It’s taken me a long while to get this written and if any of you are wondering why I would bother or even consider doing so, two reasons. First, I can’t help but wonder how couples are faring during this challenging time, how increased proximity, possibly homeschooling and job loss – and financial stress, plus fears of illness are affecting people. And, second, if you are spending even a minute of your precious time reading this, I want to do you the honor of being as forthright and honest as I can be. So I shall share my failures, fears and idolatries. And the fact that there is hope. If anything I have learned along the way can help, encourage or at least offer hope then my pride is a small price to pay. I have a favorite verse from 1 John 1. 7 that states, “If we walk in the light…we have fellowship with one another. If we say that we have no sin we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
These poems, just a few taken from the folder titled ‘The Difficult Years’, were written in the middle of the struggles and challenges of my marriage – in the muddy, muddy middle of repentance, healing, and restoration. They reflect the emotions I was experiencing and the narrative I believed. For too many years I let myself be ruled by and interpreted life through the lens of rejection, fear and insecurity. I cringe when I read some of my old journals: I don’t like that person – small wonder my husband didn’t. But, I am not that person anymore
At the tender age of 18, I made vows – the official church vows – the scary, are you kidding me, almost impossible ones. I was aware of the gravity of them – I thought I was mature. And although I took them seriously, reading, rereading and meditating on them regularly, determination alone did not make it easier to keep them. The same way knowledge of the law itself has never been able to make people holy, determination was not enough to make me whole or healthy. All my striving could not overcome my inherent flaws nor topple the idols that demanded obeisance.
I Fold Youth and beauty were played early. Empty handed I fight to win your love. I think the cards are marked. Are aces high or low? I cannot win this game. No one told me that the rules had changed. Are jokers wild? Nothing up my sleeve - I played every card I had. I took a few tricks, but I never knew the trump.
Forty At forty, the masks are flung down. Life no longer smiles sweetly, lies lightly of joys to be won; dandled delights are revealed… “Made in Japan.” Origami – rain sodden, sun bleached, foot trodden. And my heart, in the gutter, is gray.
Product of a dysfunctional family, I married with a host of weaknesses and shortcomings and my husband had a few of his own. How lovely it would have been if somehow we could have worked through these together, supporting one another in our attempts at growth instead of blaming and withdrawing, or rejecting and controlling. Neither of us had the foundation, the skills or the character qualities necessary to complete what we had started. The fault lines barely visible at the start, gaped wider with each tremor and eventually, after 42 years, became terror inducing chasms.
This is not something I am proud to publicize. Only God knows how painful those years were, but I don’t resent them nor am I bitter about any of it. The monsters hiding under the bed had to be confronted, the wounds healed, the idols cast down. For close to a decade I worked through the issues of my sin and brokeness and when I came out the other side I was not the same person. It must have felt like a bait and switch scam to my husband. He’d quite liked the girl he married.
The beauty of Christianity is its redemptive narrative. The story of the poor orphan child who is discovered to be the lost or kidnapped child of the king is a familiar one. We love it. When I found myself to be that child with a new and powerful identity, I was filled with faith, hope and the courage to face the giants as I confronted them. This song is one I sang over and over again during those years.
Like all journeys mine was not straight forward – there were wild curves, cliffs and washouts. Deeply ingrained habits of thought and reactions to be overcome, fears to be faced down. I was being stretched so much there were times I thought I’d snap – but a lovely line from a Rilke poem often sustained me, “…with each disclosure you encompass more and she stretches beyond what limits her to hold you.” If that’s what it took to become more Christlike – well, it was a small price to pay.
Unbelief If I sink my roots in this softening sod, will your pulse throb in my veins, sap green shoots pierce my heart’s shroud? What are the odds on one timorous, tremulous, querulous bud, cajoled by arbitrary April, surviving the North winds blast? And if indeed the sun should shine, where is the guarantee, where is it written that the requisite showers will follow? Which is worse – thirst or frostbite? But even if earth, sun, rain, are faithful, there remains, returns, more faithful seems than they, the North wind. I wish thick clouds would shroud the siren sun and leave me in the dark.
As I matured in my faith and my understanding of God’s love, I began to understand that my security and safety did not depend on my circumstances and that my worth was based on my identity in Christ, who had loved me enough to die for me. Through AA, a series of counsellors and many faithful friends, I began to work through my ‘stuff’ and by God’s strength and power was restored to some semblance of wholeness. Still flawed but, amazingly, loved and forgiven.
Not The Stepford Church I used to have a picture of the perfect family; smiling Daddy, smiling Mom, smiling progeny. My husband would be perfect in a three piece navy suit, working hard from nine to five, bringing home the loot. I’d look like Martha Stewart in a spotless home, serving perfect scrumptious dinners out of pots of polished chrome. Aside from being brilliant and spiritually astute our children would be respectful, musical, hard working, athletic, honest, compassionate, responsible, patient and cute…. in little matching three piece suits. And to complete this lovely scene, on Sunday morning we’d be seen reverently praying, singing, hearts at peace and all serene. Sitting with the other saints, row on row of smiling faces perfect Christians, polished Christians barely needing any grace. Now we’d have it all together - every person knew their role, and maintaining this illusion was my all consuming goal. But His kingdom ain’t for fakers, perfect folk need not apply. What the Father’s heart is seeking is the broken hearted cry. With great love the Father broke me, stripped me bare of my disguise. Though I shrunk from this exposure, love was shining in His eyes. How on earth could I smile brightly? How could I hold up my head? My life in ruins all about me. How I wished that I were dead. In the dark hours of that long night, tossed by waves of doubt and fear, He has taught me I can trust Him, that His love is always near. Death of hope, death of dreams, death of pride and reputation, From the ashes of our lives God intends to build a nation.
I hope you’ve read this far. I would hate to leave you in some of those dark, despairing places. But I recall the Psalms and how often King David cried out in grief, anguish, anger and despair to the Lord – and then a few lines later is proclaiming his absolute confidence in God’s goodness. That is my testimony. Single, married, divorced, widowed – He has been faithful, good and gracious through it all. I expected condemnation and rejection from God for my failure – He lavished his love on me in amazing ways.
Divorce may be commonplace but it is a gut wrenching experience. It took me 5 years to even use the word – to apply it to my life. I still hate it. God hates it. Marriage and family are his idea, the foundation of a healthy society and one of the most important metaphors He uses for his relationship to us – so it’s important to take it seriously. People and relationships are worth fighting for. God is in the restoration business and can do wonders.
I fully believe that given the power of grace there is hope for every situation. I am amazed that anyone can hold their marriage together without the many means of grace He has given us – forgiveness, repentance, humility, his word and his spirit. I have seen several marriages restored and reclaimed from the brink of destruction – and some, sadly, that have not. I know of many, many successful marriages (though not a one that has been without challenges) so I ‘ll leave you with another song which I hope will encourage you.
I bless you and pray each one of you will know his love, grace and amazing power. As He promises in Isaiah 61.3, He gives us – beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heavieness. http://blb.sc/003N2x