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Monday, May 15, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (1)

The following is absolutely fictional and increasingly common. There is no Brad and definitely no Jill, in case that is not obvious. There are, however, way too many people in their position.

Dear Brad,

I am so deeply, deeply sorry to hear that you and Jill have separated. Standing up for you was a privilege and an honor. It’s been … what, almost a decade? But I still vividly recall that crazy, way-too-lengthy conversation we had in the Four Seasons lounge after the wedding rehearsal when everybody else had gone to bed, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that when you took those vows before God and everyone you love, you meant them with all your heart.

I know you were sure you and Jill were forever — or at least until the Lord would call one of you home. When you say this is the worst you’ve ever felt in your life, I don’t doubt it at all. I love you, man. Believe that.

I’m going to take a little more time than you might expect to respond to parts of your email, not because the questions you’re asking don’t matter, but because they absolutely do. I want to give careful consideration and prayer to everything I’m going to say, not least because you have always paid way more attention to my opinion than was often deserved.

Get Thee to Church. Really.

So, first things first: Yes, ABSOLUTELY you should go to church this week, especially because you are feeling that maybe you shouldn’t. You’re weighing your commitment to your Junior Boys class against your desire to give Jill as much time as possible to change her mind before the story gets out, when positions will get entrenched and people will start taking sides. This is noble, but I know you are a realist by nature and understand that Jill would not leave you on a whim. You mention further down that Jill’s mom has frosted you out. That tells me two things: (1) Jill has gone public to some extent at least, and (2) if Dorothy’s on board, any possible reconciliation is going to be a long-term project. You know Jill’s mom has never forgiven her own dad for her parents’ breakup, and if she doesn’t actively hate men, she certainly suspects us all of something. Where keeping the separation quiet is concerned, I’m afraid that ship has probably sailed.

Moreover, you owe it to your elders to let them know what’s going on in your life. I know you know this, but those boys in your class are a trust from God. You’ve done a great job with them so far, and you don’t want them to find out about this through the grapevine, do you?

One further thing on that subject, and I hope this doesn’t hurt too much: I think you would be well advised to resign from your church responsibilities effective immediately, including the boy’s class. At very least you should make the offer. For one, you need to concentrate on your marriage and what happens next. That’s obvious. You’re bound to become so distracted over the next weeks and months that doing a good job with the boys will be very tough indeed. And you owe it to your marriage to prioritize it. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know there.

Two Versions of Events

But secondly, Jill is going to have her own version of events, and you will probably not be too shocked to discover that it will differ from yours significantly. Chances are she will believe it, or parts of it. When you repeat a story over and over, especially to sympathetic listeners, you tend to crystallize it in your own mind. Memory is a tricky thing that way.

In short, assuming Jill decides to speak to the elders at all, you will very likely find yourself the bad guy in the narrative. The world may accept all kinds of lame excuses for ending a marriage, but in Christian circles a woman who leaves a good man is still a bad person. That’s not a story anyone is inclined to tell about themselves. So whether or not you were a bad husband, Brad, you are one now, at least whenever Jill is asked to tell the tale. The sort of “bad” may not be anything too horrendous by traditional standards. Perhaps you were insensitive. Perhaps you worked too much. Perhaps you wouldn’t share your feelings. Perhaps you were bad in ways she is reluctant to define, which has the unfortunate effect of making you look even worse, because people are left to fill in the blanks, and few people in these days of social media can reserve judgment for more than a millisecond. That goes for Christians too, sadly.

So there will be two versions of events extant, and the elders will be trying to piece the truth together. In doing so, they are bound to be cautious, which will hurt, because (at least in my completely biased estimation) if you are at fault, Brad, your fault is comparatively small. To be under the microscope is painful when you are not the guilty party.

Turtles With Heart

But their caution is actually a good thing, painful though it may be. This is, after all, their job. They are to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” The church does not belong to them, it belongs to Christ. You know that. They know that. While they have the spiritual obligation to deal with you and Jill as the Lord himself would deal with you, they do not generally have his instant knack of knowing what is in a man. So don’t hold their caution about you against them. There are godly men there at Winston Heights. They will do everything they can to promote the restoration of your marriage while getting at such truth as they need to know to do their jobs as shepherds of the flock.

Brad, you can bet your elders have dealt with this sort of thing many times already. Sadly, divorce in evangelical circles has become remarkably common. I would be absolutely shocked if your local shepherds are anything but sensitive, discreet and supportive. If you trusted them enough stay in fellowship there under their guidance all these years, you can surely trust them now.

Run for the Border

Do I need to talk about the very natural impulse to head for the hills? I have seen more than a few young men decide to take a hiatus from meeting with fellow believers when their wives have just left them. For that matter, I’ve seen a few Christian women do it too. The feeling is bound to be almost overpowering. You’re dealing with shame, guilt, embarrassment, confusion … it goes on and on. To be summarily dismissed without any clear warning by someone you love dearly and thought was your best friend in the world might well be the ultimate humiliation. But running never ends well. Those who do it almost never come back. I suspect it gets harder and harder week by week. And think about walking into a new church. You’ll be dealing with all kinds of perfectly normal questions like: Are you married? Do you have kids? Lather, rinse, repeat.

No, you’re definitely better staying put. Moreover, you’ll get better care in your own home church than you’d get anywhere else. If you can put aside for a few weeks the very human tendency to believe that everyone is staring at you when they aren’t (okay, maybe a few are), you will find that paranoid, unsettled feeling will start to go away. There may be one or two outliers who blurt out goofy or mildly offensive things. This is usually awkwardness rather than malice. Let it slide if you can. But way too many of your fellow believers have children, brothers, sisters and friends in the same boat you are. They will not be quick to pass judgment on you.

The Rationalization Hamster

One final suggestion because I’m getting lengthy here: I mentioned earlier that women often have a greater need than men to be perceived as the victim in these situations rather than the initiator of something we both know God hates. I won’t take you back to the Garden of Eden here and the “woman being deceived”. There are various opinions about that, and you know I have mine. But I have observed over the years that while many women rationalize their own behaviour compulsively, both sexes are perfectly capable of spinning a story like a hamster spins a wheel.

So don’t, if you can help it. Tell as little as possible to as few people as possible, and avoid the temptation to fish for sympathy. Just the facts, Jack. You’ll thank me later, I promise. Not only does keeping the gossip down to a minimum give you the best chance of winning back your wife, it’s also just the right thing to do. You can’t sin with your mouth if your mouth is firmly shut.

More to come, brother. Push back if you need to. I’m with you and will be praying for you every step of the way.

Love in Christ,

Tom

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