Tag Archives: Divorce

It’s Not About You

My friend saw an article about marriage on the Internet the other day and wanted my opinion.  The article was from Relevant, a Christian magazine, and it was titled “Marriage Isn’t About Your Happiness.” **

My friend asked me to read the article and then give her my opinion.  She felt as if the article basically stated that marriage is about giving and your happiness shouldn’t be a factor. I can see how she might see it that way, and it would be easy to read the article and think the author was advocating for endless self-sacrifice for the sake of your partner.

And she is advocating for endless self-sacrifice…but not in the way you think.  I think a quote from the author might clear things up a bit.

“I heard a married man on TV say (regarding whether or not he was going to stay in his own marriage), “I shouldn’t be with someone if I’m not happy.” It’s an attitude many people have, and hearing it made my stomach turn.

What an accurate reflection of the self-centered society we live in, everyone believing their main goal in life is their own personal happiness. What a small and shallow way to live.

If you’re getting married with your own happiness as your main goal, you will be disappointed in a severe way.

Marriage is not about your happiness, it’s not even about you. It’s about love—which is something we choose to give time and time again. It’s about sacrifice, serving, giving, forgiving—and then doing it all over again.”  **

You can see how my friend, who has been in a few failed relationships, would question the author’s assertion that happiness is what marriage is about, especially when you consider that it was her unhappiness that finally gave her the strength to leave her spouse.

But the author’s main point is summarized easily. “If you are getting married with your own happiness as your main goal, you will be disappointed in a severe way.”   You got that straight!  As a matter of fact, when my husband and I were getting married, a thrice married coworker of my husband told him “Marriage is either the best thing that happens to you or it is hell on earth.” Again, you got that straight!

Before I can proceed, I probably need to state a few personal beliefs that I live by, because without stating that, I stand to be just as misunderstood as the author of the article mentioned above.

  1. You are responsible for meeting your own needs. The only time someone else assumes that role is while you are too young or too old and feeble to care for yourself. Any other time, you are fully responsible for yourself and meeting your own needs.
  2. You are responsible for making yourself happy. We human beings essentially choose our own emotions based on our thoughts. No one can ‘make’ you feel anything until they have a gun pointed at your head…then they are capable of forcing you to feel something, which is usually crushing fear and desperation. Most people don’t have a gun pointed at your head, which means that no one can ‘make’ (force) you to feel anything, which also means that someone else cannot ‘make’ you happy. If you want to be happy, that’s your responsibility.
  3. You are responsible for contributing to the health and stability of your partnership/ marriage, but remember that you are only ½ the team. If one member of the couple no longer contributes to the health and stability of the relationship in any way (and they are doing that on purpose, by choice, and not because of terminal illness or disability) then you are NOT in a relationship at all.

Okay, having said all those things, the author is right. Marriage is not about your happiness.  It’s not that marriage cannot contribute to your happiness, because it can.  But marriage, in itself, is not about making you happy.  Saying that marriage is about your personal happiness is akin to saying that going to college is about your personal success.  Sure, going to college can contribute to your personal success, but if you go to college and then sit on your butt and refuse to work hard and continue learning, you are probably going to fail in the long run.

What I’m trying to say is that getting married isn’t a magic tonic that confers ‘happiness’. Marriage is a commitment that requires you to sacrifice for the sake of your partner which, by definition, will sometimes not be a happy thing. That’s why it’s called SACRIFICE. Shortly after my husband and I moved to Phoenix, my favorite band announced their tour dates and their date in Phoenix fell on the weekend of my husband’s 10th high school reunion in Indiana. So, which is it? See my favorite band in concert, or go to Indiana with my husband who wanted me to meet his friends?   When it came time to decide, I had two thoughts. First, there is only ONE 10th reunion, only one chance to go back to high school and laugh in the face of everyone who called you nerd-boy, now that you are a successful engineer with a nice house and pretty wife. Second…oh hell, there is no second point. I decided to be a wife and go to Indiana with my husband. I missed the concert and it made me unhappy to do so, but 27 years later what I value was that I chose my husband’s happiness over my own that day. It’s not always about his happiness when I sacrifice for him. I have cared for both of his parents as they died, and that was definitely NOT about happiness. Again, it was about choosing to be a wife, to be the woman who sees my husband’s needs and does my best to meet those needs. It would be a bitter pill to swallow for me if I was the only one who sacrificed in our relationship, but my husband constantly sacrifices for me. This is the man who paid for my seminary education so that I could follow God’s call. This is the man who committed to go wherever the bishop sent us, no matter how that would impact his career. This is the man who stopped on the way home from work one night to fix my parent’s leaky tub…and brought a huge flower arrangement to leave for my mom because my father was in the hospital after having had a stroke that morning. She came home from the hospital to find the flowers and no leaky tub…and he never said a word to me or to her about what he was going to do.  I call that choosing to be a husband, choosing to see be the kind of man who sees his wife’s needs and does his best to meet those needs.

And that’s where the happiness in marriage actually comes in.

