I’ve written about this before – superficially.
But tonight I
want need to be a little more vulnerable, and tell the story how it is.
Quite some time back–almost two years back now, actually–I wrote a series on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. What I
failed avoided disclosing was that when I got to chapter five I drew a blank, and I fired that blank into a very mechanical unofficial series finale, but I wouldn’t really get the goods on Ephesians 5 for a few more months.
You see that thing is that at the time I could mechanically understand what Paul taught about marriage; the article I wrote looked very insightful, even. But my marriage was a mess, and had been from nearly day 1.
Actually, it started before day 1, because before day 1 I felt stuck; the choice was no longer my own when guilt and shame goaded me into saying ‘I do’ to someone who I knew I ‘did’ but I really ‘didn’t.’ I’ve lived with enough regret to know that saying ‘If I’d just…’ is a toxic moment for me, but if I’d just waited a little longer, things might have gone a lot better and I might have been able to let my ‘yes’ be a true and full and honest ‘Yes!’ I’m not saying any of this because I was not sincere at my wedding or about my vows, but in retrospect the backdrop which led me to it was so very unhealthy for both of us.
I laughed today, reading Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke’s book, Love that Lasts; Alyssa was recounting:
When I was in college, I’d pray for my future husband. I asked the Lord to make our relationship a “were it not for God” one. You know, the kind that is so evidently created by God, the couple who is so good together that only God could’ve written their love story because it was too good to be true, too beautiful a story to have just happened. I wanted a relationship that I could tell others was “all God.” I wanted to be able to point to God’s faithfulness and share how He answered all those prayers for all those years and, well, He did just that. [Love That Lasts, P. 77]
It reminds me of my always wanting an ‘amazing grace turn-around’ testimony involving heavy substance abuse and a dramatic breakthrough. I laughed because I knew what she had coming to ask that of Father; you don’t have ‘were it not all for God‘ relationships without pain, and heartache, loss and sacrifice–without requiring at the very least a complete and total loss of your Self. Is that what you really want to ask God for?
I didn’t ask God for that. But it turns out, often Father brings you what you need rather than what you ask for; I got it.
Two years into my marriage I thought we were at rock bottom. And I knew I was the main contributor; I was physically and emotionally abusive and manipulative, and I had a deep-seated anger inside of me that wouldn’t quit. By year three I had largely learned to control my anger by indifference, and that is how year four showed me what rock-bottom really meant.
I buried myself in indifference. Deep down I was still full of rage because now I was the silent martyr, quietly enduring the hell of living in proximity with someone I no longer knew, and no longer wanted. Guilt fuelled that burning ember because I wanted so desperately to be allowed to give up and walk away but I believed I would never live down that kind of failure, and so I stayed to the hurt of my once-best friend. It hasn’t been a pretty journey, but it has been nothing but ‘all God’.
In the beginnings of year three was when I wrote here on Ephesians – can you imagine now just how flat I fell expounding on the 5th chapter now? There was not a single part of me that understood a word of the relation of Christ and the Church to myself and my bride–until four months later when, sitting in a youth conference (with absolutely no conjunction with what was going on around me in the moment) it clicked. I’m supposed to love my wife the same way that Jesus loves me. I am supposed to forgive my wife the same way that Jesus forgives me. I am supposed to sacrifice myself for her the same way Jesus sacrificed himself for me–to death. I know for a fact I cannot tell you with words what full extent of meaning hit me in that moment – I’ve tried; it was like being hit by a bus travelling 200 km/h with a massive truth that in all one moment allowed me to see the depths of the dungeon I had locked myself up in, and set the key to every door in the place just outside my cell.
And if I’m being honest the raging indifference in me for a moment went ‘Yes: now your martyrdom is justified!‘ And as my incredibly sacrificial wife had been the major planning contributor to the whole trip, as a result the entire weekend and even weeks and months leading up to it had been an incredibly stressful time full of disappointment and hurt and anger for her as my support was increasingly withdrawn as the crucial time approached; it all culminated in spending the majority of the trip vacillating between explosive anger and total denial of existence on both sides. There was nothing I would’ve wanted more than to justify it all by my saintly indifference–after all, isn’t love long-suffering? But I knew I wasn’t sacrificing a drop of blood for her by being indifferent to her hurt-fueled anger; a real sacrifice would mean looking in the face of all the wrongs done me (I was holding more than a few hostage and knew right where to find them) and forgive with no expectation of kick-back.
And for a while, I did it. She might still remember those two or three weeks of what must have seemed like open heavens. But though it was genuine sacrifice on my part there had been no lasting change within me, and so when the next fight cropped up it was only a very small step back into the old rutted path I’d worn so smooth, and now I really did have justification for my self-appointed martyrdom because I had sacrificed; I’d tried and failed and now the ball and the blame were in her court.
