31 January 2017

Saving Your Marriage Isn't the Goal

Remember that I warned you about how deeply existential and one-sided my thoughts on divorce would be. I only expect that to continue.

In my last post, I intended to grope toward and commend the viability of letting go. When someone has turned the corner, it's better to realize that finality sooner rather than later. Of course, there are always exceptions to this principle, and you will find the interwebs offering up a great many stories to that end, and many of them come with expansive and detailed—if not manipulative—formulas to help them materialize in your life. They will give you hope. For a time.

But then you should come to realize that many of the suggestions and practical steps only you can take to save your marriage do pay off—whether or not you end up staying married. Because in the final analysis, avoiding apostasy, rather than saving your marriage, is the goal. While it's true that there are fates worse than death (and, at least initially, divorce as I experienced it was one of them), it's also true that there are fates worse than divorce.

When facing the inevitable death of your marriage, after all the disbelief that it's happening, all the negotiating with God and your partner, you will eventually need to get on with acceptance. It starts with truly repenting and owning up to your part in the dissolution. This can be a sensitive and touchy subject for many, not least for those who have suffered from some form of abuse at the hands of their former spouse. I cannot pretend to speak to those particular victims, except to plead that they run from that relationship, and take every legal measure at their disposal to make it so.

I also learned quickly that "emotional abuse" is a very real thing, with very real and negative consequences for all parties involved (even if a notion like "mental cruelty" as a ground for divorce is I suspect more often than not a thinly veiled attempt to justify an unjustifiable no-fault divorce, or worse, to perform character assassination in a child custody case). Facing the grounds with which I was strapped at first, I dove deeply into the subject, not least out of fear in light of my life and actions. Did I actually provide legal (not to mention biblical) grounds for this divorce?

If you have a modicum of humility, when you're world is unraveling, and you're an emotional wreck, you are far more susceptible to believe everything being thrown at you, to take on far more blame than the situation warrants. Guard yourself. Do not walk alone during this time. Find an honest friend who knows you for real and who can respond to certain allegations about you with a more reasonable and objective clarity than you'll be able to muster. It also helps tremendously if he or she doesn't let you drink alone.

The truth is, even though it felt like I was being ripped apart at the (ontological) seams, I had given up on my marriage well before my ex initiated. There was a time after that but before her initiation that I tried to turn it all around, but if I'm being honest I think I had intuited it was too late, and so it was a last-ditch effort with no real hope of success.

So, if you're like me, which is to say an oddball interested in literature, history and theology, and if you find yourself in a similar predicament as me, you may find yourself looking for similar resources to help you walk through and eventually accept what's happening to you (and I don't mean that in a passive sense—for you brought this upon yourself as much as your partner did). Such resources involve digging into the scriptures, reading theologians of the church on issues revolving around marriage and divorce, swallowing tomes of angsty Gothic poetry and spinning multitudinous records of 80s ballad music (and some outlaw country, for good measure).

In order to help me make sense both of my failures (which I came to readily accept and confess—and of course I still have a ways to go in discerning all of them), my former spouse's failures (which I had to impute, never having had the luxury of receiving a mutual confession) and my need, given my oddball interests, to find some guidance within the historic church to my dilemma, I unsurprisingly found myself sitting at the feet of one Martin Bucer.

In my next post, I'll unpack what I learned from him. Maybe it'll help someone else out there.

10 January 2017

I'm Sorry for That

"The Myth of Sisyphus," by Nicci Bedson

I've been itching for a bit to put down in writing a little more after my initial post on divorce. Today I was inspired to do so when I read a post from a young evangelical who has walked a similar path. His stakes are no doubt higher (=greater courage)—not least with respect to keeping up appearances—so I figured I could at least shake some of my journaling out these past three years and see what sticks, without (I hope) succumbing to questionable motivations, as the aforementioned poster warns against when going public in this particular context. Being a feeler first, and a thinker second, I realize how distasteful this may be to whole swaths of what little readership I have. C'est la vie.

I was struck some time ago prior to his death a quote I'd heard Robin Williams say in World's Greatest Dad:
I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people that make you feel alone.
It succinctly summarized how I'd been feeling for so long, feelings that I'd previously found in the lyrical sentiment penned by Ben Folds back in the mid-90s:
Now that I've found someone,
I'm feeling more alone,
than I ever have before.
She's a brick and I'm drowning slowly. . . .
For the moment we're alone.
She's alone, and I'm alone.
Now I know it.
I can handle being alone—defined among the single crowd in terms of the absence of a monogamous, marital relationship—in contrast to being lonely. That's a healthy place to be. But handling the feeling of neglect and abandonment—as if you don't exist—from someone you've covenanted to love, that's well-nigh unbearable. I can see how it leads one to consider whether or not to live now, in reality (whether it be suicide or simply checking out), as "the only really serious philosophical question," as Camus suggested.

If you're the praying type, then one perhaps valuable prayer during times like these would be that God empower you to be freed from the need you feel for that other in the face of unrequited love. This isn't to suggest a desire to lose the ability to love deeply, to trust recklessly; you just want to be freed from having that other be the object of that love and trust.

It's okay to let go.

Now, I don't think it's unhealthy to be wrapped-up in another person (i.e., co-dependent in a very specific sense), insofar as one's identity (in Christ, for the Christian) isn't swallowed up in the process. Loving God with all one's heart, soul, mind and strength is a matter of priority, not a matter of exclusivity. I'm reminded in this that there is a place for speaking of God's love and trust as "risky"—risky in the sense that whenever a person opens him- or herself up to love and trust another, he or she runs the risk of it being unrequited. In some small way (given the parts we've all played in our own relational implosions), then, each of us who has had our deep love and affection and reckless trust betrayed, unrequited or used, taste the hurt, sadness and remorse that the covenant God feels in the face of the countless betrayals he has experienced at the hands of those to whom he has given everything.

In line with my penchant for unoriginality, I'll leave these thoughts here by commending a particular way to let go. I understand very well that many times it doesn't go in such a way that allows for this kind of parting (mine did not). At any rate, here's Theodore's last letter to Catherine for your inspiration:
Dear _____,

I'm sitting here thinking about all the things I wanted to apologize to you for. All the pain we caused each other. Everything I put on you. Everything I needed you to be or needed you to say.

I'm sorry for that.

I'll always love you because we grew up together. You helped make me who I am. I just wanted you to know that there will be a piece of you in me always, and I'm grateful for that.

Whatever someone you become, wherever you are in the world, I'm sending you love. You're my friend till the end.


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