When we sacrifice for each other, it’s not the sacrifice itself that leads to feelings of happiness. It’s that the sacrifice is tangible evidence of the depth of our commitment to each other, our desire to serve each other, and our deep desire to have a positive and lasting impact on our spouse. We love each other and so we strive to make the world a better, softer place for our partner. It’s not that different than the feeling we have when we sacrifice for our children. We know it’s the right thing to do and we know it’s hard, but we also desire for our kids to feel secure in our love and care for them; we want them to feel safe in the world simply because we are there to help them. Marriage is about creating a deep sense of being loved and valued for who you are; it creates a sense of security and safety.

Marriage is a strange exchange. It calls for you to become less self-centered even as it forces you to take responsibility for your own happiness and for meeting your own needs. It simultaneously calls for you to be invested in emotional, physical, and spiritual self-care, while asking you to give and serve and sacrifice for your partner. When both members of the couple behave in this way, marriage becomes a haven of rest and release and true contentment and peace; it is the place where you can be truly vulnerable and frail and know that you are loved.  A good marriage is like Miracle Grow for the soul.

When only one member of the couple is willing to practice self-giving, it becomes a hell of endless servitude and diminishing of self in the service of your partner’s throbbing ego, which demands adoration and abject devotion.  The marriage becomes destructive to the serving partner who can never give away enough of themselves to satisfy their partner; it is truly psychologically damaging, and I have spent many hours working with the broken partner from an unequally yoked marriage. Inevitably it is the partner with the larger ego who always speaks the words “I shouldn’t be with someone if I’m not happy.”  The lament of the self-giving partner is also inevitable: “It was never enough, no matter what I did.”

If you are reading this and realize that you will never be enough, no matter what you do, get help and if you can, get out. It’s not about your happiness. It’s about your SELF. God created you and you are enough, and anyone who causes you to believe otherwise is slowly destroying your soul. Don’t let anything, no matter how precious it is to you, destroy you. You are of sacred worth and you deserve to be whole and healthy; destroying your soul in the pursuit of making your partner happy is not the road to health and wholeness. Please, get the help you need, and then get out of that relationship.

If you are reading this and wondering if you will ever find someone capable of giving to you in the same way that you are willing to give, then I encourage you to just keep working on yourself. Become healthier and healthier. Work on the condition of your soul and on the peacefulness that can be found in gratitude, faith and mindfulness. Work on being as responsible for yourself, your needs, and your happiness as you can possibly be.  It is important to know that we draw partners to ourselves that have similar levels of emotional health and wellness, so the healthier you are, the healthier your partner will be.  Can I be sure that there is a partner for you?  No, I can’t. What I can be sure of is that any work you do on yourself pays off in dividends that are reaped across your lifetime with friends and family as well as in your relationship with your partner. So get busy making your life into a wonderful place of self-care, responsibility, gratitude, faith, friends, and service…and then see what comes your way. You’ll already be happy, so it won’t be like you’ll be waiting for a partner to make you happy.  So why would you need a partner? Because…why not?

**  https://relevantmagazine.com/life/relationships/marriage-isnt-about-your-happiness

It’s A Conspiracy!

Can we discuss “the peace that passes all understanding”?

I have heard that phrase for years. I remember hearing it as a child and wondering what it meant and how I was supposed to get something that I didn’t even understand.

Don’t get me started about trying to understand something that says, in its title, that you will not be able to understand it.

But I digress.

“The peace that passes all understanding” turns out to be one of the Christian code-phrases we hear about when millennials and agnostics write about the Church; words and phrases that appear to have no context for meaning if you are not already faithful.

I’ve got news: I grew up in the Church and accepted Jesus as my personal savior when I was only five years old, and I still did not understand lots of those Christian code phrases.  It isn’t because you’re young or seeking or simply unfamiliar with the Church; you don’t understand the code phrase because…well, because we Christians hardly ever take the time to define what the heck we are talking about and we pastors can be even worse.  We just throw the phrase out there like it means something and expect everybody else to understand it intuitively.  The evangelical movement has a ton of these phrases:

“Walking in victory with Jesus”

“Growing in grace”

“Die to self”

“Washed in the blood”

“The peace that passes understanding”

“Pray a hedge of protection”

There are plenty more but I figure you’ve probably gotten the point by now.  I remember hearing these phrases and wondering what they meant but never really asking for an explanation. Even when I did ask for clarification, the answer I received was often just as baffling as the code phrase itself.  “Walking in victory is when you have grown in grace enough that you are able to ignore the attacks of the Enemy and follow the will of God wherever it leads you.”  Okay, so how do you ‘grow in grace’ enough to ‘walk in victory’?  “You grow in grace when you ask Jesus to wash you in His blood and help you die to self.”

The explanations were kind of circular in nature.  After a while I just gave in to the thought that perhaps my experience of faith would explain these concepts to me and I would finally understand what no grownup seemed able to fully explain to me.

Don’t get me started on why I thought growing up would cause me to understand what other grownups were incapable of explaining despite their advanced age.

But I digress.

