By Ann O’Donnell
Without as much as a hello, my husband hurried into the house in the middle of his workday and jogged down the basement steps clutching a tape measure and pad of paper. Standing in silence, I listened to the swoosh of the metal extend and retract across the floor. Dare I inquire about this random visit home?
Odd jobs around the house demanded attention, but what project needed crossing off his to-do list? Within minutes he strode out onto the deck, head bent down in concentration, and sized up the length of a 2×4 resting on the lattice siding, visibly anxious to record some measurements and leave.
Curious why he hadn’t spoken, I inched my way towards the sliding door to ask about this task he seemed so determined to complete. Anticipating a few comments about the need for minor repairs, I instead heard his plans to ready the house for sale and move out on his own.
The blow of these unexpected words hit me like a bombshell sending shockwaves through my heart, paralyzing my ability to process this jolting piece of information. Surely he was making a huge mistake and hadn’t considered the consequences. Somewhere lurking in the silence, I heard the enemy of my soul laughing at the pitiful couple we had become.
As much as I hated the tension that had risen up between us over the years, my heart collapsed at the thought of ending our marriage without going to God first. As a Christian, I could not accept divorce and resented the fact my husband did not have the courage to step forward and commit to reconciliation. As a passive man, he gravitated to the convenience of avoiding confrontation, as it was easier to ignore the elephant in the room than face it head-on, a pattern he followed our entire marriage.
I promised he would regret this decision to walk away without asking for God’s help in our most desperate season as husband and wife. He hated my aggressive attempts to talk things through, but today he wasn’t going to get away with it. The stakes were too high and I couldn’t let him walk out convinced splitting up was the decision to pursue. Tearing a marriage apart is never God’s plan, but he didn’t want any part of it. His pastor had urged him to proceed, deceiving him into believing he was inside the will of God.
I stopped counting the times I saw traces of my father’s behavior repeat itself in my husband, and could only pray, please dear God, don’t let this be a repeat of my parent’s marriage. We hurt each other way too much over the years, and the pain finally caught up and created a chasm we could not close.
Our personalities and approach to conflict resolution were opposite and while I upheld the idea of conflict resolution, he felt avoiding problem solving guaranteed his removal from all accountability. I craved his understanding, comfort, and assurance, and when he withheld those affections and approached me for sex only, I became hurt. Hurt led to sadness, then resentment, anger, and rage. His avoidance issues cost our marriage. If only he pursued my heart the way he pursued his job and other indulgences, maybe we could have avoided this mess.
Five months into our marriage, I got slapped with a hard dose of reality about the man I married when the phone rang as I curled up on the couch, fighting off the nausea from my first pregnancy. My father had called and I could not bring myself to the phone, partly because I felt so yucky, and partly because I wasn’t in the mood to pretend he and I were on chummy terms when we weren’t. My parent’s divorce had set off a rippling effect of ongoing tension and I was in no mood to contend with his antics of acting so innocent.
Instead of standing in for me and intercepting the call, my husband insisted I go to the phone, triggering a full blown shouting match between us. He fled out the back door hoping to dodge the repercussions while the phone remained off the hook and my father’s ear tuned in to every word.
My husband’s actions left a gaping wound in my heart, one he did not have eyes to see or a heart to feel. The thought of protecting my emotions was never on his radar and I soon discovered my place on his list of priorities was lower than I thought possible. Never did I envision feeling so unfulfilled because of a man who chose to ignore the critical importance of responding to his wife’s feelings. I believed my husband would be the person I could trust above all others, but I was wrong. Disbelief and sadness gripped my heart as I saw a foreshadowing of the emptiness that lay ahead.
I had prayed we would not be a repeat of my parent’s marriage where the absence of communication became the norm, but now I wasn’t so sure. I couldn’t bear watching the patterns of avoidance evidenced in my home growing up dominate my own marriage. My vision of closeness rested on the hope that vulnerability and intimate trust would secure safety around us as a couple, and unfortunately, his vision did not.
Coiling up the tape measure and jotting down a few notes, my husband left the house, the first leg of his mission completed. Engulfed in sorrow and remorse, I stepped outside and cried out to God. The reality of separating plunged me to a new low as though a thousand anchors weighed me down with no means to break free. The pain was excruciating and I felt numb. My marriage had failed, and we were both guilty.
Please God, don’t let this happen. Only you can stop him from running away. Only you can prompt him to reconcile. You are the God of miracles, and I can’t breathe my next breath without one.
My thoughts ushered me into the realm where I re-lived the hurts I caused and hurts I had received. Admitting I was capable of abusing God’s grace and violating his intentions for abundant living left me feeling worthless, as though I had no business being alive. I didn’t deserve another chance. God owed me nothing. I’d made a mess of things without anyone’s help. How is it possible to be given a whole life and end up so broken? Was I that reckless at handling relationships, causing this kind of irreparable damage? I poured my heart out before God full of shame and begging for his mercy.
Oh God, help me, a sinner. Help me know how to live according to your design. Reshape my mind, and let me do something right. I can’t continue following the same path. I am trapped and at the end of myself. Only you can resurrect my soul and change my course. Please give me your eyes so I see what you see.
Starting now, I choose to be Christ-like to my husband and I confess I haven’t up till now. I choose to love him the same way you love me. I have never truly seen him the way you do because hurt and disappointment always got in the way. I hated him because he ignored me. I hated that he never took the time to know me at my deepest level. I hated him because he abandoned me in my most desperate moments. I’m sorry, Lord, that I couldn’t love him because of that. I wanted so much more in our marriage but kept my eyes on unmet expectations instead of you.
Forgive me Lord. Please give me another chance. Help me remove this ugly stain of resentment out of my heart, and exchange it for a heart that looks at him like you do. Today, Lord, I vow before you, that by your grace, I will leave the past behind, and start over. Change my heart, oh, God, and renew a right spirit within me.
With an overwhelming ache in my heart, I wiped the wet stains off my cheeks and stepped back into the kitchen. Enveloped in emptiness after thirty-eight years of marriage, I uttered these words of hope, I am going to be ok. God is with me, and there is nothing to fear.
Here we are now, six years later as husband and wife, the miracle I prayed for out on my deck long ago. He still has his personality setbacks and I still have mine, but the most important lesson I needed has been learned – that I must do unto others as I would have them do to me, no matter how crucifying to the flesh.
I have kept my promise to God even when my old self keeps rewinding mental images of past failures and hurts. With God’s grace, I choose to demonstrate Christlikeness to my husband, even when I don’t feel like it. Yes, there are moments when my old nature wants to rise up and put him in his place, but I resist, knowing Jesus is standing next to me watching and waiting. Funny how I always feel better after I speak in kindness, initiate forgiveness, prompt meaningful conversation, and shower him with grace.
Jesus wasn’t joking when He commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves, knowing full well our self-will would demand center stage to dictate what others should do for us. I regret our marriage did not involve more selflessness on both sides. The truth is, our marriage disaster reflected our stubborn wills more than our incompatibility. My husband belongs to God now. It is not my job to worry one more day of what will become of his honesty and vulnerability before the Lord.
As a couple removed from the past, and walking into our future to love and serve God, we know our days are numbered, and He will judge us for all we think, all we do, and all we say. He is a God of second, and third, and fourth chances, as our marriage has so clearly manifested, and we want to use our minutes wisely to proclaim His goodness so others will experience His grace as we have. There is no possible way to measure the grace of God upon two souls who never deserved it, but God lavished it freely upon us regardless. To Him we humble ourselves to give thanks.
Ann O’Donnell is married with four children and loves Jesus.