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Protecting Ideals and the Reality of the World in which We Live 

From a mother's perspective, Stephanie asks the hard questions about balancing ideals with the challenges of reality. Stephanie is insightful and penetrating in her questions but remains gentle in her conclusions as she acknowledges how difficult and personal the struggle is for each person trying to make the best choices she can. -Editor

The New Church offers beautiful teachings with unadulterated ideals about marriage. Something I struggle with is how to hold and protect these precious, perfect ideals I've been privy to have an awareness of, and how to love and accept myself and others in our imperfect states and world. Specifically, I struggle with the ideals of conjugial love and the myriad ways in which it is adulterated. Some questions that arise in my mind include relationships outside of marriage (including homosexuality, cohabitation, pre-marital sexual relationships, open relationships, etc.), the spectrum of the presence of mothers, and the roles and specific duties of men and women within marriages.

I absolutely believe in conjugial love and the marriage of good and truth. I love the fact that men and women correspond to good and truth and that we have this beautiful gift of an opportunity to become, with our whole beings, a perfect union of good and truth and from two, become one. Today, knowledge of conjugial love and, probably more predominantly, reception of conjugial love is rare. Though everyone is looking for love, the ideals of conjugial love as laid out by Emanuel Swedenborg, whether known as “conjugial love” or not, are not popular guidelines. Often I've heard it explained that a person's relationship choices (e.g. sexual orientation, exploration, divorce...) are the way they are in part because it is believed that his identity would be smothered were his choices not to be accepted by others and allowed to be acted out. How do we share and promote the beautiful promise of conjugial love when, for most people, the shining beauty of such a relationship takes a lifetime, or an eternity to build, so a living example may not hold much sway for those to whom the Victorian ideals are not at all appealing?

To what degree should we accept relationships as they are and support the love that is being cultivated in whatever way? To what degree should we reject relationships outside of marriage in order to be a beacon of truth upholding our specific teachings of conjugial love, when, of course, as human beings, not any one of us is perfect? Furthermore, we know that not even we ourselves can know who really has conjugial love – married or not.

Another issue related to conjugial love especially dear to my heart is that of the role of mothers. Every mother in the world loves her children and is doing her very best to make the best choices she can for the good of her family. She can't help it; she's wired that way. Here again, I am an idealist. I believe in my deepest heart that mothers are uniquely designed – biologically, emotionally, and spiritually – to be with their babies and children and to be their primary caretakers. And yet, again, our society is moving in a direction of separating mothers from their children in a variety of ways. The most obvious is mothers working outside the home. There are mothers who work full-time, part-time, or just occasionally. They go back to work when their children are 6 years old, 2 years old, 6 months old, or 6 weeks old. The children are left in the care of relatives, baby-sitters, nannies, or day-care workers. Some mothers are working because they are passionate about their careers; because they feel they need the money; because they are pressured by their husbands; because they cannot adjust to the pace of life with infants; or because they think they have to in order to be contributing to society. Then there is the time away from the home that mothers take for themselves which is not work-related. A date with their husbands, pursuing passions or hobbies, spiritual growth, exercise, time with friends without children, health or pampering, running errands, the list goes on. How much time is too much time away from our children? Starting at what age? Then there are degrees of presence and responsiveness even within the home. Putting baby down in baby-holding devices or carrying baby in a carrier at all times. Putting baby to sleep in a crib in a separate room and ignoring her cries until she learns to stop crying or never hearing her cry because she is sleeping in mother's arms in her bed. Bottle-feeding, pumping, or breastfeeding on demand until baby is 6 weeks, 6 months, 2 years, or 6 years. Spending her time on the internet, doing household chores, or whatever her children want to do. The variety of ways to mother are as endless as the variety of mothers.

Every mother deserves respect and support for her individual choices. Also noteworthy is the question of use. The Lord has given us all unique gifts and talents to be of use to Him and His kingdom. Today, women are free to discover and pursue whatever special gifts she has been granted by the Lord and surely feels satisfaction and happiness when she fulfills her use. And yet the dissolving bond of mother and child is of particular concern. Especially disheartening is the branding of a mother who has chosen to devote her full-time care to her children as unimpressive, unmotivated, uneducated, and one who has ultimately given up on herself. The questions that must be asked are, what is the intention in having children if we do not wish to give an entirely helpless human being complete fulfillment of its needs? What kind of human being do we hope to raise? One who values individualism over interdependence? One who values success over human connection? Is it better to leave our children in another's care while we fulfill other uses, or is there really enough time to put our other interests on hold while we care for our small, needy children? It is worth considering the comparison between bringing a child into the world and discovering that a loved one has a terminal illness and now needs full-time care. There are still choices to be made, both practical and spiritual, but somehow, the latter is often glorified as heroic and deemed totally loving, while devoting full-time care to children holds many negative connotations and commonly is viewed as a way of escape from living life to the fullest.

Finally, I turn my attention to the distinct roles of men and women within a marriage. The traditional roles of men and women have been all but phased out. Women can do anything men can do; men can do almost anything specific to women, save childbearing. How important is it to stay within the realms of roles specific to men and women? Again, to what degree? Many couples today share the responsibilities of childrearing and housekeeping, and often breadwinning as well. Where should the line be drawn? Is it more important to strive to stay within each sex's traditional domain or should the intention be to practice communication and foster partnership – regardless of how the duties are split up?

