cluttered. I felt less cluttered. Now, I still have plenty of stuff, and culling it may be a lifelong project, but I came to understand that you don’t have to own something to love it.

There are two ways that this is helpful in our marriage.

The first has to do with literal stuff. I have a certain off-the-wall aesthetic, and I have a lifetime-worth of odds and ends, wall art and décor to go along with it. But for some reason, Emily isn’t so excited about hanging my framed linoleum prints of carnival sideshow acts in the living room. And it turns out that there is no good spot in the house for the midcentury furniture that I inherited from my grandparents.

But you know what? It doesn’t bother me at all. It’s just stuff. It doesn’t mean I like those things any less, but this is not their time and place, and I’m fine with that.

The second way this applies is in non-physical things. Emily and I are both intelligent, strong-willed people full of ideas. I know that just because I have a good idea, it doesn’t mean that hers isn’t good, too. If only one idea gets to be used, then so be it—it simply isn’t a crisis. When you’re making pie, apple or cherry doesn’t matter that much.

If I had been given the chance to plan out the life I dreamed of, I certainly wouldn’t have put off meeting Emily until this point in the story. But this is the Lord’s plan, and there has been eternal value in the life I have lived, and the lessons I have learned.

I don’t want anyone thinking that doing these three things are enough to make me a perfect husband—it certainly has not. But they have removed enough needless complications that my wife is willing to look past a lot of my flaws and see me as better than I am, for which I am grateful.

That’s just one more reason that I love her.

About Emily

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 2009. I serve as a Chaplain, and work as a counselor. I got bilateral cochlear implants in 2010, but will always love sign language. I choose books over television, and organics over processed. Nothing is as close to flying as ballroom dancing - except maybe running, when in the solo mood. I would rather be outside than anywhere else, especially at the river riding my bike or kayaking. PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and currently doing a post-doc in Jewish Studies and an MDiv in Pastoral Counseling. The best thing about Emily World is that it's always an adventure, even if (not so) grammatically precise. The only thing better than writing is being married to a writer. Nathan Christensen and I were married in the Oklahoma City temple on 13 October 2012, and have since fostered more than eighty-five children. We have adopted the six who stayed, and are totally and completely and helplessly in love with our family. Nathan writes musical theater, including "Broadcast" (a musical history of the radio) and an adaption of Lois Lowry's "The Giver". He served his mission in South Korea, has taught song-writing in New York City public schools, and worked as a theater critic for a Tucson newspaper. This is not an official Web site of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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