Part 5 | God Never Said It Would Be Easy, but. . .
It was 2:30 in the morning when Ruth was jarred awake by the ringing of her bedside phone. As she reached for it in the darkness, she knew instinctively good news does not normally come calling at 2:30 AM. Her first thoughts before finding the receiver were: Is it one of the kids or one of the grandkids in need? Or is it my husband, away on a business trip and due home later this morning? Or is it some drunk, fumbling his way home after the bar closed and can’t find his car keys? Hopefully, it’s a wrong number, and as unnerving as any call at such an hour, that was what she hoped for.
As she lifted the phone to her ear, her hurried “Hello” was met with a gruff, angry, male voice, curtly shouting into the other end of the connection, “Lady, would you mind keeping your husband away from my wife!” Now rudely and fully awake, Ruth spontaneously replied, “I’m sorry; you must have the wrong number.” Now, more annoyed than ever, the man retorted, “Is your name so-and-so?” Ruth replied, “Yes.” “Is your husband so and so?” “Well, yes,” she replied., “but…” and before she could say another word he broke in and laid it out for her: “Lady, I don’t have the wrong number…but it’s obvious you married one!” With that he slammed down the receiver, ending the connection, and leaving Ruth so far out on a limb she wouldn’t be able to crawl back to a safe place. Not now, anyway.
Ruth got up, put on her robe, and headed downstairs to the kitchen, with a horrible dread clamping its icy hands around her throat. He heart was pounding, her palms were getting wet, and what ever it was deep down inside her that cried to get out, she fought with all her inward strength to keep it from erupting. “Who was the caller?” “What about his accusation?” “How could something like this be happening?” She felt like she had awakened into a real life nightmare and at this hour of the night there was no one she could call. There was nothing else she could do right now but pray to a Lord who neither slumbers nor sleeps. Her gut-level reaction to the call was one of fear and dread, for he knew their names and that set her deepest fears churning. What was going on?
She made a pot of coffee, sat down with her Bible, and cried her prayer with more questions than answers. So she wept, prayed, read God’s promises, and repeated this cycle over and over until the break of day. It was five hours of gut-wrenching anguish. She needed to talk with her husband before calling anyone else. At the same time she knew they had drifted apart in recent years, but her husband was an active Christian. How could anything like this be happening?
Around 7:30 she heard the garage door go up and soon the back door opened and her husband was home. One look at her told him something was wrong. To his “What’s wrong?” she could only reply with a new flood of tears. Finally she could get out the details of the call. As he sat down at the table with her, he first apologized for the call but there was something he needed to tell her and this was as good a time as any.
For the past twelve years of their thirty-seven year marriage, there had been others in his life, and this time it was serious. He planned to divorce Ruth and soon after marry his present girlfriend. To say the least, Ruth was absolutely devastated. Although for several years they had lived pretty much as “married singles” – he with his work, she with her volunteering and church activities – she had just chalked it up to getting older, the empty nest, his preoccupation with the business, and her not adjusting well to so much time home alone. But for twelve years? Did any of the kids know or even suspect? Did his business partners know what had been going on? How had she been so blind?
Not only did he divorce Ruth and marry his sweetheart, but he and his bride bought the house two doors down and across the street from Ruth. Every day as Ruth stood at her kitchen sink she could see them leaving and returning as if nothing in the whole world was wrong. And inside, Ruth was fighting just to keep sane and to put one foot in front of the other. She knew in her heart her own well-being depended on being able to forgive him and let it go if she was to survive. But how do you do that? How do you let go of something that stares you right in the face day in and day out? She knew full well what Jesus did with those who crucified Him, but she also knew she wasn’t Jesus.
I want you to know, there is nothing in the Bible – the Hebrew Scriptures or the New Testament – that even hints that forgiveness is easy. It wasn’t for Jesus; it isn’t for us. It never has been; never will be. In fact, for many it is the hardest thing that has ever been accomplished. And no one knows this more than does God. That’s why He has chosen to partner with us in this process of forgiveness. He is able to forgive to the uttermost and His grace can bring us to where we need to be in handling what we need to do to regain our sense of balance in life.