So I am left still asking the question, how do I hold and protect these ideals for myself, share them with others, and acknowledge the reality of the world in which we live – a world wherein we are all doing our best to pursue personal happiness and fulfillment for the sake of self-esteem, love to the neighbor, and fulfilling our use? I am also asking the question, do we who consider ourselves New Church believe that the teachings in the Writings are optional, or are a promise only of heaven, or do we strive to practice and live the distinct ideals of our doctrine? How do we narrow down our life choices in a culture of infinite options? Is it the Lord's intention that we all, eventually, return to receive and practice the ideals specific to the New Church, or is it His will that the Writings be constantly re-interpreted to adjust to the lifestyles of contemporary society? Or is it that we will never be able to attain perfect adherence to these ideals for the purpose of keeping us humble and dependent on the Lord alone, that we might be spared the temptation of making ourselves our own omnipotent God?

And here is where Divine Providence, like a blanket of peace, enwraps me. In my anxiety, doubt, fear, and worry, I feel the comfort of Divine Providence, knowing that the Lord, in His Infinite Wisdom and Love, is leading, guiding, and providing for every individual in the entire universe in His perfect care. He has a plan, and part of that plan includes our seeking, that He might satisfy our yearning for His particular will for each of us.

Stephanie King

Stephanie King is married to Carl King and the mother of two children, Phoenix and Serena. She is a singer/songwriter and has been at various times a doula, yoga instructor, and an assistant in Montessori and Waldorf kindergartens. She believes her most important work for the world and for her own spiritual growth is that of motherhood.

Reader Comments (5)

Great questions, Stephanie! I find myself asking many of these same questions, albeit from a different angle (unattached and embarking upon a career in teaching). I love the ideals and the knowledges about masculine and feminine traits that are presented in the writings for the New Church, and want to be a part of further discussion on these topics. How to live a principled and compassionate life in contemporary society is an issue very relevant to my life and I appreciate your acknowledgment that the Lord's Providence is leading us all. Thanks again for your thoughts.

March 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErin Schnarr

Thank you, Stephanie.

I have to share my laughter that it is you who wrote this and not Erin - somehow I saw Erin's name, she having commented, and I thoughtfully read the article thinking of Erin. What a fun twist it is for me in this moment to reflect on how I hold information, depending on it's perceived source and who is present in my spirit. I love your thoughts and your kids and your husband - Carl has this powerful sweetness about him. Thanks for shining forth gentle, earnest and prayerful motherhood. I am thinking also of my cousin Sascha and her marriage and motherhood. I am praising the Lord for His goodness.

March 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterIsaac Synnestvedt

Thank you for doing such a great job of putting into words so many things that I wonder about too! You would think that after making this my life's work I would have a bit more of an idea of what I am doing, but I have been a wife for 31 years and a mother for 29 and I really don't have a clue what I should be doing! But I too have been comforted by the blanket of the Lord's Providence. He knows that we are confused and He knows why, but that isn't stopping Him from leading us in just the right way.

This may not answer day to day questions like, "Just why did the Lord think that a man and a women, that He intentionally made so different, would be good to put together in a marriage?" or "How can I have some people looking down on me, and some people looking up to me too much for my mothering skills which this morning amounted to spreading peanutbutter on as piece of somewhat stale bread and telling my husband and children to hurry up until they finally left the house."

The Lord loves marriage and He loves children, so if we try to do things that support marriage and caring for children, then the One Who really knows will guide us. I can trust that He is watching over all of us and guiding our feeble attempts to do His work.

March 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterShanon Smith

Stephanie, The ideal is marriage between a man and woman. However, everything outside this ideal is not equal in the writings (or in the Bible). While not exonerating concubinage, the Writings do not equate it with adultery (which, per Biblical definition, is the coupling between a man, married or not, and a married woman). By logical extension, a long-term sexual relationship between an unmarried man and woman is not the same as rampant promiscuity. Homosexuality is always, technically, an abomination. However, casual homosexuality between normally heterosexual people would be a bigger slap in the face of nature than homosexuality between folks who are afflicted with a same-sex attraction disorder (a mental illness). Visiting a female prostitute would have greater culpability for a man in a loving marital relationship than an 'unattractive' man who has been unable to find a woman. I am not trying to be legalistic in the Talmudic sense here by formulating, based on the Bible and the Writings, a hierarchy of behaviors and choices. The reason why such differences matter is that the motivations and spiritual choices behind these extra-conjugial behaviors are different, and choices such as these fashion a person's character for eternity. There's a difference in motivation (and inner spiritual workings) between when a penniless person steals bread to quell his hunger, and when a bank executive embezzles billions. Regardless, we all need to keep monogamous, heterosexual, eternal conjugial love as our ideal. As the Writings indicate, if we do not receive this blessing in this world, we will in the next. - William

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam

Stephanie, Regarding the related subject of divorce, the Writings have helped me to take a very sane and balanced view. As you know, the Writings say that married couples cohabit in heaven for a while until they can determine if theirs is truly a conjugial relationship. If not, then they part amicably -- and are helped to find their real soulmates. What this tells me is that I do not have to strain myself and jeopardize my marriage trying to find the perfect relationship here on earth. I can live with my wife as if she is my eternal soulmate with the understanding that if she is not, then we will separate in the afterlife and find spouses who are matched to us. Either way, it will work out for us in the end. Now, if I were an atheist or a Christian of another sect who believed that married love ended with this life, then I would be desperate to find the perfect conjugial relationship right here and now. I would probably undergo a series of marriages and divorces attempting to find my true love. In conclusion, my wife and I have decided to not divorce each other unless there is some egregious misconduct in our marriage - an affair with a third party, spousal abuse, abandonment or chronic neglect. In essence, New Church teachings provides folks with a foundation for building stronger and more tolerant marriages, while not giving up their highest aspirations of finding true, eternal love which might (or might not) be an outgrowth of one's current marital relationship. - William

March 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam
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