Question: We have a dilemma. Ours is a friendship that began in college and developed into much more over the past four years. One of us is Catholic and the other is Jewish. Now we want to marry and both of our families are against marriage, even though we’ve reassured our parents that we would honor both faiths and help our children to fully understand both faiths. We don’t want
to alienate our families and need help in approaching them in a way that will resolve the concerns they have.
– Two in Love
Dear Two in Love,
The theology of Jewish marriage is that it is the blessing of a new Jewish home. The theology of a Catholic marriage is that the married couples vows to create a Christian home with Catholic beliefs and worship. My understanding is that the Jewish rabbinate truly frowns upon “mixed marriages.” The Catholic Church is more reconciled, particularly if the other party is Christian – since today the Catholic Church regards all Christians as “separated brethren.” Nonetheless, the Catholic Church requires that the children be raised Catholic.
I certainly associate with Jewish-Christian married couples and their families and have seen a variety of solutions. But the most successful is if one religion is to be the dominant one in the raising of the children, even though the customs of both faiths are relatively easily observed in the home. Certainly a Seder can be celebrated by Christian children of Jewish background, for example. And certainly, the Jewish parent can identify with the “barrakoth,” or closing table blessing that segues into the Christian Eucharist, so far as Christ’s institution of the Eucharist is concerned.
If both of you are truly practicing your religions, chances are that you are unrealistic in thinking these two faiths can be completely combined, at least as regards the children. And if you do not intend to have children, that would not be considered a valid sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church, as the willingness to have children (at least eventually) is a requirement for validity of the marriage as a sacrament.
But in terms of legality and sheer psychological authenticity, this is the your marriage, not your parents’. This is your decision. Let us pray that you decide wisely, which in my opinion would be to opt for the raising of the children in one dominant faith, but both family cultures. That is definitely possible, in my opinion.
Dear Two in Love,
My heart goes out to you both. I know it is difficult when people such as you have fallen in love to face the opposition of their families on religious grounds. Please be reassured that many others have shared your dilemma and have gone on to have long and happy marriages, ultimately supported by the very families who initially objected their union.
Another thing to know is that your families’ objections are not based on logic or reason. They are based on their deeply held beliefs and emotional connections to what they believe to be your best interests. In short, they love you and don’t want you to be hurt. That is why reasoned arguments will not work with them.
So what can you do? One thing is to listen to their fears and respond with love and caring concern. Find out what is underneath their concerns so that you can address those issues rather than what you imagine to be their greatest objections. You two may have carefully worked through to an acceptance of your differing religious beliefs. Now give them a chance to do that with your support.
Another possibility is to enlist a respected priest and rabbi to speak with both families. Your parents may be able to hear things from them that they cannot hear from you. And some priests and rabbis will even agree to co-officiate at an interfaith wedding such as yours.
Finally, you may just have to make your decision to marry and have faith your parents will grow to honor your relationship as time and love work in your favor.
I wish you all the best and hope that you will find a healing way to bring your love into its full expression in the joy of marriage.
Rev. Dr. Betty Stapleford
Unitarian Universalist Church of the Verdugo Hills-La Crescenta
Dear Anxious Mom,
Yes, a summer trip with friends sounds better than one in winter alone, if only for the weather and companionship, but your phrasing of the question makes me think you understand it’s time to let your son make his own choices. Especially since the other two adults in your family agree he should go. As your young adult children establish their lives and start families of their own it is likely holidays will have to be shared in some way. This trip is great practice for inevitable compromises coming down the road.
If you’re too sad to continue old traditions without your son, perhaps it’s time to start some new ones like spending the holidays with more distant family, in a resort or on a short cruise. Another possibility is helping out in a homeless or battered woman’s shelter, adopting a family or serving a meal. There could be some homeless young person who could use your good parenting skills.
Your concern about your son traveling alone is reasonable. I don’t think it’s asking too much to have him check in periodically, given all the technology choices for communication these days. One thing to keep in mind is that most of Europe is no more dangerous than the United States. Obviously he should thoroughly research his planned route and stay aware of local conditions.
Congratulations on raising such a capable young man. It’s not easy to find work and save money for travel in this economy, at any age.
Question: I have a best friend who has low self-esteem. We’re both in our mid-20s and spend a lot of time doing girl things together like shopping and movies. She often talks about how everyone is against her and takes offense at the smallest things, as when a food server doesn’t bring exactly what she orders. She doesn’t make a major scene; however, she seems to sink into a smaller self when these things happen. She has spent time in therapy over the last three years. Is there a way I can support her in gaining more confidence?
– Love my friend
Jesus was asked which of the commandments was most important and he summed up the entire law in two: the first was to love God totally, and the second, “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-31). Many people these days reinterpret that to mean you must first love yourself, then you become capable of loving your neighbor (and God). After all, how can we love others if we don’t first have a healthy self-love? Sounds logical, but Jesus doesn’t direct us to love ourselves. It’s presumed that we already do, and I’m afraid that most of our confidence issues, and the sour feelings about others not treating us as well as they should, result from that very fact. We love ourselves so much that we’re incensed or crushed that others should dare treat us with less than we deserve. We’re miffed when the world doesn’t recognize our great value, and because of this we do not naturally fulfill Christ’s words.
Instead, God tells us to get our eyes off ourselves and proactively love others. For your friend to get out of her doldrums and quit having her head shrunk, she needs to start looking at others with love; the kind she would personally desire. It’s outwardly focused rather than inward; neighbor oriented rather than self. If your friend suffers from low self-esteem, tell her to heed the counterintuitive wisdom of God and “esteem others better than herself” (Philippians 2:3) and she’ll find herself highly esteemed by both God and neighbor.
Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church
It sounds like your friend is suffering from some kind of self-esteem issue that can often be more serious such as “traits” of a borderline personality disorder. I am by no means saying she has this disorder. But the symptoms you describe often come from early childhood abuse, neglect, or trauma, which leads to this. When I say abuse, it can mean verbal, shaming, emotional, physical or sexual. It can also be from witnessing parents in a conflictual relationship.
I would first ask yourself what you know of her upbringing. Perhaps there is hurt there that has developed into a “lens” so to speak in which she sees the world. This lens can cause her emotional vision to see real or perceived insults, threats and other things not really happening. This causes her to sink into her “little girl” part to cope with them. This type of thing comes from a well-documented theory called Attachment Theory.
It may be that her therapist does or does not see these parts of her. Therapy for this type of things is long term, so her therapist very well might be seeing these traits in your friend and working slowly with her on them. But there are things you can do as well.
First, if you do not already know her upbringing I would ask questions. Once you know, I would say such things that make her feel loved and valued such as, “That sounds horrible” or, “You have been through so much, but you do not have to stay in that place. You can live in victory.”
Whether or not these tips hit the mark on what you are witnessing, you can try the following.
When she sinks into her little self, comment gently on it: “You know, ‘Kathy,’ I care so much for you. I notice that sometimes it seems like things hurt you and your mood changes. Do you ever notice that? I am here if you want to talk about it.”
When she takes offense at something and you feel it is unnecessary, point it out, again, gently.
“Kathy, it seems like you think Liz is picking on you. I am wondering if she was just distracted at the time?”
These types of things can point out to your friend “perceived” threats or insults and help her to see when she may have mistakenly interpreted an event. This type of support and thoughtfulness can help change your friend’s life.
She is blessed to have a friend like you who cares enough to write.
Kimberlie Zakarian, LMFT