Meditations On Loneliness

Sometimes, loneliness is not about the absence of people. I know this because I’ve never lived alone and I’ve still been lonely. I’ve never not been connected to my family, to my surrounding community, either of believers, of neighbors or co-workers, and I’ve still been lonely. I have lived my entire life in the presence of many people, many of whom knew my name and liked me, and I’ve still experienced terrible loneliness. How is it possible to be lonely, butmail never having been alone? While I know some people whose loneliness is a direct result of lack of contact with people, (those who live alone, are housebound, who are new to an area or culture, whose work or geography isolates them, whose life circumstances are tragic, etc) there is another form of it that I am more familiar with. It involves being disconnected. Let me explain.

We all have two worlds – our inner and outer world. The outer is very familiar to us, it is that which is outside of us, which we present to others and which all can see. Our outer world includes our physical selves, what we choose to post on Facebook or social media, our accomplishments, our words, our body language, our conversations, our attendance, our appearances, our choices…etc. It is the part of us that is open for everyone to interact with and see. But it is our inner world that is most truly who we are. In our inner worlds are those parts of us only we and God see – our memories, preferences, emotions, the stories we choose or are not able to share, our dreams, our fears and doubts, our character, our internal monologue, our thoughts about things, events, people…and this is the part of us that we sometimes (often) choose to hide from others for a variety of reasons. Maybe it isn’t safe or we aren’t comfortable with who we are on the inside. Perhaps we’ve figured out that people prefer a different self than who we are, so we pretend to be the preferred person. For some, what is going on inside of us is such a mystery to us (and maybe so powerful as to make us afraid of it) we can’t even explain it to others. Maybe we are ashamed of what is in there.

And so, when we choose to relate to others through our outer world, if it isn’t aligned properly with our inner world, our deepest, truest self, we can feel disconnected. Deeply misunderstood – and how could we not? People are relating to a part of us that isn’t authentically us. Our bodies may be one place, but our hearts are somewhere else.  It is like being very hungry, yet eating potato chips. Or having an itch on your shoulder blade, but your friend scratches your nose. It just doesn’t satisfy. And it can feel kind of awkward. This practice means we can be painfully lonely on the inside, even when our outside has a very full social calendar: because we are trying to connect with the wrong part of us.

This can hurt because…

Disconnection is one of the most painful of human experiences. We are wired for connection. In fact, God said it isn’t good for us to be alone. (Gen. 2:28) Even a cursory reading of scripture and observation of how the world works and how humans thrive indicates we are meant to be in community with each other. We are not solitary creatures. When we are forced into cultural forms and patterns that deny us connection with people, it produces loneliness. And a whole lot of pain.

I sometimes explain to my visiting non-American friends that America is what happens when you get everything you want. We wanted bigger houses, more stuff, bigger yards and privacy. So we bought them with our time and relational bandwidth. We don’t have time or energy for other people anymore. Not the way we were meant to anyway. We rarely live near our friends and family, and we are too busy working and driving to see them significantly. As a result, we are now a very lonely people, sacrificing the daily interaction people historically had with their communities in pursuit of our wants. How else to describe a society that is so affluent and materially blessed with all we could ever want, yet is so depressed, overweight, anxious, fearful of the future, angry and lonely? We are disconnected from each other.  And it hurts.

Disconnection/loneliness has one of its roots in unshared experience. We don’t just want to be connected to anyone. We long to be connected to people who like us, who are like us and who understand us. This means that often, we are looking for those who have similar experiences to us. Yet, how to find those people if our experiences are locked away in our inner worlds and we don’t share them with others? This is a conundrum. And it can become more complicated if we are in pain or experiencing loss (I wrote about this in more detail in Meditations On Grief). Not everyone has lost a parent, has a spouse with a cancer diagnosis, has a chronically sick child, is infertile, has been betrayed by a loved one, etc. We need to find those people we can connect with around our pain. When connecting points are missing, either because we haven’t shared our experiences or because we don’t share the same experiences, we feel alone and lonely as a result.