The problem with these Christian code-phrases is that they can lead to a conspiracy of lies around what it is to experience the Christian life.  It makes it sound like good Christians don’t experience fear or anxiety or depression…after all, they have the peace that passes all understanding!  And of course, they don’t struggle with finances or with adverse situations, because they are “walking in victory with Jesus” and victors aren’t losers! Only losers struggle.  If you’ve truly ‘grown in grace’ then you probably ought not to curse or lie or speak unkind words…in fact you can’t be even remotely sinful…because growing in grace implies that you are continually becoming more holy and holy people are squeaky clean!  And goodness knows that those who ‘die to self’ don’t act selfishly since their ‘self’ no longer matters.  Those who have ‘died to self’ just give and give and give and never get tired of giving because they receive all they need from Jesus…

Really?  Because that’s a bunch of BS.

Christian life is full of struggle and fear and pain and failure and sin and self-focus and self-care and prayer and reflection and growth in grace…

There! I said it!  One of those Christian code-phrases makes sense to me!  I understand growing in grace, because I came to understand grace when I became a Methodist.  Grace is an unmerited gift from God that helps me become all that God created me to be, by drawing me deeper and deeper into a relationship with God, which slowly changes me until I am conformed to the image of Christ.

Oops! I just used another Christian code-phrase.  In fact I used several.

The truth is that these phrases do have meaning.  Some are symbolic (since no one really bathes you in blood, thank goodness) and others are more representational of Christian life and faith as it is actually experienced, because I really should become much more like Jesus Christ as my relationship with Him grows deeper and stronger. To me, becoming more like Jesus (more Christ-like) means that I should be more loving and accepting of those on the margins of society and that I should actively seek social justice and equality for all people.  The Jesus I know is a bit of a rabble-rouser.

I want to get back to the conspiracy of lies.

In all honesty, the conspiracy of lies starts as a conspiracy of expectations. I grew up in a fundamentalist, evangelical faith tradition that emphasized orthodoxy (right belief).  We were taught that orthodoxy would lead to orthopathos (right experience). In other words, believe the right things and you will experience the right things.

That’s a powerful draw to faith!  Think about it—according to that concept, believing the right things will lead me to experience the “right” things: peace, prosperity, happiness, success, achievement…you name it, whatever this culture deems “right” is what I will get if I believe in the right ways.

Here’s a few things that our culture does not deem “right” despite their frequency in the general population:

Poverty

Domestic Violence

Divorce

Having children who commit crimes or use drugs

Addiction

Mental illness, including depression and anxiety

Unexplained or chronic illnesses that are difficult to manage

Wow.  Just wow. Can you imagine what it’s like to grow up believing that none of these things should happen to you if you have “right beliefs”?  And it doesn’t help to acknowledge that (of course) these things ‘happen’ to Christians, it’s just they don’t persist and (of course) Christians count on their faith to give them “victory in Jesus” over all these circumstances.

This is how you end up with a conspiracy of lies.  If right belief means right experience, then I better not let anyone know that I am having the wrong experiences, and if I do tell the truth for a brief moment, I better not let anyone know that my wrong experience is persisting.

The funny thing is that Jesus told us that He is “the way, and the truth, and the life”. (John 14:6) He also said that if we continue in His word, we are truly His disciples and we will know the truth and the truth will make us free. (John 8:31-32).

Does the “truth that will set us free” include telling the truth?  I think so. I also think it means that we will stop fearing the truth as if it will destroy us and invalidate our faith.  Get real people! We worship a Savior who cried out “My Father, my Father, why have you forsaken me?” as he hung on the cross, dying.  Jesus didn’t say that to quote a Psalm and look impressive. Jesus said that because it was His experience as He died a horrific death.

If Jesus didn’t lie about His pathos…and I don’t think we should either.

Skip the conspiracy…both the conspiracy expectations and the conspiracy of lies…and stick with the Truth.

It’ll set you free. Trust me on that one.

The Apple of His Eye

I met with a client this week who is struggling to rebuild her life as she trudges through an ugly divorce.  Let’s call her Anna.

Anna believes that God has a plan for her life and a path for her to follow so that she can move forward after the end of her marriage, and she is doing everything possible to be faithful to both.  She is doing her best to raise her two teenage girls to be women of faith.  She is working hard to build the realty business she opened when she left her husband.  She is struggling every month to pay the bills but is determined to become financially secure so that she can stop relying on her ex-husband, who isn’t interested in being reliable or remotely honest when it comes to child support.  The thing that amazes me is that in the midst of all of this, Anna continues to give to others even when she doesn’t have much herself. She particularly likes helping low income families get affordable housing even though she doesn’t get much of a commission from that kind of work.  Anna and I both believe that she is doing everything she can to be on God’s path, and we can both very clearly see God at work in her life, so why isn’t it getting any easier?

