My lovely friend Joy challenged me to write a piece about my divorce – something I usually avoid doing in any sort of direct way. I waited a long time to get going on it, until a conversation with a friend led me to an angle that felt “right.” Joy and her wonderful father Emerson were kind enough to walk through the telling of this story with me, namely the issue of how to celebrate my life now without becoming an excuse for others to sin in the same way I have sinned. Tricky. Anyhow, here is the piece that was wildly healing for me to write, hard for me to admit, and definitely worth working through. Thanks to you Love and Respect NOW folks for your grace and assistance.
When I was 21 years old, I married a man I did not love. Despite the council of family and friends, despite the pounding of truth in my gut and in direct conflict with everything I professed to believe, with no regard for his feelings and an astoundingly naive understanding of my own, I put on a dress and walked down an aisle and made a promise I, somewhere deeply, knew I couldn’t keep.
Four months, one irrevocable conversation, and countless hours of anger and screaming and tears and numbness and defiance later, I chose to leave him. I chose to hit the reset button on my life, clear the slate, and start over. I chose to aim for something better. Our divorce was finalized within the year.
When you make a decision like that at such a young age, you blaze a unique sort of trail in your peer group. The consequences are many, but by far the most interesting has been the number of times I’ve been asked by curious, struggling friends if I’d do it again. If I knew then what I know now, would I still have chosen to walk away? The answer seems obvious: I have a life now that I love, truly love, and amazing husband who I wouldn’t trade for anything, and we are just weeks away from holding our daughter for the very first time. Clearly I made the right decision. Right?
I can remember feeling so strongly that the choice to leave was the only right one, that I wouldn’t survive the alternative, that I’d lose myself and any chance of happiness should I choose to stay, choose to settle. I looked God and His promises square in the face and decided that I could live with justification and loop holes. Because, after all, this was my LIFE we were talking about. My whole life. My only chance. And I deserved to be happy. Right?
When people find out you’re about to make a decision they think is a bad one, they all get together and conspire to feed it out of you. In the brief months before I decided to leave my first marriage, I was taken to lunch, to coffee, to dinner, and to get ice cream by an army of well-intended elders. I arrogantly half-listened as they spoke of hard-won marital success and relayed their individual anecdotal evidence of the redemptive power of God in seemingly doomed relationships. I understood their intentions, but really, who did they think they were kidding? I was young. Why should I settle for something so dismal and unromantic on the off chance that maybe, after a billion hours of hard work, I might be somewhat satisfied with my life? I thanked them over sandwiches and rocky road just before I politely dismissed their advice – yes, but, this was different, see – I knew it didn’t feel right from the start, see – I knew what I had to do, but thankyouverymuch for the latte.
Today, seven years, one divorce, one marriage, and most of a baby later, it finally hit me. They weren’t the ones who had settled. They were trying to keep me from settling.
Because the truth? The truth is, at 21, I settled. I settled for the quick fix, for the easy road, for the out that seemed most appealing. I settled for the wisdom of a culture that roused all my fleshy desires into riots of “Happiness is king! You deserve better! Out with the old, in with the upgrade!” I settled for the shallow hope that my happiness could be found in another human, in a relationship, in anything other than Jesus. I settled for comfort as God, for this earthly life as the ultimate one, for loop holes and romantic dreams instead of trust and obedience. I settled for a cheaper kind of happy.
I don’t mean to make it sound trivial. It broke me in half to make that choice. It felt like dying. I spent the next several years in self-inflicted isolation, my time in the desert to regroup, to heal, to repent, to be restored. God was with me in those dark years as I wrestled with guilt and consequence and a redefining of my broken self that was based on nothing more than the purity of amazing grace. It was the most trying, rending experience of my life. There are relationships that were broken then that will never be restored, and bridges burned that remain in ashes to this day. Much was lost. But at that moment, faced with the choice to stay or go, not knowing what lay before me, it felt easier than staying. So I settled.
And those wise folks who tried to counsel me, the ones I had judged in my defiant wisdom and dismissed in my broken, mourning pride? They had settled for Jesus. They had trusted and remained, they had been willing to lay down their lives for the life He had promised. I’ve watched them, these seven years, and the happiness they have reeks of that particular contentment that comes from walking with God when it isn’t easy. They have endured, and they have been blessed, and I have such respect for the path they have chosen. They refused to settle when their bones and soul were begging for it. They are the ones I want to emulate now, in this marriage, in this new place. Their joy is full.
I have been blessed. I have been given another chance to refuse to settle, another opportunity to live the life I so desperately wanted by the grace of a good and loving God. A God who took me back after I defiantly told him I knew a better way and watched my hopes crumble around me – took me back and still wanted to bless me. I wouldn’t trade the life I have now for the chance to make the decision again.
I didn’t know then what I know now. But now, if she asked me my opinion, I would take that little 21 year old girl out to lunch, even if I knew she wouldn’t listen. I’d tell her not to settle. I’d tell her I’d love her no matter what she decided, and I certainly wouldn’t have any right to judge her, but I’d tell there are bigger things than butterflies, bigger things even than sexual fulfillment or romantic love – things like commitment and integrity and holiness. I’d tell her she deserves those things.
I’d tell her she deserves so much more than happiness.