(a fictitious letter)
Dear Fellow Friends of Rachel,
Did you know that infants, if put in a pool, start swimming naturally? It’s kind of scary to watch because, well, they are infants. What more can they do than sleep, eat, poop and cry? Letting go of an infant takes a huge amount of trust in the child’s natural instincts. Something we can’t see.
But the baby will swim.
I’ll cut to the chase. I am writing this letter in my office feeling very disturbed. I have been corresponding with our mutual friend Rachel. She describes you as her Christian community and local support network.
Rachel, as you know is going through a separation. Divorce is the next step, but she doesn’t want that. She has been deeply wounded. She always thought marriage would bring her happiness, not disappointment and heartache.
As people who love her, it is only natural that we would want to protect her. It’s not fun seeing those you love in pain and tears. We want to fix them and make them feel better…immediately.
Here is where I was shocked. Rachel has admitted that they are both to blame, yet you affirmed her moving out. To walk away until he changes. I’m sorry…what part of “unconditional” love teaches ultimatums? I must have missed that in Sunday School.
Your instruction is that she can’t do the humble and unconditional thing of moving towards her husband because she would ultimately be rolling over and dying.
This is the kicker. Rachel has told us all that her husband is struggling in his faith. Should she not be the one who shows that much more grace? Should she not work harder to win him back to Christ even when it’s not easy?
We all know Rachel’s personality. She is smart, outgoing, and strong willed. The only way I can see her rolling over and dying is if her husband physically tried to murder her. And even that would be difficult for him. She is too smart.
I have prodded and asked Rachel to tell me if he has been unfaithful. No. Has he beat her? No. She has even admitted that despite the ways he has hurt her, he has also asked her to move back in, pray together and talk.
But now you…you all are telling her she shouldn’t…because she is too vulnerable.
Does pain = vulnerable? Or can pain be present, but vulnerability evaded if there are strong people holding her hands and helping her discern what is true or not true? Is it possible for her to hear his unkind words in his weak moments (ones she will admit having dished out herself) and live with the mindset of, “I do not accept this behavior, I do not receive words of untruth, but I will not give up on this marriage.”
Is it possible for Rachel to stay committed to this marriage even when it doesn’t feel good? Do we just walk away in 2010 because a spouse is doing things we don’t appreciate right now? Is there grace for people having bad seasons? For making mistakes?
If we don’t, then we are acting and giving advice no different than the rest of the world. It feels like we don’t trust God to show up.
This is why my generation is getting divorced after two years or two months. We give up too easily and don’t trust that unconditional love and unconditional respect (even when our spouse doesn’t deserve either one) could actually be the right thing to do and what God calls us to do. We don’t trust that being the bigger person and being obedient could actually soften the person who is ultimately more at fault in their behavior. (Gasp! God actually might know what he is doing?) No, instead we make demands.
“Do this or else.”
I don’t remember that being part of Rachel’s vows.
What I do remember was this:
“In good times and in bad.”
A study done in 2000 showed that within five years, just 12% of very unhappy married couples who stick it out are still unhappy; 70% of the unhappiest couples now describe their marriage as “very” or “quite” happy.
What does this mean?
There are seasons! Do we think the divorce lawyers are going to tell us that? Lawyers and many counselors focus on the here and now. They play to your feelings and emotions. And we have fallen for it.
Please remember, I love Rachel. I know she is not being abused. She is not in harm’s way. She is not married to an evil man. She will admit this if you just ask her.
Christians—do you love people enough to point them towards obedience and truth or do you love them like a coddling mother who pulls her infant out of the water when it’s floundering and in tears? I get it, you do it because you love the baby and you don’t want to see it suffer. Perhaps your fear of suffering is rooted in the fact that you don’t ultimately trust that they would actually be able to swim.
P.s. An extra little note from Matthew, Mark and Luke: “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”