That is the one thing that Anna just can’t get over: that no matter how hard she works to do exactly what God wants, her life is just as difficult now as it was only a month or two after she left her husband.  Anna sits in my office and cries, just wanting God to reveal to her what she’s supposed to do next. What is the next step on God’s path? Not knowing makes her anxious and fearful about what’s going to happen next.  It makes her fear that she has screwed up and has wandered off God’s path somehow.  In the end, despite her deep faith, she’s incredibly anxious, frequently exhausted, and always at the end of her rope, and she doesn’t think that a good Christian woman should feel the way she does.

I try to remind her at every session that no matter how perfect your life is otherwise, raising two teenage daughters will have you at the end of your rope every day, all the time.

Beyond that, though, I get where Anna is coming from.

My parents have always attended an evangelical, fundamentalist church.  They did when I was a child, and they still do now.  As a child, I remember learning about God’s will and God’s plan for your life.  God had a path for your life and you had better be on it. If you stepped off that path, even one tiny step off of the path, you were in big trouble.  Even more frightening was that stepping off the path meant that you were on your own, that God was not going to be present to you and your needs while you went on your little ‘jaunt’ off the path.  If you realized your mistake later and wanted to get back to a good relationship with God, you had to backtrack to where you left God’s path in the first place, and then get busy moving forward on God’s path because being off God’s path was unacceptable, sinful, and a good reason to condemn you to Hell for all eternity.

I suppose that makes some sense, especially to fundamentalists.  The thing is that it makes God sound awfully petulant and kind of like a narcissistic parent. You know, you better play by God’s rules or He isn’t going to play with you anymore.  He’ll just take His ball and go home and you will be All. By. Yourself.  Oh, and you’ll spend eternity in Hell.

I don’t believe any of that anymore.

I’m Methodist now, and I am a feminist process theologian.  That doesn’t mean much to anyone who doesn’t study theology, so I’ll just say that I really like the idea that my beginning (birth) is fixed in God’s hands and my ending (death) is also fixed in God’s hands, and the life that exists between those two points is a negotiation between God and me.  I believe that God will never leave me because God is not in the business of abandoning His children…not even the disrespectful, rebellious ones.  For me, it’s all the more reason to love Him and serve Him.

What does that have to do with Anna?

Well, Anna was raised in an evangelical, fundamentalist church just like I was.  Both of us learned early on that ‘true Christians’ had the peace that passes understanding (Phill 4:7) and that meant that you don’t get anxious if you really love the Lord.  ‘True Christians’ trust God and do not fear circumstances.  ‘True Christians’ wait for God’s leading and are patient because God always acts in God’s time, which is rarely early but never late.  God is all merciful and knows your needs; He has numbered the hairs on your heads, so you have nothing to worry about. (Lk 12:7)

What all that boils down to is that ‘true Christians’ don’t ever have unpleasant emotions like worry, fear, or anxiety.  Anger is pretty much unacceptable as well, unless it’s holy anger at the sin you perceive in the world (or in someone else, but that’s another post.) ‘True Christians’ sail through life so zen that nothing ruffles their feathers; after all, their Father in Heaven is looking out for them, so why worry?

I know devout Buddhists who that aren’t that zen and never will be.

Anyone who reads their Bible…heck anyone who has seen the movie The Passion of The Christ knows that Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane and was so distressed that God sent angels to comfort Him.

Seriously? Jesus sweats blood, but somehow our faith in God is going to insulate us against the icky feelings that we don’t like?

No, that’s not how it works. Faith in God is not a magical pair of rose-colored glasses that will make our lives all sunshine and puppies.  Faith in God is not an extended release Valium for the soul.

Don’t get me wrong. Please, seek God’s will in your life and then do your best to live by it.  And when following God’s will leaves you exhausted, disappointed, and anxious, know that you have stumbled onto all the things that Christ experienced as he led the disciples for three years and then walked the path to His own crucifixion.  Definitely check in with God daily to make sure that you are following the path He has set before you, but plan on a few nights where you sweat some blood and need some supernatural help to make it through to the morning.

And if you are going to trust in something, trust that the God who delighted in creating you also delights in watching over you, because His son has made it clear that this is a difficult world to live in and we need all the help we can get. The God who created you loves you beyond what you can ever understand and will never leave you because it would break His heart to do so.  You are, in so many ways, the apple of His eye and He adores you.

If that doesn’t make you love God, I’m not sure what will.

Dear Parent of an Adult Child…

Every parent eventually ends up as the parent of adult children.  You know, those little guys grow up and become big guys.  One minute they are smearing chocolate frosting all over their toddler face and then BAM! Out of nowhere, your little boy is a man or your little girl grows into a beautiful woman.

And for some parents, this is the moment when they rejoice.  Done!  Completed!  Empty nest and all that!  I totally get the joy of that moment and how much fun it is to be able to put yourself and your spouse as the top priorities in the household. Being an empty nester is quite a lot of fun…if you know how to let your kids be adults.

Let me give you an example: Monday morning my oldest daughter Alex walked out of her condo to her car and found the remnants of a ‘smash and grab’.  Her driver’s side window was shattered. Her pack of cigarettes and a bag of clothes were missing. Her passenger side window was no longer functional.  This is no way to start your Monday morning.