Disconnection has another of its roots in shame. Shame is the powerful feeling of being unworthy of connection. (Daring Greatly by Brené Brown) We feel that there is something so wrong with us that if someone else knew it, they wouldn’t want to relate to us. The girl who was told, implicitly or explicitly, that it is her body people want, not her. The boy who struggles with a porn addiction he can’t control. The couple whose marriage is in shambles. Abuse victims with tragic stories tucked away in their hearts. While the circumstances are different, we all feel shame. WE ALL FEEL SHAME – which again, is the feeling that if others really knew us and our inner worlds, they wouldn’t want to connect with us. So we hide. We disconnect from the world around us. We become lonely. Gen. 2:25 describes how God intended for mankind to live. It says, “The man and woman were both naked, and they felt no shame.” We were made to be seen and known, with no hiding and no shame. Connected to others. Just a few verses later however, man and woman sinned, are flooded with shame, are now disconnected from God and each other and begin to hide.  We’ve all been lonely ever since.

God has a heart for the lonely. Ps. 68:6 says, “God sets the lonely in families…” God says that He will be with us always. (Jn 14:16, Matt. 28:20, Ps. 23:4) One of the primary things He longs for His children to learn is to abide in Him – to be with Him. (Jn. 15:4) If we can learn this, we will never be alone. He knows our hearts (Ps. 33:15) shares our experiences (Heb. 4:15), knows what it is to be lonely (Matt. 27:46, Matt. 26:40) and frees us from our shame (Rom. 8:1, Ps. 34:5).  He also longs to restore us into healthy relationships and connection with others. (Jn. 13:34-35) God has a heart for the lonely and wants to meet our need with Himself. If we can learn to open ourselves to Him and let Him love us, He is a most satisfying friend. 

But sometimes, we still need friends with skin on. While God indeed is great, and He loves us and wants to be with us, it is still possible to be painfully lonely, even with Him in our lives. Because we are made for connection. With more than just Him. With each other. We’ve been hardwired for it. So, part of relating to Him means we learn to relate to others better. In more healthy ways. We learn to not hide our inner selves from those in our relational circles. To share our experiences and stories, to really and truly listen to the experiences and stories of others and connect around them. To learn our shame is a liar, telling us things about ourselves that aren’t true. To create places for others, if they choose, to lay their shame down in the presence of safe people who love them.  These are most powerful spiritual skills, not often taught and often not learned. We often prefer the spiritual skills of Bible study and prayer, because they are safe in the realm of our outer world – and we can do them alone. But if we can learn to practice the subtle and messy skills of community, they invite us to relate more healthily to others and to God at the same time. They hold the potential to ease our loneliness.

(originally posted on 5/28/13)

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A Few Things Young People Should Know About Marriage (pt.4) – The First Turn Is Really, Really Important

In some ways, a marriage is a lot like taking a long road trip with a friend.  You both are trying to get somewhere (hopefully the same place) and you’ve committed to doing it together.  In light of this, there is a truth about something road trips and marriage have in common that I’d like to discuss.

The first turn is really, really important. 

I live in Atlanta, which is a city dominated by interstates.  I-75 runs through it, north to south. I-85 runs through it, DSC06986northwest to southwest.  I-20 runs through it east to west.  Depending which interstate I get on and in which direction (which is the first turn in my trip), this determines a lot about where I will go. It limits a lot about where I will not go. That first turn forms the framework on which I will reach, or not reach my destination. The following turns are just the details, fleshing out whatever overall direction the first turn determined.  If I want to go to New York, I’d better not get on 1-20, because I’ll never get there.  Or, after moving in the wrong direction for a while, I’ll have to course correct…which is never fun.  Or easy.

In a like manner,  there are some important turns you can make early in your marriage that have a tremendous impact on the direction you both will take.  They can either turn you towards things like maturity, wholeness, greater affection and trust, healthy communication and more oneness…or not.

In light of this, what are some really good ‘first turns’ young couples can make?