The greater the offense, the deeper the struggle. The greater the pain and regret, the deeper the quagmire to be overcome. The greater the load, the deeper the need to turn it all over to Him and to put it into His grace-filled hands No, it isn’t easy. Sometimes we have to learn to give it to Him a hundred times a day, then maybe the next day only 99 times, and so it goes. But as long as we are still holding on to it and keep it around like some honored guest, our recovery and our wholeness is on hold. Recall the title at the beginning of this part: God Never Said It Would Be easy, But…. And that “but” is this: do or die. Remember, we cannot stand alienation. We must work the process or it will take over and control us.
Of course it is unfair. Why should the offended have to do so much in order to recover from what another has chosen to do to us? The answer to that is because we want and need to live, and we are responsible before God and others to live. So we decide – and it is a decision – to live! It is a conscious choice to get well and to live the life He offers us to the full. As author John Powell expresses it, we choose to become “fully human, fully alive!” No offender can be allowed to keep us from realizing that.
Working Through It to Wholeness
How Ruth worked through it is a story of God’s grace at work in a person who realized from the very beginning, this is too deep, too devastating, too critical to go it alone. First I need God’s help. Then I need my family’s help. I need my Pastor and Church Family’s help. And whatever else I need, I am going to find it because I want to heal and I don’t want this to ruin my
walk with Him or my family and friends. So she cried for help, and let others enter her pain and sense of loss with her. The danger here, because of a sense of shame and false pride is to hide it, hope it will go away, and not be willing to face it.
1. Family Support
Calling her kids was so hard to do, for the offender was her husband and their father. How would she approach them in ways that would assure her their help yet at the same time not lay everything on their father? She never asked them to take sides. She asked them to come to her aid and at the same time be available to their Dad as well. Divorce is a family affair. Her oldest daughter was close to her Dad, but at the same time she was a primary source of encouragement to Ruth. She needed to be able to talk things out with this daughter but not at the expense of the daughter’s relating to her Dad. The daughter’s husband was a Pastor and both of them were a special source for Ruth. But it had to be with an understanding that the parents both needed them. Like a typical, sensitive Mom, Ruth knew how hurtful this would be for all the kids, and the grandkids.
Helping them love their father would not be easy at this moment, but it would be a prime consideration for Ruth. It is what the kids needed, and Ruth would be aware of it continually. Not speaking against him for their sakes was the best way to go. Each would have their own thoughts. Her need was to keep things as positive as possible all around.
2. Pastor and Church Family Support
Gaining local support meant calling her Pastor and letting him know what was happening along with asking for his help and encouragement. His knowledge of her husband was scant, but he knew her well and knew of her involvement within the local Church as well as her wider ministry of Bible study leading and community involvement. Since the family business was located within the local community, news traveled fast and many were aware of the crisis that had exploded around Ruth and her marriage. At the pastor’s counsel she sought out a Family Therapist in a community close by, and set up regular sessions with the pastor as well. He would work with the Therapist in helping her and the family. Ruth remained active in worship, and women’s circle, and in her community Bible study group commitment, but not as leader. As hard as all this was for her, she knew she needed their support and did not isolate herself from what had been important to her historically. This was a wise move on her part.
3. Change of Location
At first she had not planned to leave the family home, but the conditions of the divorce placed a heavy load on her to buy out his share if she were to remain there. The kids encouraged her to move and to downsize into something she could manage well on her own. Using her money from the home allowed her to buy a duplex that would be adequate for her and a source of income as well. The move also helped her heal since she was no longer seeing her Ex and his new wife two-doors down and across the street. Leaving the family home also brought her an additional emotional trauma to deal with, but she knew in her heart it was in her best interest. The encouragement of her kids helped ease the load.
4. Her Personal Walk with the Lord
The initial shock and emerging bitterness was impacting her walk with the Lord. She knew it had to be dealt with as she would learn to move on in her own life. She knew she needed to be able to put it into His hands, but that is no small task in light of such a betrayal. She had invested well in her marriage, even to overlooking obvious signs that her Ex was not and had not invested for some time. She excused this as she saw the business growing and gave him more and more freedom to do as he needed. But finding out he has used this for another purpose – one that undermined their marriage – brought her up short and left her embittered and resentful. He had taken advantage of her trusting. That she blamed on herself. The rest of it was his to struggle with. Now she wanted to maintain her walk with the Lord of her life, and she knew He was trustworthy.