You can guess what happened next: she called her mom and dad and asked what to do.  We encouraged her to call State Farm immediately and let her know that she’d probably have to file a police report.  Then we told her to keep us informed about what happened and then we hung up the phone.  You have no idea how hard it was for me to not cancel all my clients for the day and help my daughter handle her disaster…but I didn’t.  I told her that I was available if she needed me and then I hung up the phone.  Her father also went to work, but encouraged Alex to call or text if she needed him.

What’s the big deal, you ask?

Well, Alex called at 8am…and at 11am I had an appointment with a 22 year-old client of mine who recently broke up with her boyfriend.  Since the breakup, this young man has threatened suicide, driven from another state to show up at her front door unannounced and unwelcome, feigned amnesia so that he could deny the breakup, posted unreasonable requests and private information on her social media pages to cause humiliation and drama, and finally attempted suicide just last week.  Clearly this young man is unbalanced, and you’d think my client would be beside herself just trying to deal with the results of the breakup.

Nope.

She’s in my office overwhelmed and crying because her mother keeps interfering in the breakup, taking sides with the young man and yelling at her daughter for all the distress she’s caused him and stating that she knew her daughter would ‘screw up’ the relationship.  The fact that her daughter doesn’t love the young man anymore apparently doesn’t figure into the equation.

That’s right: her mother wants her to stay with the unbalanced young man even though she doesn’t love him anymore!  But that’s not all:

Mom takes calls from the young man and has interfered in the splitting up of property her daughter and this young man owned while living together, leaving her daughter with no bed and no desk simply because they young man requested that the furniture that he no longer wanted be donated to Goodwill…even though my client would have no bed otherwise.

Now…mom is free to think that her daughter has made a mistake in breaking up with this young man.  Mom is free to mourn the fact that she thought her daughter had finally found the one and let him get away.  Mom is even free to tell her daughter that she thinks her daughter is making a huge mistake that she will deeply regret later.

But all that interference?  Really?

Imagine if my client was 42 instead of 22.  Imagine she lived next door to the woman who is actually her mother, and imagine that they are not related but simply neighbors.

Would you view the mother’s behavior differently if I told you that she took calls from her neighbor’s ex-boyfriend and then went next door and yelled at her neighbor, swearing that she knew her neighbor would ‘screw up’ the relationship? Would it be inappropriate if she went next door and demanded that her neighbor get rid of her bed just because the ex-boyfriend didn’t want her to keep it—and then hauled the bed out the door to take it to Goodwill?

Can you hear the police sirens yet?

Long about the moment that mom showed up at her neighbor’s house to verbally harangue her neighbor, things would have gotten problematic.  Forcing her neighbor to get rid of furniture? That’s where the police show up.

Remember: this furniture doesn’t belong to mom.  She didn’t buy it.  So she has no right to decide what happens with this furniture.  And this young man is not requesting that the furniture be shipped to where he is living. He wanted the furniture donated to Goodwill—except that if he actually doesn’t want the furniture, why should he care whether his ex-girlfriend keeps it or donates it?  What business is it of his what happens to things he no longer wants?

Why am I detailing this mess for you?

Simple.

Listen closely, parents.  When your children are adults, you need to remember that healthy adults do not allow random outside people to interfere in their relationships or with their possessions or in their decisions.  Adults like to be allowed to decide what is best for themselves.

This is true for your children!  Once your children turn 18, they are adults.  I know that 18 isn’t very old, and that they may still be living with you, but by law your 18 year old child is an ADULT.  This means that you have to allow them autonomy in making decisions about their own life and their own possessions (and if you are supplying their furniture, car, etc…those are not their possessions. They are your possessions that you are letting them use temporarily.  Your child owns something when they buy it for themselves or you put the object in their name, i.e. a car.)

If you wouldn’t do it to your neighbor…if you wouldn’t speak those words to your neighbor…if you wouldn’t take that action with your neighbor…DON’T DO IT WITH YOUR ADULT CHILD.

Please understand: it’s your house, and if they are living in it, they are like any adult living in the house.  The owner of the house determines what behaviors are acceptable in the house…behavior outside the house is none of your business unless it’s criminal.  And when I say criminal I mean against the law, not outside of your moral code.

Seriously, I spend more time in my office trying to get people to stop inappropriately interfering with other people.  The funny thing is that no one comes in my office and says to me “Today I inappropriately interfered with my spouse/child/sister/mom by …blah blah blah.”  Nope, they come in and say things like:

“I just don’t want him to feel bad so I told him that he can come by the house anytime, even though we’re divorcing.  I just don’t want him to feel alone. And then he goes off on me because I changed the living room!”

I just don’t want him to feel…   Stop right there. What do you mean that you don’t want someone to feel?  That’s strange. Do you want someone telling you how to feel? Do you want someone attempting to control your emotions? What if you need those feelings to help you move on? To help you get over the loss?

This is not merciful. It is attempting to control another person’s experience emotionally, and it is unhealthy and unwise.  It is also codependent.