9. Take the first year to really concentrate on learning how to be married.  That first year of marriage can be a really tender, sensitive time, when possibilities are open that may not come around again.  There is never another season of life where you are more open to change, to really hearing what your spouse is saying regarding their needs and preferences, to be willing to accommodate the other, to be willing to learn.  As time goes on, patterns get set, routines established, normal is defined.  Once these things are in place, change is much harder and often more painful. This means the first year of marriage is a special window of opportunity to craft and shape things in your marriage.  My advice?  If you don’t have to, don’t fill up your schedule with other, less important things.  Keep your evenings and weekends free to play, make love and talk.  Make lots of fun memories together.  Don’t commit to a lot of church or social activities – as good as these may be in another season of life.   Try to meet up with other couples in the same season of life and talk.  Try to meet up with other older, healthy couples in the next season of life and pick their brains.  While it is true that you can always go back and fix things later, it is so much easier to build something right the first time as opposed to having to repair it down the road.

10. An important first turn is learning how to talk to one another.  One the reasons sex is such an important part of marriage is in how it forces a young couple to learn to talk about incredibly intimate and personal things.  “I like this. I would like to try this. I need this. I am not comfortable with that. Are you ok? This is stirring up stress in me, could we slow down or stop and talk about this? etc. ”  Is there anything more awkward? Yet, is there anything more important to the longterm happiness and health of a couple’s intimacy? What a great skill for two people who have committed to do life together to learn!  And I’m not just talking about sex here anymore.  I am talking about the skill and art of learning to communicate about things of the heart.  Ask any couple who have been married for longer than 2 minutes how important communication is, and they will probably fall all over themselves emphasizing this.  For two people to navigate all the challenges, changes, pain, emotions, crises, joys, with another…you have to learn to talk. To listen. To engage.  One of the most important things a young couple can spend the first season of life together learning is how to do this well.  How to let the other know how they feel, when a subject is getting too emotional for them to continue healthily, how to say things like  “I’m sorry,” and “I love you,” and “Help,” and “Stop,” – and how not to say those things in the way you want to say it, but in the way they are able to hear it.  No one knows what life will throw at them as time goes on.  But if you can build a relationship that contains the tools to communicate and problem-solve…the likelihood is higher that you can work through whatever comes your way.  Young people…please, spend a lot of your first year of marriage learning to talk and listen to each other.  (and making love to each other…which is material for another post:) It is a turn that leads you to good places in your relationship. And it is a turn that is so much easier to make early on as opposed to later.

Previous posts in this series:

The Importance of Peripheral Relationships

The Importance of Knowing What’s On The Inside

Looking For Unexpected Traits In A Spouse

A Few Things Young People Should Know About Marriage (pt.3) – Healthy Peripheral Relationships Make All The Difference

(This is part 3 in my series discussing a few things young people should know about marriage.  Part one on unexpected traits to look for in a spouse is here,  and part two on the importance of what is inside of a person is here.)

I’ve set up this series of posts about things I wish young people knew about marriage by presenting the truth that who you marry in your twenties isn’t necessarily who you will be married to in your 40’s (even if it is physically the same person).  Hopefully, this is a wonderful thing…that you and your spouse, if Jesus is involved, grow up over the years you have together.  You become more of who He has made you to be.  More kind, more loving, more patient, more willing to sacrifice for the other…etc.  You learn new skills that make being married better.  More satisfying.  While this isn’t always the case, it is a beautiful thing when it happens.

But it also means that periodically, a marriage has the opportunity to reset. (I wrote more about this phenomenon here.)  I’ve said before that I think my long-suffering husband has been married to 4-5 different women during our marriage.  (I’ve been a newlywed, a high school science teacher, a stay-at-home mom of babies, a missionary, etc) While all of them were me, every new season of personal transformation has initiated a learning curve and adjustment period for us both as we have settled into our new normal.  These transition times can be filled with danger – or possibilities for growth, depending on what you do with them.  Being aware of, paying attention to and figuring out how to navigate these changes is a vital, and often under-taught skill! When you are dating and in the early years of your marriage, there can be windows of opportunity that hold the potential to be a wonderful blessing to you both as you age and grow.

