Lean in close, dear ones. I have a story to tell. It’s not mine, but I am a small part of it, because it’s a story about a couple who is precious to me. And we’re all part of God’s great big story, yes? I have permission to share this story with you in the hopes it reaches out to the ones who most need to hear it. The ones in crisis. Right now.
My friends had a good marriage. They worked at it, shuffling shifts at work, which often meant they saw one another coming and going. There were immediately stepkids; then new babies who keep getting bigger. Fortunately, this family walked their daily lives with groups of friends in a local church. It all changed drastically one evening. Every situation looks a bit different, but this couple both disappointed one another greatly that evening. All in all, it was a disaster and, from this point on, there will be a “normal-life-before” and a “new-normal” after this fateful night.
Their marriage came under serious attack. Both husband and wife were deeply wounded. Words were said that cannot be unsaid. Children heard conversations not meant for young ears. Bags were packed and a family separated.
Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski (flickr.com)
Enter Christian counseling. Aren’t we grateful for those brothers and sisters in Christ who help us see ourselves as we really are? Even the ugly. Trained professionals who show us healthy ways to handle the relationships in our lives. They help explain why we respond the way we do to all. the. things. When we enter these sacred offices, we stand in the presence of the hands and feet of Jesus. This couple's Christian friends, from their small group, they hung around too. Thank God! It seems if we only turn to our secular friends, divorce is a quick, “easy” answer. It was huge for this couple to have Christian friends who listened and gave feedback with the perfect balance of grace and truth.
I can’t share a lot of the details because I don’t live close to this couple and it is, after all, their story. Every now and then, I would send a text to the wife asking for an update. How could I pray? I knew better than to pass judgment. I didn’t want to take sides because I cared for both of them. These times leave our friendships in limbo. I just wanted my friend to know I continued to pray and, with me, she had a safe place to share her story.
The days and weeks immediately following the evening it all started were awful. More hateful words, threats, divided property and finances. The couple started to plan for a life apart from one another because they didn’t see reconciliation in their future. Irreconcilable differences. Suddenly, the children of the household were forced into a new normal too. They kept a bag packed for when they went to Dad’s. It became difficult to remember which of their possessions were at what household.They caught bits and pieces of adult conversations but didn’t dare ask too many questions themselves. Internally, they had a bucketful of questions though, just waiting to be poured out.
Months of hard, emotional work ensued. This couple stared right at the internal junk many of us never even face. Individually, it made the husband and wife stronger. I would talk to the wife and walk away amazed at how much wisdom she’d attained. However, nothing brought the couple back together. Even as an outsider, I began mourning the loss of yet another marriage. It seemed our enemy had won again.
The wife started contemplating that dreaded word - divorce. She’d known things were bad but that word never really settled into her soul. When it finally did hit her - one moment on a particular afternoon - she thought to herself,
“What am I doing? I don’t want this.”
That was a pivotal moment for her. She wanted her marriage, even though she had no idea how to build a bridge back to a healthy union. But God…
That’s it my friends. The message I have for you today. If your marriage is on the rocks, be it a steady decline, or the morning after a night you’re not sure you’ll ever forget; no matter what your friends tell you, what society leads us to believe, you don’t have to get a divorce.
Please, oh please, don’t turn this into an argument about divorce. I believe God hates it, but still I know in this fallen world, it’s going to happen. If you or your children are in danger, get out. If you have already gone down the road of divorce, lay down any shame you carry at the foot of the cross. I have seen God do amazing works of redemption in many lives over the years.
What I am saying - even if divorce looks imminent in your situation - that’s not necessarily true. In this couple’s relationship, they turned a corner. Both people made a decision to stop hurting one another and start healing. It took both of them to choose this path.
In time, they shared what details they needed to with their kids. The husband moved back home. Counseling continues. One of the pieces I thought seemed extremely helpful is they don’t talk about the most painful parts, the raw wounds, except in a counseling session. They did this so the relationship they’re building now can emerge healthy and whole. The wounds remain, but they believe Christ’s blood can cover them. In time, they have hope the pain they caused one another will fade. So that five, ten, even fifty years from now, they can remember these few months in 2016 as an unpleasant memory. Instead, they’ll focus on all the good that came after the pain. Good they would have missed if they hadn’t found a way to keep their family together. Love can win.
When I asked for this couple’s permission to share their story, they both expressed a desire for God to use this part of their testimony to help others. The wife also shared these pearls of absolute wisdom. Free of charge.
I’ve learned the importance of “living in the gray.” My new mantra I dubbed in counseling. I always thought if things (in any area of my life) weren’t perfect and easy, then they weren’t right. I have constant visions of lovely Norman Rockwell paintings for any given situation - vacations, first days of school, birthdays, play dates, Sunday mornings, marriage - and anything outside of those blissful images means I have failed. I have learned there has to be room for bad days - even really bad days. God blesses those too. He uses them to grow me. There has to also be room for mediocre days. Living in the gray. It’s becoming a beautiful color in my life.