Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. –Matthew 18:21-22 (NASB)
I woke up to Chris August’s song 7×70 playing on my radio this morning. Somehow I don’t think it was by accident…
My husband and I are struggling to keep our family intact. We have been married for 19+ years, and I would have to say we could probably count on two hands how many good months there have been. It has been a rough road. We have been to multiple marriage counselors, we have resorted to mud slinging, and there has been so much anger and bitterness and resentment building up for years that I don’t know if it’s better to try to salvage what we can or pack it up and move on. As a Christian couple, neither one of us wants to go the divorce route; but the continuation of living like we are is taking its toll on all of us.
My husband has been living and working 1300 miles away for almost three years now after losing his job with a major US company. Many people have remarked how difficult that must be for me, but the sad truth is I hardly notice. When my husband lived in the same house with us, he was so busy with work and was continuously buried behind either a computer or TV screen that we never got to interact with him (in a meaningful way) all that much anyway. In retrospect, the best months of my married life were the four months he was laid off. For the first time in a VERY long time I actually felt like I had a husband. I had a helpmate. I had someone to talk to. I had someone to share things with. When I rode out to Massachusetts with him to help him move, I could tell the minute we hit the Massachusetts border. His driving changed, he was distracted, and he was “gone.” It went downhill from there. By the time I flew back home, I had this feeling of dread in my soul.
For those of you who have read my earlier posts, you know that our house did not sell that summer, and we pulled it off the market once the school year started. The children and I stayed put intending to move the following year. One thing led to another, and the girls and I are still here. (My son moved out to Massachusetts this past summer to start high school and be around the father he so desperately needed.)
I’d like to stay in my marriage for my kids’ sake. I see the impact broken homes has on kids nowadays and I think, “I SO don’t want to contribute to that!” But the truth is, the lack of love in our home, the chaos, and the added impact of mental health issues (ADHD, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, and borderline Asperger’s) have taken their toll on my children anyway. Their insecurities abound and they constantly tear at each other in order to make themselves feel better. Of course, it backfires; and everyone feels miserable in the long run. What they need is a home filled with security and love.
The answer seems so simple in theory. Get more counseling. Work things out. Unfortunately, theoretical answers are so much easier than reality. I just don’t know if I have what it takes. Correction… I KNOW I don’t have what it takes (on my own); but with God, all things are possible. I do realize that. I just don’t know if I can go back to a life where my needs don’t matter, where I have to pretend to be someone I’m not in order to make someone else happy. It’s exhausting, and I’m so tired of the codependency. I think if my husband would be able to realize that I didn’t get to be the way I am now overnight and that many things contributed to the process, I would be able to give it a bit more effort; but so much of what I’m hearing from him makes me think that nothing has changed from the time we met with our first marriage counselor and he said to the counselor, “I really hope you can help HER.” (To be fair, I have blamed my husband for many many things as well, so don’t feel too sorry for me.) The truth is we both need help.
That all being said, Chris August’s song this morning reminded me of how important it is to forgive. I think the most difficult thing about forgiving someone is that we think it will mean what the other person did is okay. It doesn’t mean that at all. What it means is that you are going to let it go so that YOU are okay. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean we have to put ourselves back into a bad situation; it just means we release the effect of the behavior over to God. I can forgive my husband for the things he did in our marriage that were extremely hurtful to me, but that doesn’t mean I forget them or that I am going to allow myself to be hurt in the same way again. My husband could choose to do the same. If we both are willing and able to do that much, then if we do decide to go our separate ways, at least we can be civil to and respectful of each other and wish each other well in our future relationships.
Part of the process of forgiving involves becoming emotionally healthy. I am learning how to establish boundaries. I am learning that I have choices. I am learning nourishing support practices (e.g., to follow the “truths” that God has placed in my heart, making a list of things that make me happy, opening myself up to joy). Did you know that recent research shows that we actually have the ability to retrain our brain? We can formulate new pathways (neuroplasticity) and grow new neurons (neurogenesis), which means we don’t have to continue to live negative, victim-thinking lives if that is the hole into which we’ve fallen. I like what Joyce Meyer says, “I may not have had a great start, but I can still have a great finish.” I’m learning mindfulness, the art of being present in the moment. It’s a nonjudgmental acknowledgment of what we feel, think, or experience. I am learning to practice gratitude. I have lived enough different places in my life and experienced enough job changes to know that no matter where I go or what I do, there is always going to be something I like and something I don’t; so I am focusing on being thankful for the things I like in a given moment. When I get discouraged, I think of something my first boss was fond of saying, “This, too, shall pass.”
We human beings are such imperfect people. We can’t begin to meet everyone’s needs, and we shouldn’t look to others to do that for us. We need to discover what our needs are, find healthy ways to meet them, and look to God to fill the empty places. By looking to others to fill them, we are inadvertently trying to make them little gods; and that just doesn’t work. We will always wind up disappointed and frustrated, and those other people will feel inadequate and inept. A dear friend of mine once told me, “It all boils down to love.”
As much as I hate the thought of divorce, I believe God is teaching me that no matter which path I choose, He will still love me; and He will use it for good. If I can emerge from this difficult period with my ability to love restored, I will be extremely grateful; and if I can be transformed into a person who can bring hope and healing to others, I will be truly blessed.
Leaning on God—
Dear LORD… We are such imperfect people, and we hurt one another more often than we care to admit. We ask for Your help in forgiving those who have hurt us. Unforgiveness is such a heavy weight to bear. Help us lighten the load by handing it over to You. In so doing, please teach us how to love again. When we have difficult decisions to make, please grant us Your grace and wisdom in making a wise decision; and give us discernment and understanding to see how our decision will impact others. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.