Here are some ways to lean into those windows of opportunity:

7. The time when you and your husband/wife jointly need friends/mentors/counselors is not the time to go looking for them. You need to do this long before you need them.  Few people are ready to begin relationships with needy people or those in crisis, and for good reason.  We aren’t always ready to invest lots of energy and emotional capital into people we hardly know, or that may cost us something.  But, we gladly do this for and with people we love, have known for years and are relationally connected to. One of the things I’ve learned this past season of life, with our family being in such need, is that our friends and those who help guide us – those relationships are gold.  Had I tried to go looking for friends and mentors like that in the middle of our crisis time…let’s just say, it would not have gone well.  I have had several moments along the way where I know I was just unbelievably needy (and probably rather pitiful).  I am so grateful for our friends who dropped what they were doing to come alongside us and not only walk with us, but carry us when we couldn’t take care of ourselves.  These are the people who brought food, babysat, did yard work and dishes. Who hugged and cried, listened and loved, praying all along the way.   Then, there were the wiser, older people I was able to call and talk with when I had no idea what to do.  I am so grateful these relationships were in place long before I needed them.  The help and care they were able to so lovingly share was only possible because of the years of investment we made in each others lives earlier on, when we weren’t in crisis.  My advice to young people? Spend a lot of your time and energy in this early season of life growing your relational network, whatever that looks like for you.  (And since relationships are two-way, learn to be a giving friend for others also.) You have more time, energy and relational bandwidth in your youth than you ever will again.  Be wise in how you use it!  Friends are among God’s greatest gifts to us – yet so few of us put much thought into cultivating them well.  This can be a great blessing to your marriage – proactively protecting you from the challenges that life will eventually throw at you, and that are surmountable with help.

8. As an individual, find someone who has navigated a few of these seasons of life well.  And do whatever it takes to get some of their time.  Here is something I know to be true – there is nothing new under the sun.  There is no marital challenge before me that someone else hasn’t experienced.  That means, there are those out there who know how to do whatever it is I need to learn how to do – or at least there are those out there who can offer ideas and lines of thought I’ve not considered.   One of the most fruitful practices I’ve incorporated into my life has been the intentional seeking out of wisdom.  Of course, this practice isn’t novel.  It goes by many names – mentoring,

I've been blessed over the years with many special women who've loved and cheered me on.  I wish that for every other young woman out there.

I’ve been blessed over the years with several wise and special women who’ve loved and cheered me on. I wish that for every other young woman out there.

discipleship, counseling, spiritual friendship, spiritual direction, etc.   But it often seems so under-practiced that at times, I am alarmed.  Sometimes young people are arrogant and don’t think they need help.  More often, they are afraid or don’t know how to ask for another to join them in the process.  And sometimes, most of the time actually, I think the fault lies with older people…with those who should and could help but don’t.  Shame on us.  They/we don’t create those places where generations can cross and interact.   They don’t make space in their schedules to find and love on those young people in their spheres of influence.  They don’t think they have anything to offer, so they don’t try.  May I encourage you? As an individual, try like crazy to find a mentor or older friend.  Access their wisdom.  Ask questions.  Invite them to ask questions of you. And then please, learn to do and be this for the young people who come behind you.  We can create pockets of relationally healthy people and marriages in a culture where this is not the norm, if we learn to practice this with and for each other.

 

A Few Things Young People Should Know About Marriage (pt.2) – It’s What’s On The Inside

(My series on marriage continues…pt 1 here.)