Having gone down so deeply into the well of betrayal and loss, she was determined not to come up empty. And to assure this she needed to put it all into His hands and allow Him to be able to guide all her circumstances. Putting all of it into His hands and allowing it to remain there was no easy task. But each time she took it all back, she would go to Him again and give it over. In time she surrendered more willingly. Each time He took it back and assured her of His faithfulness and increased her sense of the gift of His peace.
One of Ruth’s Spiritual Gifts was that of intercession, and as an Intercessor she had learned long ago to ask God to teach her to pray and also to seek His agenda when praying and not her own. As she prayed for others on a daily basis she learned also how to pray for her Ex that God may be allowed to have His way in his life as well as in hers. This surprised her at first, but then it spoke to her of how she herself was healing and getting beyond the original hurt and disbelief. It also reassured her she was praying for His will to be done in herself as well as in her praying for others. Her tears at the Throne of Grace were moving beyond her own pain and were far more for the pain of others and the loads they were forced to carry. Hers were growing lighter day by day and she knew this was because His grace was at work in ways she could not fathom. She could not, nor would not, rejoice in her circumstances; however, she would and did rejoice in the lessons learned and in a God who was so very gracious to her as His own. She felt as if she were the apple of His eye, and she was!
6. Honest Introspection
Seeking to understand her part in a failed marriage and broken family led her into an honest introspection that laid her life bare to the Spirit’s scrutiny. Her close friends and family also helped her look at things and shared their insights with her. She learned to accept her part in the marriage as well as to reaffirm her gifts and love. Hardest for her was to accept his dishonesty as his alone. It was too easy for her to put it all on herself, as if it were her failings that caused his distancing and deceit. Getting into a Divorce Recovery program at her Therapist’s insistence was key to her seeing his role in it as well as her own. She would deal with hers. It was up to him to deal with his. His attempts to justify his actions with his kids toward their Mom brought about an accountability he was not expecting from them. They would not take sides but at the same time they would not allow themselves to be manipulated by him against her. Mom did nothing to deserve his infidelity.
7. Allowing the Spirit to Control
In all of Ruth’s dealings with the Court and with her Attorney, she asked only for fairness to prevail. His attempts to deceive, to hide funds, and cheat her a second time, were left to the Court to decide. Her prayer was that the “Lord’s will might be done,” and in the end she felt it was as fair as any of the settlement was concerned. That is what she wanted for herself and the family. By allowing the Spirit to work with her Ex and all the circumstances involved, Ruth could sleep at night, look her family in the eye, and reveal her heart to all those who were caring about her and for her. Her Pastor and Church Family saw God’s grace at work in her. This made her a winner in their eyes.
8. Doing Her Grief Work
In dealing with a divorce there is never an end to the grief work involved. It does get easier and things do get better, but it is ever-present. It never goes away. The reminders are present for every holiday, every family gathering, every family event, every day of separation. Kids and grandkids have an on-going relationship with the Ex. Couples divorce, but families do not. At every family gathering someone is missing. Grandkids are spontaneous about their times and relationships. You hear about your Ex and his new wife. To the kids she is a name; to the grandkids she is an extra Grandmom. It’s hard for them to understand. It’s even harder for them to know what to say and what not to.
After a thirty-seven year marriage and family life something changes and the loss can be so far reaching it seems endless. In many ways it is. But you are in recovery. You are doing your grief work and seeking to move on. But what are you moving from and what are you moving into? Prayerfully dealing with a recovery is the key and allowing the Spirit to guide you in it brings you out on the other end a different person. Look at all that has been changed. But look also at the one you are becoming.
9. Building New Supportive Relationships
Since the Church where Ruth was a member did not have a Divorce Recovery Program, she, and a few other women in similar circumstances, requested the Pastor and leaders to consider one. In addition the Church also needed to establish an on-going Singles Group as well as one for those resingled by divorce and death of a spouse. Once established the groups will lead themselves as leaders emerge from within the Group. Ruth was asked to start and lead the Group for those experiencing divorce. As she reached out to others she found herself healing all the faster.
Those in the Group shared phone numbers and email addresses and stayed in contact in between sessions. Ruth made herself available for calls. Often these came at night when things close in on us. Those joining the Group were uplifted by the support and encouragement of the others, and many confessed it was a lifesaver for them, especially during the first few weeks into their divorce. They also prized the prayers and concerns expressed within the Group. Meeting with others on a similar journey took away a lot of the fears as well as the early feelings of uniqueness. Some were farther along than they and that gave them a sense of hope that they might make it, also.