“If she doesn’t go to school now she’s not going to be able to do it later.  She’ll end up married and having kids and then she’ll never get an education.  She has to go to college now while she’s young.”

She has to (do this thing I want her to do)…  Stop right there.  What do you mean that you know what is the best course of action for this person?  That’s strange. You can’t possibly know what is best for another person because you can’t accurately predict the outcome of this decision.  Do you want someone else making major decisions for your life? Do you want to be forced into certain actions and choices by a third party that doesn’t have to carry the burden of that action/choice?

This isn’t wisdom.  It is attempting to control another person’s life journey, and it is unhealthy and unwise. It is also codependent.

“He can’t divorce her. She’s the best he’s ever had and he isn’t going to find anyone else to put up with his crap.  If he divorces her, he’ll end up alone for the rest of his life. Besides, the whole family loves her!”

He can’t divorce…  Stop right there.  Do you really want him to stay with someone that he doesn’t love? Do you really want them together if they fight constantly?  That can’t be good for anyone in the relationship.  Do you want someone else choosing your life partner? Do you want to be forced to stay in a loveless marriage? And if you know so much about what’s right for the relationship, why didn’t you step in and help them before they got to the point where they want to divorce?  Maybe you don’t know so much after all.

This isn’t helpful. It’s requesting that someone else remain miserable so that you don’t have to endure loss or discomfort or shame or whatever. This isn’t you knowing what’s best for them, it’s you wanting to do what is most comfortable for you.

And that’s what codependency comes down to over and over.  The codependent person/parent wants to be comfortable, pain-free, and anxiety-free.  And in order for that to happen, the adult child/other person has to make sure that they don’t do anything that makes the codependent person/parent uncomfortable, sad, disappointed, anxious, fearful, sorrowful, frightened, frustrated, or angry.  Dear God!  How the heck is anyone supposed to control their behavior sufficiently to prevent another person from feeling anything uncomfortable?

It’s not possible. That’s the whole point.  And attempting to do so…is codependent in and of itself.

Life is uncomfortable.  Life is filled with things that make us anxious and fearful.  Life is also filled with things that are exhilarating and surprising…and if you ever want exhilaration or surprise, you are going to have to endure some anxiety and fear.  Do you see my point?  All the negative emotions have their positive counterpart, and getting to that positive counterpart usually involves enduring a certain amount of the negative.  You can’t fall in love without enduring the uncertainty and fear that you will not be loved back. You can’t have a child without enduring the discomfort of pregnancy and the pain of childbirth. You can’t raise a child to adulthood without a few sleepless nights…okay, a lot of sleepless nights…and tears, and fears, and anxiety, and anger, and sorrow.  But let’s admit it: raising children is worth everything you go through because the joy and love you get back from those children is stunning and powerful and one of the most amazing things you’ve ever experienced.  In other words the gain is worth the pain.

Please, for the love of God, if you are a parent, stop acting in codependent ways with your adult children. If you are behaving like this with others who you love but who aren’t your children, stop! Stop interfering in their decisions, in their emotions, and in their actions.  Give them the same respect and autonomy that you want to have in this world.  And when you think they’re being stupid or doing the wrong thing, tell them honestly and directly how you feel ONCE…and only once, and then shut up about it.

Being healthy is hard work but it is worth all the effort that you’ll put into it.  Emotional health is no different than physical health, in that it pays off in the best ways when things are the most difficult.  I promise that I’ll be saying more about this next week, and I’ll even have some examples about how you practice emotional health, especially with adult friends and family members.

This Is Your Solemn Vow

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,[a] and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”    Mark 10:2-12     (NRSV)

I have been married for 27 years.   A lot of people gasp when I say that because I don’t look like I’m old enough to be married for that long (okay…I think I look old enough but everyone else says I don’t because they don’t know what I looked like ten years ago or how I have resting bitch face that makes me look every minute of my 51 years when I’m not smiling or talking.)  Anyway…I have been married for a really long time.  Long enough that I have been married longer than I was single before I was married…by several years now. I got married about two months before my 24th birthday, and I thought I was so mature and adult and ready to be married.  I realized a few months ago that my oldest daughter will turn 24 in January, and were she to choose my exact same path she would be getting married this November.  My stomach turns when I think of that, and suddenly I am not so sure that I was very adult or ready for marriage at the time I got married, but I suppose that the proof is in the pudding.  We’ve been married a long time and so…it works for me!

Being married a long time makes me think about marriage a little differently than other people do.  Lots of people have been married unsuccessfully.  They have had to divorce.  They know what’s it like to dream of forever and then have to let go of those dreams, have to let go of the person they thought they would spend the rest of their life loving.  I can’t imagine what that feels like.  I can’t imagine the sense of loss, the sense of failure, of being ripped off, of losing the dream.  I can’t imagine how unfair it must seem.  I only know that I have never, in all 27 years of marriage, had to put up with some of the crap my friends and colleagues have had to endure prior to their divorces.

