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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (5)

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,

Yes, it has been a while, and I’m happy you feel up to keeping in touch. I know it’s been hard. Dan mentioned you ran into Jill at the mall, but neither he nor I can imagine how difficult that was for you.

Your account of that accidental meeting reminds me how easily we can miscommunicate, but I think I can relate to your confusion: years of familiarity combined with sudden, obvious emotional distance can make you reassess everything you once thought you knew.

Questions, Questions

Was her awkwardness motivated by guilt or shame? Has she been reconsidering her plans to divorce you? Was it just perfectly normal discomfort with a public encounter that could have potentially become embarrassing? More alarmingly, was her obvious weight loss and the new hairstyle a sign there’s another man in her life or, if not, that she’s already looking? How long did she plan this? How much of your marriage was, as you put it, “a sham”?

Questions like these can fill your mind and occupy every waking moment. They interfere with your prayers, your meditation, your Bible reading and your conversations with others. They are profoundly distracting, and I’ve never discovered a simple solution to getting relief from them. You can “pray them away” for a few seconds and then find them racing back to occupy you again only moments later.

You will probably find yourself fussing and obsessing about issues of which nobody else is even conscious. As Solomon put it, “The heart knows its own bitterness.” And of course, just when you think you are getting back to normal and are able to work without thinking of her every waking moment, that’s when you run into her again and find to your dismay that whatever benefit time and distance had provided was only a temporary fix.

Grief and Depression

Dan worries that you are depressed. Typical older brother! But reading your latest emails, I think it’s unlikely. You do not have a chronic mood disorder; what’s happened is that you are going through a tragic life event. Your grief is perfectly normal, and it is part of a God-designed recovery process that we are unwise to try to chemically abbreviate. Our Western obsession with treating every variety of sadness with medication is mistaken, I think. A genuine, ongoing chemical imbalance is one thing, but this is not that. I’ve written before about different kinds of sorrow and the futility of one-size-fits-all remedies.

Brad, you are dealing with a loss that in some ways is as painful as the death of a family member; maybe even more so, because with death can come a sort of relief when you know the person you have lost is present with the Lord, and especially when their exit from this world was attended by suffering.

But losing Jill has only created uncertainty for you: about her relationship with the Lord, about her current spiritual state, about the reality and meaningfulness of the sorts of Christian service you once engaged in together, and there’s no relief in sight. I know others who have gone through divorces and have tried meds. You will probably hear something about the benefits of Zoloft, Celexa or Prozac. But I’d encourage you to try something else first.

The Initiative Against Despair

I think it was Oswald Chambers who said the initiative against despair is to “arise and do the next thing,” which he extrapolates from the Lord’s words to his disciples in Gethsemane, “Rise, let us be going.” I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that advice: you cannot recover from this sort of thing by standing still and reflecting on what you’ve lost. Do that for too long and you’ll find that occasional glass of wine you have with dinner is turning into a bottle or more, and nobody wants that!

Do you remember the story the Lord told about the unclean spirit that returns to the house from which it came and finds it swept and put in order? It goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself back with it, and they all live there together. And the Lord adds, “The last state of that person is worse than the first.”

I can almost hear you laughing, but of course I quote it only by analogy, you understand. I’m not comparing Jill to an unclean spirit or suggesting that dark thoughts and obsessions are the same as possession. Not at all. But there’s a principle there similar to Oswald Chambers’ “arise and do the next thing”, and that’s that you can’t recover without moving forward. Or to go back to the unclean spirit metaphor, you need to fill up the house so there’s no place for the evil spirit and his pals to return to. Because the next time you accidentally run into Jill, you’ll feel like that’s exactly what’s happening.

Fill Up the House

Perhaps the solution involves filling up your house literally. You could open up your home for that neighbourhood Bible study you’ve been talking about. Perhaps it means going out with that street evangelism team. You’ve always been hospitable, Brad, and Jill was only a small part of making that work. You can still do wonders on the barbecue. You can still bake that killer carrot cake. Who knows? You may even find others in need of the blessing of Christian fellowship as badly as you.

These are just suggestions of course, and it may feel like it’s a bit too soon or a bit too difficult to implement anything like that at present, but I think the important principle to take away is not to leave yourself a Jill-shaped hole in your schedule in which to be miserable. If not your home, then fill up your life with things that matter for eternity.

Finally, I always remember that when Peter despaired about his own ability to serve the Lord effectively after his frailties were exposed, the first thing the Lord did for him was make him breakfast. You mentioned that there are a lot of loving people reaching out to you from church. I hope it doesn’t sound cheesy and sentimental, but they are the hands and feet of the Lord who loves you. Let them serve you, Brad. Both you and they will benefit, and you may even sense the Lord cooking you up a metaphorical mess of fish to sustain you.

Feeble thoughts, but well intended. I trust I haven’t given offense. Come visit anytime, brother.

Much love in Christ,

Tom

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