I have spent the last few years in church frequently mentioning my divorce. In obvious conscious ways the divorce doesn’t really haunt me all that much. I mention it because:
a) It is something that happened to me.
b) It was something that I chose.
The latter part is important. The me that chose to love and value my own needs over those of another human being is the me that sits writing and observing these thoughts. I was not tricked or forced by outside elements. I was simply tired, a bit younger, and impulsive in all the ways that I am now including some new ways. In order to see myself clearly, I must allow for the un-pretty parts of my life to be just as true as the beautiful parts.
The tendency in church is to think that if nothing in your life has gone terribly wrong, or if you happen to have a healthy marriage it is because you are good and strong and God gives out blessings like candy at a carnival to the good kids while simultaneously punishing those who just can’t get their shit together. At the end of the day I fall firmly into the latter category. This perception, which was fostered and reinforced by the church led to a belief that church was for “holy” people only. Sinners need not apply.
However, when I talked about my divorce not effecting me in obvious ways, what I left out is that it effected me in all of those really deep sub-conscious important ways. The personal stories that will ruin your life are never all that easy to identify, but they all tend to be rooted firmly in the soil of something like
“I am such a failure.” or
“Nobody really loves me.” or
“I hope that nobody finds out that I am a fraud” sorts of ways.
These stories make quantifiable successes the only available measuring stick. The bad news and the good news about me are completely inseparable. Either both must be true simultaneously or I live in a lie. Some of the things that I am counting as wins are losses and some of the losses are wins. Life is less clean cut than I want it to be.
However, when things are allowed to suck, space is allowed for something else that is bigger than just the shitty stuff. However I can’t get to the silver lining if I will not allow myself to be the divorced guy too. In fact, the fastest way to get out of participating in the human experience thing is by trying to scapegoat or deny my failings by comparing them to the failings of someone else.
“I might be divorced…but that guy is way worse.”
Bad lives are composed of desperate self-preservation strategies. There is a bitter loneliness in never being able to say,
“I was divorced 7 years back. I’m still afraid of relationships with people because people can pack up and leave. How do I trust and love when people can leave?”
Everybody has a sentence that is just that simple and nearly impossible to say out loud. For me, to say that sentence out-loud felt like a very real death, but it also felt like breathing after being buried for a long time and allowed space for a hard question to give way to a different way of trying to love.
Jesus did not show up to add points to the good behavior scorecard. He came for the divorced, sick-and-tired, burnt-out, church-hating, God-hating, addicted-to-something-or-other sick people. Good news always starts in the recognition of some short-coming or failing. Acknowledging shit as shit, rather than trying to paint it with glitter is a route towards allowing for good things to be undeserved gifts. The only gifts that ever feel as such are those that come from a place that is bigger than deserving and better than earned.
“Legal virtuousness is one of the ways in which the human existent seeks to carry out this project of deception and to gain mastery over the death that is inexorably present in the very fact of bodily life itself.There are other, more complex spiritual ways of attempting this same deception . . . All are self-defeating except the gospel mercy, in which the self-seeking self is liberated from its search and its concern, therefore to some extent from anguish, by finding not self but truth in Christ. This “finding” is the discovery, in grace and faith, that one is “mercifully understood” and that in the Spirit of this mercy and this understanding one is enabled to understand others in mercy and pity. The weakness and defenselessness in our hearts, which make us pitiless to others, are then dispelled not by power but by trust in divine mercy, which is given us when we no longer seek to defend our defenselessness, and are ready to accept our own boundless need in a merciful exchange with others whose poverty is as great as our own!” – Thomas Merton