10. Deciding to Forgive and Let Go
As Ruth progressed through her recovery and grief work, she knew she was coming to the place where either she had to forgive or else stay imprisoned in the self-constructed dungeon of regret and shame. God’s Spirit was challenging her to let it go. Her Therapist and Pastor worked with her as she worked toward letting go. It was not as hard as she once thought it would be to do this. All of her working toward this goal made it easier. Since she had no real contact with her Ex and he wasn’t interested in working on anything more from the past, she would work the process in her own heart and with her Lord. When she decided to let it go, there was a real sense of a load lifted, and inside light dawned as she was flooded with a sense of God’s grace at work.
It was that grace that allowed her to be able to let go. Beneath it was the realization she had injured God more than her Ex had injured her, yet God chose to forgive it all. In forgiving him she released him to the same grace that was operating in her life. He and God would have to take it from there. It was the best decision she had made since that morning in her kitchen when the bottom fell out of her life. She knew now she was going to live. It felt good.
11. Getting Back into Life
Now she was ready to resume some of her earlier activities. First was to resume teaching the Bible Class she had started years before. She had stepped aside until she was ready to go back to leading it. Although she had lost many of her former couple associations shared with her Ex, she was now ready to build new relationships and found it a natural to build with some of the women from the Divorce Recovery Group. Some couples find it hard to continue relating when a divorce has taken place, so they drift away. They don’t want to appear as having taken sides. So her new social circle was among birds of a feather.
Her personal journey was well-known within the Church Family and this gave her many opportunities to reach out to others. Some sought her out. Others were referred to her by the Pastor. She found herself so focused on the present the past was seeming to fade. But the past made her very conscious of the need for self-care. Her kids saw the changes in her and this allowed them to relax and trust Mom to work things out for herself.
12. Growing in Ways Never Thought Possible and Sharing Her Story
Ruth’s recovery did not leave her where she was before the crisis erupted, for as she looks back now she can see how she has grown. This should be true for every child of God. When we make the decision we are not going to come up empty, that signals the Spirit of God to have His way within us. And when that happens, things happen for God is able to work all things for the good. Our changes and growth are all works of grace. They take us to where we could never have gone on our own.
Ways in which we grow through this experience become obvious to us and to those who know us best. We mature; we grow up; we move on. What the experience has aroused within us are levels we never thought possible. While down and so introspective, all we could see is a downward spiral with no real bottom in sight. But then things began to change. What grabbed us and began moving us upward came from above. Before we realized it we passed where we were at the point of entering and now with new wings begin to climb ever higher. The new level achieved will be far removed from the old. We know we could never go back there again. Grace would never allow that to happen.
We do not look back and thank God for the crisis that led us to this new growth, but we do thank God for the grace that caused the new growth to happen. He came to us in the depth of our need and stayed with us all the way to where we are now. This same Presence will grace every day we now have. We live it out as unto Him. At the same time we thank Him for the lessons learned along the way. This is how Ruth chose to live. This is why she shares her life-experiences with others facing similar crises.
She discovered in going through the process what works, what the foundation is, what needs to be avoided, needs to be affirmed, and what can be clung to, even in the deep of the night. In my journeying with her as her Pastor, it taught me about walking with another and the practical aspects of being involved in God’s process of forgiveness. The best teaching for us all comes through the sharing of that process. As for our congregation and leaders, she taught us all in ways she will never fathom. She lived her faith through it all, to the glory of God.
The elements that worked for Ruth can be guidelines for you, but what you will discover is that each step has its own rewards and challenges. What is reflected in all of them is an element of time and timing. None of it happened over night, and each element demanded its own timing. It cannot be rushed. As you progress through it you will know when to refocus and move into the next. Another element of the process is working one or two or three simultaneously. And as life teaches us, three-steps forward may lead to one or two back, then the need is to move forward all over again before achieving the next step. But you will be moving, and in the right direction. Let Christ be your Anchor. Let the Spirit be your Guide. And let the Father’s love be your Motivation. Let all who care about you be your Encouragers.
Dr. Emil J. Authelet
FORGIVENESS COSTS AND LOOK WHO PAYS