Since I announced my separation, I’ve received love like never before. I’m grateful for it. I’ve also received advice like never before. Every message I’ve received that contained advice about what I should do next like fight for my marriage and never give up and allow God to redeem all has been from self-identified Christians.
All of this advice has been offered with hope and courage and love. I hear it, I feel it.
And I still find the advice to be disturbing and dangerous.
Why do we, Christians especially, enter other people’s marriages and insist that the best outcome is re-uniting?
We tell women that God wants her to stay. We tell her what God wants for her. What God wants for her husband. For her children. We suggest that we know what’s best for her better than she does.
Why is this our blind agenda? Doesn’t this agenda strike you as insanely dangerous? In any case, but especially one in which the person we are offering the advice to is a stranger? And at the end of the day, aren’t we all strangers to other people’s marriages?
Do we rush in with Bible verses and advice and sweeping declarations because we really, truly want to help the other person? Are we sure about that?
Or could it be that we are desperate to help ourselves? When we hear about someone we love whose marriage is crumbling . . . does is scare the bejesus out of us? Do we think, somewhere down deep . . . if she can’t make this work, what if I can’t either? If this can happened to her – does that mean it could happen to me? No way. This must be fixed. This marriage must be saved.
But are Christians in the business of saving marriages or saving individual souls?
Because I just need to lovingly remind everyone that unless you are inside a marriage – you can’t know it. There is so, so incredibly much you don’t know about my marriage. Chapters, novels, lifetimes.
And sometimes, a woman decides to leave – not because she has given up, but because she refuses to give up.
Sometimes she leaves, not because she’s confused or lost, but because things are just becoming painfully clear.
Sometimes she leaves because she knows God loves her more than any institution He made for her. Including the institution of marriage. Including the institution of church.
And sometimes she leaves because in terms of parenting, she’s taking the long view. She knows that staying might help her children in the short run, but that staying – with everyone in his current state of being – would hurt her children in the long run. Because she never wants to tell her children that she compromised her integrity for them – that’s too heavy a burden for them to bear. They never asked for a martyr mother. And because she never, ever wants them to martyr themselves for marriage. Because she wants them to know that there is a chasm wide gulf between co-dependence and love.
Sometimes she leaves because she knows her children are watching her to learn what love is. And she wants to show them that sometimes LOVE is doing what you can’t do. Sometimes love is leaving everything you know and think you need. Sometimes LOVE is hard as a rock and tough as nails and jagged as a knife and nothing like a Valentine’s Day commercial. Sometimes love is laying your head on your pillow at night knowing you did the hard but right thing. Sometimes love is knowing that your future and your help never lie in another human being. Your future and help are in God and so you walk towards God, even if that means walking away from your best friend.
Sometimes a woman leaves because she knows the difference between right and wrong- not because she doesn’t.
We all have strengths. One of mine is listening for God’s voice, my own Truth, and following directions- even when his voice sounds terrifyingly different than what folks have always told me his voice would sound like.
But I fear for women who don’t yet have that strength. I assume that there are thousands of women like me out there. Women who woke up one day and found themselves in the middle of their worst nightmare. And who decided not to sit inside that nightmare. Who are fighting every day to stay sane, to stay strong and healthy and resist the overwhelming urge to crumble and give up. Who are bravely putting one foot in front of the other and refusing to stay in the dark . Women who are moving wearily but boldly back toward the light. Women who have decided that they will stay in the light no matter what it costs. No matter what it costs. They will stay in the damn light. Because they’ve fought their entire lives for that light, and they’re not about to give it up now.
But then, some of the folks she loves tell her that her God wants her back in the dark.
Folks who don’t know. They love her. They want what’s best for her. But they just don’t know. They can’t. She can’t and won’t tell them why they’re dangerously wrong. Why the right thing for her is to keep marching. Because she is a mother freaking warrior and her silence about the painful details is part of her battle plan. She is protecting her children, her husband, her family.
She and God talk every night and every morning and sometimes every twenty minutes about her marching orders. The two of them are clear.
You should consider trusting her and God. It’s hard. Because we know, marriage is so important. But a woman’s soul, and a child’s soul, and man’s soul are more important. Yes, they are. And people of God should know that. We really should.
Don’t tell a woman you love what God wants her to do. If you must offer her advice, tell her you’ll take the kids for an hour so she can Be Still and Know. So she can listen for God. I think God is more likely to talk to her about her than to you about her.
Listen to me: God said the most important thing to do down here is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Implied in this commandment is that if you don’t love yourself, you’re useless. You cannot save anyone else. All you can do is save yourself so that those you love can see how it’s done.
God also said: “Lose your life and you’ll find it.” I’ve lost my life. Everything I’ve ever planned and dreamed for is gone.
Somehow, with it all gone, my life is emerging. I don’t know how the hell that works, it just does.
It’s still a love story. Love still wins. Love and redemption come in so many different shades.
Carry On, Warriors.
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.
~ Mary Oliver ~
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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