I’m Mormon and my husband is not. He has his own religion that constitutes an important part of his identity, vaguely informs his religious beliefs, and minimally informs his religious practice. I would not describe him as religious at all. He would describe me as extremely religious.
Sometimes people at church ask me if my husband is “interested in the church.” My answer to that is, well, yes, he’s interested in the same sense that I’m interested in hockey.
My husband is a huge hockey fan. He puts a lot of time and energy into watching hockey, listening to hockey podcasts, reading hockey blogs, and discussing hockey with like-minded hockey fans. Among those like-minded hockey fans are his dad and his brother. In fact, hockey fandom is a major force that draws his family together. In some ways, hockey fills a similar space in his life that church fills in mine.
I think I understand the appeal of hockey, and I’ve learned a lot about the sport since being married to my hockey-loving husband, but I didn’t grow up as a hockey fan (or even really as a sports fan). When we watch a game together, I’ll admit to having a hard time giving it my full attention because I have to really concentrate to even understand what’s going on. For the most part, when I watch hockey, it’s mostly just a way for me to express love for (and spend time with) my husband. That’s the main source of my interest in hockey. His interest in Mormonism is like that.
Does it bother my husband that I’m not really a true hockey fan? The short answer is no. On the one hand, in theory, he might like being married to someone who shared his passion for hockey. On the other hand, I’m the person he’s in love with, not some theoretical hockey fan. He chose to marry me rather than any of the actual, sincere hockey fans he’s met over the course of his life, and he made that decision with a pretty realistic expectation that hockey will never mean as much to me as it does to him. He appreciates my efforts at trying to understand the game and my willingness to watch it with him. But he doesn’t mind when I fall asleep during an important play-off game (and I don’t mind when his reaction to an exciting goal wakes me up). I think he needs people in his life who care as much about hockey as he does, but he doesn’t necessarily need his spouse to be the one to fill that role. I feel the same way about his level of involvement in my religious life.
Actually, my husband is an enthusiastic fan of one particular hockey team: the New York Islanders. My indifference to the sport means that, to the extent that I follow the season at all, I’m happy to cheer for the Islanders, or whichever team he happens to be cheering for. In that sense, I think he prefers this state of affairs to one in which, for example, I were to be a die-hard fan of the New York Rangers (he hates those guys). Likewise, I think we would probably have more religious conflict in our marriage if he were as religious in his own faith tradition as I am in mine, or if we shared the same religion, but had wildly different levels of (or approaches to) religiosity. As it is, I think he feels like it’s a good thing if someone in our family is going to some kind of church, and he’s glad it doesn’t have to be him.
We’re expecting our first child in the next couple of weeks, which raises a super important question: Will we raise our daughter to be a hockey fan? Yes, I really want to. I don’t necessarily feel a strong need for hockey in my own life, but I recognize that it’s added something special and important to my husband’s life, and I’d love to see him pass that on to our daughter. I also love the idea of my daughter and her dad watching hockey together and cheering for the same team – I think that would be a great way for them to build an awesome father-daughter relationship. Of course, she’ll ultimately need to make her own decisions, and maybe she’ll decide she’s not into hockey (and my husband would naturally be more disappointed than I would be if that were the case). But if she shows any interest at all, I think we’ll both really encourage that interest. And I think my husband feels the same way about the idea of raising our daughter in the Mormon faith.
Now wait a minute, you might be thinking, this hockey thing is not a good analogy. Surely your religion is more important to you than hockey is to your husband! Well, I think you might be underestimating how important hockey is to my husband. I’ll admit that even I didn’t fully appreciate the depth of his hockey passion until we’d been married for a while; and I’d been through three or four hockey seasons with him at that point. But sure: it’s an imperfect analogy. For example, it doesn’t account for some of the possible eternal consequences of choosing a religion, which are arguably greater than the consequences of choosing a sports team. For all that eternal stuff, I guess I pretty much take the approach that at the end of the day, we’re all just doing our best and relying on God’s mercy to make up the difference. I’m too happy in my marriage to worry about it much more than that. When it comes to the way we navigate our marriage on a day-to-day basis in this life, honestly, the religious differences just aren’t that big a deal for us.
Let’s Go Islanders!