There is, of course, a whole second side to this story; perhaps if you ever get to know her well enough you might hear it one day.
I gave up. I went back to indifference and from artificial indifference I found true indifference, and I stopped caring about all but complete and utter failure–and my public image. Even at that, I cared less and less that the continual anger she held toward me became more and more visible in the way she treated me both privately and publicly; I deserved it. And I knew that if it went on like that I could write my failure off on her because that is what people would see; a patient man finally pushed off the end of his rope. My failure would remain private, and I would get the much-needed relief of freedom. Even scathing (likely unbeknown to them) quips from others about my would-be unfaithfulness began–I say only began–to lose their sting to me.
The days grew more despairing; we found a convenient excuse for trial separation, and I had every intention of it continuing when the ‘trial’ period was up with not an ounce left in me to care anymore about guilt over failure; and perhaps my motives had begun to be redeemed because by this point I had been considering for months the benefit to her of my letting go, no longer being an ongoing source of fresh pain and anger. I didn’t want to hurt her anymore, but more than anything, I didn’t want to be hurt anymore.
Until it finally happened.
The words of the song go,
I wonder when did I lose your heart
Your heart, your heart?
And whether we can go back to the start
The start, the start?
I keep feeling like we fall apart
Better than we fall in love
I keep feeling like we fall apart
And then we got to fight to fall back in love again
[Shake This Feeling; Jon & Tim Foreman]
It was like the Foreman brothers had looked right into my heart and written the story they saw there; the whole song was words I hadn’t known I was desperate to be able to say out loud – recalling it a few months later I’m still fighting tears and very raw emotions. I asked her to lunch and I played her the song on the way and everything changed in a few shaking heart beats. And it was all God.
We were at breaking point and it had literally been do-or-die this time around, but God did. And He continues to do; there is no other way I could continue to choose her or put her first but by that, and no other way the anger, resentment and bitterness could be finally dissolved from my heart.
My marriage has not been okay, but for what feels like the first time, hope is alive in me. I told a friend recently, “It’s just such a relief to be able to finally relax and let things be okay.“
I tell her often, “I love you more,” and recently she stopped trying to get the final “No, I love you more,” rebuttal in. But where it was cute and airy before, it packs a sobering weight now. In the thick I had to choose her. I had to choose her or leave her and I spent a lot of time in no-mans-land thinking I could get off with having done neither. But when the time to sincerely stay or go came I didn’t walk away. It might have been on a continued whim of indecision then, but every day since I have felt the weight of that choice, and the subsequent choices every day – I choose you. I choose you. I choose you. I choose you. There isn’t a day that goes by that I do not have to intentionally make that choice. And she? All she has to do is respond. I love you more.
As I’m giving this post its pre-publishing finishing touches, I’m reminded again tonight of another song that echoes in my mind often:
All attempts have failed / All my heads are tails
She’s got teary eyes / I’ve got reasons why
I’m losing ground / And gaining speed
I’ve lost myself / Or most of me
I’m ready for the final precipiceBut you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll sing until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yetThese days pass me by / I dream with open eyes
Nightmares haunt my days / Visions blur my nights
I’m so confused / What’s true or false
What’s fact or fiction after allI feel like I’m an apparition’s petBut you haven’t lost me yet
You haven’t lost me yet
I’ll run until my heart breaks in
No, you haven’t lost me yetIf it doesn’t break / If it doesn’t break
Yeah, if it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love
Now if it doesn’t break your heart it’s not enough
It’s when you’re breaking down with your insides coming out
It’s when you find out what your heart is made up ofAnd you haven’t lost me yet
No, you haven’t lost me yet
I’ll sing until my heart caves in
No, you haven’t lost me yet
[Yet; Jon & Tim Foreman]
The lines, “she’s got teary eyes / I’ve got reasons why” resonate to my core, and filled me with a desperate hopelessness in the middle of our worst because here again the Foreman brothers had bared my soul in song for what felt like all to see, and it was a cutting truth. I still feel consternation at the idea, “If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love / if it doesn’t break your heart it’s not enough” because why would love require heartbreak? Yet my heart was broken, but not nearly to the extent of damage I saw hers in. The moment it dawned on me that love lets its heart be ultimately broken, and that we were both still here in spite of it, hanging on by the thinnest thread of a “Yet…”, And all this time I actually let myself begin to believe I didn’t love you anymore. But you haven’t lost me yet.
And it hasn’t been like I thought it would be, but after all of the fighting and tears and heartbreak, on the other side I can’t explain to you now how we all of a sudden communicate much more effectively, pick our fights much more carefully, and are swayed much less easily by the remaining turbulence of two become one; it is literally beyond me to put into words the utter surprise–and the utter relief to know that love has proved itself once again. It has been a messy journey, but it has been nothing but God through and through.
22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.