A few weeks ago, I was standing at the kitchen sink in the morning angry with my husband. The baby once again woke up early in the morning and would not go back to sleep. This was after an evening of colicky screaming and a night of frequent wakings. We had both been on edge the night before and had not gone to bed happy with one another. I was exhausted. In the depths of self-pity, I started mentally criticizing my husband.
As I brewed my coffee (and my anger), I glanced out the kitchen window. A mom was saying goodbye to her kids as they got in their dad's SUV presumably to be dropped back off with their mom on Monday morning. The kids had that look I often see in children from divorced families--a wide-eyed look of confusion and deep sadness. My anger melted; I felt remorse for my ruthless criticism. I saw in a blink what my own bitterness and selfishness could lead to.
This spring, one of our graduating seniors said near the close of her senior speech,
Mom and Dad, I forgive you for the divorce.
Those candid words have stuck with me ever since. Having been touched by divorces far more than I have wanted to, those words seem to be a legitimate reflection of the effects divorce has on children. I'm not sure couples often truly and daily think through the effect of their marriage on their children. Divorce hurts children most of all. And divorce always leaves scars, not just on the couple but on friends and family members and on the community. It is the severing of something that was supposed to symbolize the lasting and eternal.
This is not to say that there is no place for divorce. Divorce is better for a child than living with a father who abuses his mother or a wife who repeatedly cheats on her husband. I realize that divorce is often heartbreaking for at least for one spouse--not just the children. But right now I am talking about divorce that comes from a couple's long-term unwillingness to work through things anymore. I am talking about divorce that comes from one parent's selfishness--the selfishness that makes the parent fail to look past fleeting momentary pleasures and see the hurt and pain that might be caused. These things are rooted in emotions and tendencies that we all have as I realized that morning at the kitchen sink.
Selfishness, pride, and anger are in all of us to varying degrees. And even if we marry well, there is work to be done. When two people live together, problems will arise. In fact, problems will arise in our lives no matter what. Working through these things is hard and gritty, and like anything that grows us into better people, this work takes time and effort. And unlike quitting an emotionally draining job, quitting a marriage due to a lack of effort has long-term negative effects, especially on children.
Gerald Rogers' advice on marriage (reflecting on his divorce) has been widely linked to recently. He has some wonderful advice, but one of my favorite pieces of advice is:
Always see the best in her. Focus only on what you love. What you focus on will expand. If you focus on what bugs you, all you will see is reasons to be bugged. If you focus on what you love, you can’t help but be consumed by love. Focus to the point where you can no longer see anything but love, and you know without a doubt that you are the luckiest man on earth to be have this woman as your wife.
I wonder how many marriages would be changed and how many divorces could be prevented if more people followed that advice. It certainly would prevent my early morning rant! And lest this advice seem too mushy or impossible, we find in Ephesians 5:25-28a:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her byithe washing of water with the word, 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. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. (emphasis mine)
Elisabeth Elliot gives similar advice in her book, Let Me Be a Woman. She says,
When asked for advice for women contemplating marriage Mrs. Billy Graham said, "Marry somebody to whom you are willing to adjust.
This seems revolutionary because we often idolize ourselves and our feelings. Why should I have to adjust? Why can't he adjust?! Elisabeth Elliot goes on to say:
If you are a very generous wife, you may perhaps allow that your husband lives up to 80 percent of your expectations. The other 20 percent you may want to change. You may, if you choose, pick away at that 20 percent for the rest of your married life and you probably will not reduce it by very much. Or you may choose to skip that and simply enjoy the 80 percent that is what you hoped for.
This is the stuff of true romance. No one is perfect; this is true for every relationship that we have. And our expectations are often the problem, not the other person. In addition to this, when we do get frustrated, we must look at ourselves. Again, I love Gerald Rogers' advice:
Never blame your wife if you get frustrated or angry at her, it is only because it is triggering something inside of YOU. They are YOUR emotions, and your responsibility. When you feel those feelings take time to get present and to look within and understand what it is inside of YOU that is asking to be healed. You were attracted to this woman because she was the person best suited to trigger all of your childhood wounds in the most painful way so that you could heal them… when you heal yourself, you will no longer be triggered by her, and you will wonder why you ever were.
It is interesting how similar this is to James 4:1-2 which goes beyond just "childhood wounds" to target the condition of our hearts:
What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder.
In Matthew 5, Jesus equates murder to anger. Both anger and murder stem from the same sinful impulses in all of us as our desires and expectations are not met. These things lead to brokenness that affects not just us but those around us. However, in any relationship, we have a choice. I will never forget those words of forgiveness and the pain behind them, and I hope they will help me remember to daily choose the 80 percent and to see the good until nothing is left but deep and utter thankfulness.