When you marry someone, you marry all of them. Not just their body, but their character as well.  This means, there might just be potentially destructive things inside of them – memories, wounding, character weaknesses, lies, self-protecting behaviors, sins, addictions or addictive tendencies, negative family patterns, lie-based beliefs or unhealthy communication styles.  And you are marrying all of that too.  Since no one can hide their inner selves forever, these traits will almost certainly show themselves at some point during your marriage.  Of course there are positive things inside each of us as well, but my experience has been that the positive things aren’t buried.  Instead, they are grown through the years by intentional effort.  In other words, they aren’t a surprise, and almost no one hides them.  The negative however…well, we all know we try to hide that stuff until we just can’t anymore.  This means, they usually show themselves in the middle of a mess, when we, or our circumstances are out of our control, and our filters are down.  Which makes the internal potentially very, very dangerous.  And it makes knowing what is inside of us very, very important.  Imagine walking into the middle of a minefield (which is sort what marriage is) and having no idea where the mines are.  You are always one step away from not just ruining your day, but your life. This is what it can be like, marrying someone with internal hidden “mines” waiting to get triggered.

Let me preface some of this by saying, having darkness inside of us doesn’t disqualify us from marriage.  If that were the case, no one would be married.  We are all twisted compilations of woundedness and dysfunction.  My point is that, because of the reality of the potential dangers in our inner world, before you get married, or early on in your marriage,  it is a good idea to…

4. Date in such a way that you get to really know who they are and something of what might be inside of their heart. We all know that much of our dating practices are deceptive.  We wear our best clothes, put on our best manners, give more thoughtful gifts, hide our crazy relatives, sacrifice sleep to help, etc.  It’s a game we all play and it isn’t without its charming merits.  But, what would it look like if young people who think they might marry each other, said something like, “Because we should both know as much as we can about what we might be getting into, I am willing to do a few things that enable us both to see something of what might lie inside each of us.  (Counseling, sitting with older, wiser couples, taking tests, reading and studying together, etc) And I commit that, when (not if) we find things that hold destructive potential, I won’t hide them and I’ll begin working on them now, before we go any further.” Yes, I know. This sounds really weird.  And probably unrealistic.  But I promise you, there are a bunch of 40 something married folk who are cheering from the sidelines, “Do it! Do it! Do it!” Because it can be a rather terrifying experience, after you are married a while, to see something unexpected and potentially destructive pop out of your spouse that you had no idea was there.  I’ve previously written about what this can look like here. And since I’ve already gone to places you might be uncomfortable with, let me just go ahead and push it a bit.

5. Invest in professional pre-marriage counseling. Or invest in preventative, proactive counseling to build a stronger marriage, especially before problems arise.  In an ideal world, older, relationally healthy couples would voluntarily meet with, love on and teach younger couples how to be married well.  In reality however, we all know it is hard to find a marriage mentor.  (Don’t quit looking though! There are some out there.  If you find a couple like this, thank Jesus for this blessing, and then learn to be that to younger couples later.) Fortunately, there is a wonderful profession out there with people who not only study the institution of marriage, family, emotional health and how to integrate their spirituality with it all, but they have done a lot of personal work in this area and have wisdom to offer.  They are called professional counselors and marriage and family therapists.  Pr. 4:5-7 says, “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.  Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.  Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” We invest in our cars, our homes, our retirements, etc.  That which is important to us, we don’t leave sitting out in the rain, trusting it won’t rust or decay.  We pay attention to it and spend money to maintain it.  Why would our marriages be any different?  Invest in it.  With the help of those who know what they are doing.  And don’t be afraid to pay for it if you have to. There is something very helpful about sitting with a non-involved third-party, someone who can lead conversations, ask probing questions, moderate conflict and create an environment for couples to talk about things that may never come up if not brought up very intentionally.

6. Look for a spouse who is learning the spiritual practice of transparency and openness with others.  (and learn to practice this for yourself) This can take a lot of different forms and names.  Some people join accountability groups.  Others have Bible study groups.  Some have mentors, spiritual directors, counselors, spiritual friends, pastors, etc.  The central idea is that they understand a vital part of their spiritual development is to open themselves up to others in honesty and authenticity.  They invite someone else to look at their inner world, their dark stuff, and speak to it or offer guidance around it. Telling our stories and being known by others is a vital part of our spiritual growth.  You want to be married to someone who is walking this path.   Because one day, if you do marriage authentically and deeply and don’t run from the pain, an issue, problem, crisis will arise in your marriage or lives. And it will require you and your spouse to do some soul-searching.  It will require you both to open some very personal and probably very scary things about yourselves to others.  And it will be terrifying if the first time you have to do this is when you are in pain and afraid and in crisis.  It is worth it as a young person to spend a little time learning how to do this, so that, when you really need to do it, you already know how to do it.