I have never had my dreams or my goals demeaned by the person I love the most.  I have never had my body judged, or my sexual attractiveness rejected by the person I vowed to spend my life with.  I have never experienced what it is like to have my closest friend reject me, or how it feels to be lied to and cheated on.  I have no clue what this is like.

I guess I have to say that I got the winning lottery ticket when it comes to marriage.

We were married for about 8 years when I revealed to my husband that God was calling me into ordained ministry.  Many people, at that moment, are rejected by their spouse.  Lots of people hear the words “I didn’t sign up for that!” when they reveal their call.  Instead, my husband turned to me with a huge smile on his face and asked “Are you going to be a youth minister or the regular kind?”  He was visibly excited about the idea and filled with joy.  He and I had already taught a senior high Sunday School class together and had gotten deeply involved in our student’s lives.  We had spent a great deal of time at church and away from church with these kids, and my husband seemed to love every single minute.  He was as committed as I was to the Church, and so my declaration of “call” was received with great joy.  It’s still the same way now.

My husband willingly committed his saving and his retirement to my seminary education, and when I revealed that God wanted me to spend more years in graduate school so that I could become a licensed counselor and have a ministry in the mental health field, my husband rejoiced that he would never have to move to Ajo, Arizona (**1) and he subsequently forked over another $30,000 to my graduate education, bringing our grand total to $80,000 spent to make me ridiculously over-educated and bi-vocational.

I’m telling you all this to demonstrate the extreme levels of commitment that marriage can demand.  Only my husband can tell you what the payoff has been for his devotion and willingness to put his money on the line to answer God’s call to me…although I’d like to think that he realizes what a critical part he played in God’s will for us as a couple, and how we are blessed because he chose to obey God without question or hesitation.  Not that spending eight (8!!!) years in graduate school wasn’t a sacrifice on my part, but really, what complaints could I possibly have?  Seminary is harder than you can possibly imagine and possibly the most difficult graduate education available (see the story below **2) but honestly, following God’s call was a joy for me.  I got all the benefit, and my husband got the bills.

Why am I telling you this?

Because the lectionary Gospel reading for this week is one of those passages that make me cringe.  Why is God so hard on people who need to divorce?

There are a lot of things I could cite to explain this passage: the way that women were treated in Israeli society at that time in history; the way that divorced women often ended up working as prostitutes because they had no other way to earn their living (the alternative was to be destitute and on the street); the way that women lived in fear that they would displease their husband and be dismissed (and divorced) for the smallest infraction.  There are tons of cultural and historical reasons why Jesus would have reinforced the prohibition against divorce when asked about it by the Pharisees.

But my guess is that God doesn’t favor divorce because God never divorces us.  No matter how difficult we get, no matter how sinful, or unfaithful, or mean, cruel, and unloving we become, God never divorces us.

If you ask someone whose marriage ended in divorce, they will tell you how painful it is, how incredibly agonizing it is to lose the dream of forever that they had built with their partner.  They had dreamed a dream of the future together, and they had fallen in love with each other and with their dream.  Later on they fell out of love with each other, but in losing each other they lost their future.  They lost the dream—and losing that dream is more painful than you can understand until you’ve lost a dream of your own.  For a couple that divorces, the future they had crafted together goes black. It dies, and in the midst of the pain of their divorce they have to craft a new future for themselves; one that features them alone, facing each difficulty without a partner to soften the blow and help them carry the load.  Sometimes I think they mourn the death of that dream more than they mourn losing their partner, because by the time they decide for divorce they usually don’t want to live with their partner anymore…but they can’t imagine life without a future and the vision of their shared future is no longer valid.

I think that divorce distresses God, not because it’s some sort of sin, but because it makes it hard for us to believe in a love that lasts forever, the kind of love that God has for us.  It makes it hard for us to believe in a love that continues despite all difficulties and trials, that stands the test of time and actually endures for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do you part.  This is a very solemn vow, one that sends shivers up my spine when I speak it while officiating at a wedding because it is so very holy to me.

I know what it’s like to live into this vow, what it is like to have a spouse that lives into this vow, and it is the most grounding thing I know.  I wake up every morning in the glow of my husband’s love, even if that glow is expressed with squinty eyes, morning breath, and his customary morning grunts that I’m supposed to be able to interpret. (He’s not incredibly talkative when he first wakes up.) I go sleep in the glow of that love every night, as we settle into another night of reading until we fall asleep and occasionally sharing passages of our books with one another as we toot out what’s left of dinner’s gas.  We have endured all sorts of things together: moving to Arizona (we didn’t have family here), career changes for both of us, graduate school for both of us, raising two girls, dealing with a drug addicted child, dealing with a severely ill child, losing both of his parents, my brother’s mental illness, and my parent’s advancing age and physical decline.  I don’t know that I could have done it without him, and I don’t think he would have wanted to face all that we’ve faced without me there at his side. The best part of all of it is having someone that knows me better than anyone else in the world…and knowing that person loves me despite all my crap, all my failures, and all my obnoxious weirdness.  He does get to celebrate the good parts with me as well.  He even encouraged me to set aside a day to write so that I could share this blog with you…mostly because he knew that God and several of my friends were encouraging me to write more.  I really do have the best man in the world.  Sorry about that…I snapped him up as soon as I found him because he was (and still is) so very amazing.

