// D E A R R E A D E R // BEFORE YOU READ THIS POST
I share strong words here today, aware that some of you have already faced the pain of separation and divorce.
In no way do I desire to pile shame or additional sorrow on you. You never started out with the intention of divorcing. You tried your best and perhaps even look back with confusion or regret, wishing you knew then what you do now. I pray that today you will find rest and healing in the hands of the God of all comfort.
He is the King of fresh starts. The Master of bringing resurrection out of death. That is the promise for every divorced man and woman.
Also, Scripture is very clear that there are certainly circumstances (adultery, or when your spouse rejects you for your faith) where divorce may be your only choice. Not only that, but I also think that marital separation is sometimes a necessity, for physical safety or to end co-dependent harmful situations.
You do not have to walk through these circumstances alone, and I pray that the church will learn to be the most welcoming, least judgmental people in all the world. My intention in this blog post is to speak to those among us who are wrestling in the midst of their marriage, with internal maladies of selfishness, fears, unforgiveness, or pride. It is to this large crowd, of which I am a part, that I write.
When my husband and I stood face to face on our wedding day, nearly 11 years ago, we made solemn vows to each other. I'd like to add that we walked into marriage with eyes wide-open to the reality that it would not be easy.
Where did we get the idea that blessings are the easy things? Like the surprise gift cards that drop out of birthday cards. Not all blessings are like that. Rather, they can be anything that brings us closer to truth, because truth makes us free. Sometimes the truth we most need to recognize is the reality of our weakness.
My husband, Bryan, and I hardly fought at all in our first couple years of marriage. Maybe it was because we were still just basking in the fulfillment of all the aching prayers we had prayed as single people. In those early years we rejoiced often, speaking of how the wait was so worth it.
Or maybe we were so unskilled in conflict resolution and fearful of the vulnerability necessary that we just kept opting to swallow and forgive any grievances? Or perhaps it was a bit of both.
Regardless, around our sixth year of marriage we began to note that the pressures were increasing. We realized that we were going to have to get more intentional in communicating our hurts and needs, in setting time aside to be alone together, and in coordinating our schedules.
That sounds so neat and tidy. I welcome you to go ahead and read between the lines of that last paragraph.
Do you know what I mean by "increased pressure" in marriage?
It is the warm sensation you get in your hands because your heart dropped when your spouse said, "We should talk."
It is the knowing that even though you are a sleep-deprived parent, the only time that will work for a real, honest conversation is around 12:30 at night. And by "real, honest conversation", I mean, "staring at your hands, fidgeting with a ring, suddenly noticing you need to clean your baseboards because you can't find a way to make eye contact, trying to piece together the words that will be coherent, praying that the other person will not get defensive, or will forgive you, or will hear what you are really trying to say."
And the room always feels as breathless as a run-on sentence. That kind of pressure.
It was in that season that the words of Jesus, (found in Mark chapter 10) began to resonate in my mind:
"What God has joined together, let no one separate."
It became a prayer, and a declaration. A determination.
Let no one be the cause of our division.
Not even me.
As married couples we live so close that every rough edge we still have will touch the other person. Those splinters can get caught under each others skin.
The temptation is for us to become calloused. To stop hoping. To stop letting your spouse near. To stop caring so you won't have to face disappointment. To let your smile fade and your eyes grow cold. It is the unconscious thought that "you can't hurt me if I don't let you close."
What God has joined together, let no one separate.
Not even me.
One anniversary I printed out and framed a copy of the wedding vows we had written and spoken to each other.
It hung on the wall in our bedroom. A piece of art? Sure. But more accurately it would be described as a reminder. In times of weariness or frustration, maybe while putting away socks, I would pause and read again what I had committed myself to.
I stood before God on that wedding day, and I stand before Him again today. I answer for my choices, not my spouses. Regardless of the behavior of my mate, I am responsible for my heart and MY commitment. My promise that day was to Bryan, but it was also to the Lord.
Oh what great vulnerability we face when we join in marriage! What risk! We cannot make anyone love us. We cannot control every outcome. We can only do what we know to be right and keep our heart soft. We must approach the altar of covenant with sobriety and trepidation tempering the infatuation and passion that flow so easily on that day.
What God has joined together, let no one separate.
Not even me.
The disciples once asked Jesus privately, "If God intended for couples to stay together, why did Moses make the allowance of divorce for the people of Israel?"
You see, these twelve men were living in an era of "divorce for any reason". If a husband decided that he was no longer pleased by his wife, whether in the kitchen or in the bedroom, he could send her away.
You can imagine that this relational instability only fed an atmosphere of performance and fear in every wife. Women cannot sustain fearful performance for long. Over time the anxiety gnaws at her soul, the radiance and strength of her youth fades, and the husband feels disillusioned. He rejects her and she finds herself alone, even if they still share a house.
This was potentially the descriptions of marriages that Peter, Matthew or John's parents had. They possibly felt afraid of being trapped in loveless marriages when they asked Jesus to clarify His position on the matter.
In an earlier passage Jesus had explained, "Because of the hardness of your own hearts, divorce is permitted, but it was never God’s desire or intention." Divorce happens long before the papers are signed. It begins with the hardening and isolating of our hearts.
Growing up in a Christian home and church community, as a young woman I thought it cruel when I read in the Old Testament book of Malachi that God hated divorce, until one day when I heard the Spirit of God whisper to me, "Bonnie, do you want to know WHY I hate divorce? It is for the same reasons that every human hates it."
I knew it to be true. Even though divorce is sometimes the necessary parachute to escape a dangerous or damaging situation, no one hopes to experience it or puts it on their goal list.
Eleven years deep into marriage, I am here to admit that I understand why so many are tempted to take the exit ramp. It is one of the most vulnerably exhausting and scary things.
Here is the other side of the same coin: marriage truly can be a wonderful thing. It has brought us great benefits and times of multiplied joy. We have laughed together and found comfort in each others arms. We have prayed for and cheered for each other's God-given callings. We have stood firm together and defied fear, sickness, warfare and lack. We have traveled together, found freedom, and dreamed of the future together.
But one of the unsung blessings of marriage is that it demands more from me than I have.
Marriage leaves me no choice but to throw myself upon the kindness of Christ and ask Him to fill me with His love so that I will have something to give. Marriage demands that my love grow stronger and more mature. I either run from the vulnerability of intimacy with another human or I humble myself one more time and pray to the Lord for wisdom and strength from heaven.
Stay soft, dear hearts.
There is no life in the feigned safety of a calloused heart.