A Few Things Young People Should Know About Marriage (pt.1) – Unexpected Traits To Look For In A Spouse

I’ve spent a lot of time this past year around young 20 somethings – which has been both a joy and privilege.  So much energy. So much potential.  Because of that, I’ve been thinking…if I had the first part of my youth and marriage to do over again, what do I know now that would have been helpful to have known then?

Dancing With My Jeff

Dancing With My Jeff

After 18 years of marriage (and I realize that I’m just getting started at being married), I am finding that there are many things that would have been helpful for someone to have brought up in conversation waaaaay back then.   Stubborn and foolish as I was, it might not have changed anything I did or choices I made along the way, but…and here is a big truth…with knowledge comes choice…and the freedom to make different, hopefully better choices.  I would love for young people to learn to make wise, godly choices concerning how they will structure their married lives, because I can’t think of any area with more potential to bless or harm them in the coming years.  My campus minister told me while I was in college, “Marriage can be the closest thing to heaven on earth, or the closest thing to hell on earth.” True dat.   My prayer is that the young people I know would have more of the “heaven”-like experience.

In light of this, I am continuing my annual tradition of writing about marriage and relationships on the blog around this time of year. (Links to the last post from the other series are “Healthy Marriage Practices” and Marriage Predictors.)  They have consistently been among the most highly read things I’ve written. Ever. Seems y’all love the topic of love.

Yet, I was this close to skipping this series this year.  Because…if you’ve followed this blog or my adventures at all for the last few years…well…after living with a sick husband, managing lots of life transitions…the actual experience of marriage has been so exhausting that the thought of writing about it just seemed overwhelming.  Let me clarify… my experience with marriage and Jeff hasn’t been negative, mind you.  On this side of all we’ve been through, I am more married and in love with my husband than ever before.  Which I guess is ultimately why I am back writing this series this year.  Because a good marriage is worth the work.  It is one of God’s sweetest gifts to us.

So, here are the first of some of my thoughts on what I think young folks should know about marriage:

1. Who you marry in your 20’s isn’t the same person you will be married to in your 40’s, even though it is physically the same person.  I’ve said before that over the course of our marriage, my husband has probably been married to at least 4 or 5 different women.  All of them were me of course, but I’ve changed so much over the years, it is sort of like he gets a new wife every so often.  We all change and grow over the years.  Life happens.  Stuff happens.  And while much of the core of who we are in our youth follows us for a lifetime, often, that core can act like a pedestal on which the real artwork to be created later, sits. Hopefully the progression is a positive one, with your spouse becoming more kind, gentle, unselfish and committed to Jesus and to you.  Hopefully, every year, your home is characterized by deeper wisdom, growing friendships and healthier and clearer communication.  But we’ve all seen that this isn’t necessarily a given.  In fact, in some circles, it isn’t even common enough to call it the norm.  So, if you know going in that both you and your spouse will grow into a related, but different self after a few decades of life, what are some things to keep in mind at the start of your marriage?

2. When choosing a spouse, look for someone who knows how to find and isn’t afraid to ask for help. (and learn to do this for yourself) One of the endearingly optimistic qualities of young people is that they are convinced they are invincible.  And maybe immortal.  And possibly the exception to the bad things that can happen.  Many of the darker realities of life around them…depression, bankruptcy, broken hearts, addictions, bitter marriages or divorce…they assume those things happen to other people.  The reality is however, no one knows what life will throw at them.   And since no one is omniscient or omnipotent, at times we will run into circumstances we don’t understand or know how to handle.  These can be the things that change us – for better or for worse, depending on what we do with them.  One of the great thing about being human though, is that someone else has already walked through whatever we will go through.  We don’t have to be alone.  If we can find those people who have survived and thrived in spite of pain… and pick their brain, opening ourselves and all our insecurities up to them, we can learn what they know.  The key is we have to ask for help.  If we are proud, or passive, or convinced things will just work out, then we will never know more than we know.  Which honestly, isn’t very much.  Trust me, you want to be married to someone who knows how to access the wisdom around them – and isn’t afraid to do so.  Learning the practice of knowing how to find and ask for help…is like putting a big safety net around your relationship.