Perhaps that’s why God votes so much for marriage to last.  I got lots of unconditional love and acceptance from my parents, but I literally am a part of them.  I came out of my mother’s body and am formed from their DNA…I couldn’t be more like them if I tried.  On the other hand, my husband CHOOSE me, just like I choose him.  My parents didn’t get a choice…they got pregnant, and there I was!  My husband fell in love with me as I am: incredibly flawed, crazy, difficult me.  And he has stayed with me for more than 27 years, dealing with my particular ways of being, both good and bad, that entire time.  If anything gives testimony to the unconditional love of God, to the grace and forgiveness that God has for us…it’s successful marriage.  Unlike the experience we have with our children, there is no DNA, no Oxytocin, no genetic material to make us love our partner.  Staying in love is a choice, remaining in the marriage when you’re sick and tired of all the crap is a choice, forgiving is a choice, choosing to do the things that make your partner happy is a choice, honoring their contribution to the marriage is a choice, valuing what they bring to the table is a choice…all these things and many more that contribute to the joy of marriage are choices.

God knows this, and it’s important for us to remember that God chooses US—and there is no DNA, no genetic material, no 9 months of gestation, no Oxytocin to encourage this choice…God chooses us simply and only because God chooses US.  It’s that simple.  God chooses us because God loves us and isn’t interested in not loving us, ever, no matter what we do.  So maybe this passage about divorce is about God wanting us to find out what it is like to choose love…not to have love choose us, but to choose love and choose to stay in love…so that we can understand just how serious and committed God is to us.

It’s kind of hard to believe in love that will choose you and keep choosing you if you’ve never had anyone who made that choice and just kept making it over and over again.  Marriage turns out to be one of those amazing ways that life imitates God so that we can understand who God is and how much God loves us.

If you have been through the pain of divorce and my words are making you ache, remember that God loves you more than you can ever imagine or understand.  I pray that one day you find someone who will make that love as real as possible for you so you can find out just how beloved you are and come to believe that nothing you can ever do will change that truth.

If you are already married to the love of your life, do everything you can to be the unconditional love and grace of God to that person so that they can know just how incredibly precious they are, and so that you can know it in return.

May God bless the union of each and every person who commits to loving for better and for worse until death do you part. This is your solemn vow, and it is truly holy.  Amen.


 

**1  The United Methodist Church practices something called “itinerancy”, a practice that means that ministers are moved from church to church at the will and request of our Bishop.   This practice means that any given appointment to a church is only guaranteed for a single year, and that every April and May we wait for a call from the Bishop that asks us to pack up and move to a new town and a new church.  Only the Elders of the UMC are required to be itinerant, because only the Elders are charged with the administration and leadership of the church.  Deacons in the UMC have specialized ministries (like the one I have in mental health counseling) and we are not required to be itinerant. On the other hand, we are not guaranteed an appointment to a church (like Elders) and therefore we are not guaranteed to have a paying job each and every year.  Deacons find our own employment and are subject to layoffs and reduction-in-force issues just like everyone else who has a job in the secular world.  It’s a trade-off, but it allows United Methodist ministers to respond to the unique call of God and to enter into whatever ministry God calls them to do, no matter where God calls them to be.  It allows the UMC to be flexible and responsive to the needs of God’s children everywhere, at all times.

 

**2  I was a computer programmer for eleven years before I answered my call into ministry.  My last year as a programmer was spent as a contractor for Compuware, a large consulting firm that bought out the tiny, locally owned consulting firm I was working for in 1996.  I remember meeting with my new manager for the first time; he was taking the team of consultants that were placed at “Large Credit Card Firm That I Refuse to Advertise” out to lunch.  I had just started seminary and had realized just how heavy the workload would be; I was really concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up.  During our lunch, I informed my manager that I had just started graduate school and was going to want a reduced workweek during weeks that I had papers due or midterm/final exams—perhaps only 30 hours.  My manager laughed and said “Oh for God’s sake, graduate school isn’t that hard!  Don’t worry, you’ll do fine.  Now…if you want hard, try seminary.  THAT’S HARD.  My brother went to seminary and my God, the amount of work that he had was ridiculous.  I have never seen anyone work that hard.  Trust me, you’re not going to have any problem in graduate school.”  Then my new manager asked me what I was studying.  I told him that I was going to seminary.  He laughed and said “Very funny.  Seriously, what are you studying?”  I told him that I was going to Claremont School of Theology to get a Master’s in Divinity so that I could become a Methodist minister.  He immediately looked at my team lead with a very stern look on his face and said “She needs to only work 30 hours in any week that she has a paper or a test.  Immediately! Do you understand?”  Honestly, I had to work hard not to burst out laughing.  I appreciated his help, but he looked like I told him I was studying to cure cancer.