3. When looking for a spouse, look for someone who is courageous.  (and learn to cultivate the quality in yourself) Being married doesn’t mean you know what will happen to you.  It just means you know who your travel buddy through life will be.  And on the journey, it takes courage to look at who you are, or who you are becoming, and ask for help if you see you need it.  It takes courage to listen to the constructive criticism of someone who loves you, or to be receptive to a cry for help from your spouse that threatens your “normal”.  It takes courage to admit you are wrong and be willing to change.  It takes courage to not run from pain when everything in you wants to get out of there.  It takes courage to try things you’ve never done before, know you will fail when you start, but to keep at it because you know it will eventually bless you and your family.  It takes courage to allow Jesus to show you just how deeply messed up you are on the inside and then to say to Him, “Do whatever it takes, whatever You want, to bring healing, to make me more like You.” Courage is a really really important characteristic you want in your spouse.  Learning to cultivate it in your youth can reap tremendous blessings in your later life.

While many women think they want the hunky soldier type, the better husband is the guy with the character to fall on the grenade.

Just How Married Do I Want To Be? – My Annual Anniversary Post

Today is my wedding anniversary – and Jeff and I are celebrating! A few years ago I started marking the date by writing something about marriage in general and my marriage in particular, for Intersections on this day. (Past

Our brick in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

Our brick in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

examples are here  and here.)  As you can imagine, with the last few years we’ve had with Jeff’s health, I am reflecting quite a bit. Not that I need much to push me into reflective mode, mind you;) but… What a ride we’ve had. So, what follows are a  few meditations on marriage that have been rolling around in my head and heart for a while in light of our present season of life.

  • Just how married do I want to be? In some ways, being married is sort of like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. And in some ways, marriage is sort of like milk. There’s skim, 2% and whole – you have some choice in your experience with it. There have been times in the last few years, with the threat of losing my Jeff hovering over me, that I have found myself pulling away from him emotionally in order to protect myself. Because it is so painful to fully feel all that is going on inside of me. Even as I’ve been very present and very committed to physically taking care of him. This is a natural tendency we all have – pulling away to protect ourselves. So I am asking myself these days, “Just how married do I want to be? Am I willing to go “all-in” even if I know it will hurt unbelievably to “stay in?” (I wrote about this phenomenon here a while back. It is one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written.) “Do I want the type of marriage that protecting myself builds, or do I want the type of marriage that an “all-in” investment, both emotionally and physically, builds? I’ve decided that I want to be very married, as married as one can be. Because “skim” marriage is so watered down…I don’t want a roommate and babysitting partner. I want a husband. And having one of those well takes a lot of work. And emotional capital. And time. And tears.  And I’m willing to pay for THAT experience with marriage… b/c kisses from a man I truly love are so much more satisfying than kisses from a man I just like…b/c I want my kids to grow up in a home where their parents are really married…b/c I want to be loved by Jeff fully like that…b/c when Jeff and I married 18 years ago, this is what we were agreeing to try and do together.
  • Even when I don’t think I have choice, I always have choice. I did not get to choose whether or not my husband got sick. It would be easy to focus on that – and allow helplessness, despair, anger and jealousy of others rise. (And those emotions, and many more, have certainly had their way with me many, many days. Have you read my blog in the past?) But there is so much I do get to choose in my life’s situation! For instance…When our family’s story is told years from now, I get a lot of choice in determining who I will be in that story. Will I be the woman who ran, if not physically, then emotionally? Will I be the woman who allowed bitterness to rise and rule in her heart and life? Or will I be the woman who decided to keep her vows – not just the letter of them, but the spirit of them as well? Will I be a wife who loved her husband as best as she knew how, as fully as she knew how, even as it held the potential to utterly break her heart? Will I choose to find the joy and humor in it all as best as I know how, even when the easier choice is to indulge the despair and self-centeredness that tempts us all in the middle of pain? I also get to choose much of how I walk with my Jesus through my pain – letting Him speak to me through it, heal me with it, strengthen me as IMG_1179a result of it. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Pain isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me. A life without meaning is. It is so easy to try and do my life and marriage without Jesus. Because sometimes He just complicates everything. (I wrote about this here.) And when I hurt, my natural response is to avoid, numb or medicate. Or to assume that the presence of pain indicates I am out of His will for my life, that He is at the worst, cruel, and at best, too busy to notice me. But what if…what if my pain is actually an invitation to more? To allow Jesus to do a deep and healing work of the heart within? To know Him more. To become more. To become a potential blessing to those I love? What if I decide to “stay in” those painful circumstances, and ask Jesus what exactly it is He is doing in my life …and then cooperate with whatever His answer is? I have found that walking with Jesus through pain (instead of around it) does this most amazing thing. It grows my heart bigger. It allows me to love more. Forgive more.  Weep more, yes. But also to laugh and enjoy life and being married more. And when my heart has a greater capacity to feel all that…to be more fully human…really great things happen in my marriage. And in my parenting. And in my life. My marriage can have greater meaning than just making me happy – although that is certainly a part of it! It can be a way Jesus makes me more whole. And I am finding that everyone around me benefits when I bring a more whole me to the table. But I have to choose to stay in it, even when it hurts, even when there are easier choices out there, even when how things are playing out isn’t what I would choose on my own. Because…at least on the days I can gain a glimpse of clarity…I want my life to have meaning. I want my pain to have meaning. And pain is often a doorway to meaning. To clarity. If, and only if, I am willing to walk through it.

So, choosing to stay “all in” my marriage, wholly and fully, even when it hurts…can be absolutely wonderful. Even on the days it most definitely isn’t. And this is part of what I am celebrating today with my husband. Happy Anniversary to us!

I Meant It, Even When I Didn’t Know What It Meant

(Written Friday night in ICU at Jeff’s bedside, after his surgery)

Jeff,

When I said, “For better or worse,”,  “In sickness and in health,” I meant it. Even when I didn’t know what it meant.

I'm wearing his ring, since he had to take it off for surgery.

I’m wearing his ring, since he had to take it off for surgery.

On that cold November day in our mid-twenties when I spoke those words…you were so humorously nervous about becoming a husband. Me, so in love and so oblivious to just how hard marriage could be. We were so sure we had it all figured out. The older couples around us must have looked on with a curious mixture of fear for us at our ignorance and joy with us at our enthusiasm. The same way we look at young couples now. Years in together, three kids and many adventures later, we are finally all grown up. Or at least significantly on the way.

And look at where we are tonight. You just out of another surgery to deal with the damage cancer is doing to your guts. Me weeping at your bedside, my guts all knotted up too. Who knew this was coming?

Really, no one knows what their vows mean until they have to keep them. I guess we know something about it now.

I look at you laying in ICU. Again.

I see you sleeping, exhausted and pale, attached to beeping machines with tubes running everywhere. Again.

I feel my heart ache, literally, with a visceral spasm that rolls through me from the inside out. My soul must look like angry waves on the front end of a hurricane. Again.

And I know I will have to do all of this again.

And I will.

Because I love you. Because just like on our wedding day, I am choosing to love you. I didn’t know what it meant then. I sort of have a clue what it means now. And I’m still in. Even though I don’t know what we will both have to do in order to keep our vows. I will try my best to love you with all I’ve got, even as it breaks my heart, even as it leads me to places like this. I will hold your hand and kiss your face and honor you until it is time to hand you off to the One who loves You infinitely more than I do.

And that must be a lot – because after all these years together, I’m learning to love you quite a bit.