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Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Letters from the Best Man (7)

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 Dorothy,

I haven’t had much of a chance to work through what you shared with me in your email, nor an opportunity to pray about it the way I intend to, but I figure it’s better to get back to you sooner than later.

You’re right, I must confess: I never in a million years expected to hear from you. I’m almost positive the last time we saw each other was at Brad and Jill’s wedding, which makes it over a decade now. And I agree: discussing my best friend’s failing marriage with his mother-in-law puts me in almost as awkward a position as it puts you to discuss your daughter’s current relationship problems with me. I expect neither of us will be at our best as we are both working with understandable biases and with only partial information. But I think if we are careful and Christian about it we may be able to do some good for two people we love without breaking any confidences or meddling in their lives.

Deal?

Mothers, Daughters and Lies

It will not surprise you that Brad and I have been exchanging regular emails since Jill left him, but in answer to your question, no, we haven’t been in contact in almost two months. I believe he is doing as well as can be expected, and I’m sure he’d be touched that you asked. As crazy as it might sound, it might not be the worst thing you could do to reach out to him if you feel up to it.

Dorothy, I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for you to find out that your daughter has been spinning you a tale since before she left her husband. I am truly sorry. But let me encourage you not to write Jill off — even if, as you say, she well and truly deserves it. Proverbs says, “A lying tongue hates its victims.” I’ve been lied to before, and it feels like you have been misunderstood, minimized, used and made to look ridiculous all at once. It feels like hatred. No mother deserves that, especially as you have been Jill’s staunchest defender at a time when many of her Christian friends are more than a little concerned about what’s really going on in her life.

Forgiveness, Repentance and Bitterness

And no, I don’t feel you are wrong not to forgive her, at least for now. Forgiveness and repentance are tied together in the Bible. Even God does not forgive the unrepentant sinner.

The key, I think, is not to allow yourself to become bitter. Bitterness is a source of trouble and spiritual defilement, not least in the heart in which it originates. To the extent that you can let go of your anger and hurt and cast your cares on the Lord, both you and Jill will be better off. Still, there will always be some space between you two until Jill does the right thing and comes clean with you.

I must confess I always figured there was another man involved, not because I ever thought badly of Jill but because there almost always is. It’s just a numbers thing. Jill’s exit was way too abrupt to have been triggered by a long, slow, unabetted marital decline, and her unwillingness to talk to Brad at all was very much out of character. Now that you tell me there’s a married man and a little boy involved, it all makes more sense.

But I do not think we’ll help either Brad or Jill much by gossiping about them, and in any case the questions you bring up in your email have more to do with your own relationship with Jill, so let’s leave it at that for now.

Catalysts and Guilt

It is tempting to shut Jill out, I agree, and I suppose it may come to that at some point. But when you tell me how unhappy she seems and how uncertain about her choices, it makes me think that you are better to try avoid being the emotional catalyst in Jill’s next few big decisions. She’s put herself right in the middle of somebody else’s marriage, which is a horrible, guilt-ridden place to be. She is also very well informed about what the Bible teaches, and I can assure you there is almost nothing you can say to her that she isn’t already saying to herself.

Speaking of guilt, I do not think it is possible that you are solely responsible for Jill’s low view of men. It is very natural in a situation like this to go back over the things you might have done differently and ask yourself if your own complaints about Brad over the years were part of Jill’s problem with him, and perhaps they were. But while it is certainly true, as you say, that “a whisperer separates close friends”, Jill is also a grown woman and has certainly demonstrated she’s capable of making up her own mind. I don’t think you can carry the entire weight for her anger at Brad. After all, we don’t really understand what life with Brad was like for her behind closed doors and it would be unwise to speculate. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” Taking sides with the aggrieved party in the middle of a marital spat is rarely useful to anyone.

The Needling and the Damage Done

I definitely understand your desire to correct some of the things you’ve been saying about Brad for most of the last year, and I think it’s commendable. Perhaps the best way to do this without getting dragged into a lot of unprofitable conversations is to first take it to your elders. As far as I know, they are not aware of Jill’s current romantic involvement, but they may be able to give you some sound, spiritual advice about how to deal with the sort of questions you are bound to encounter in and outside of church.

If it were me, I’d also want to correct any misunderstandings I might have created by speaking out of turn, but I don’t think that necessarily means discussing what’s going on in gory detail with everyone who knows Brad and Jill. I would simply say, “As it turns out, there’s a good deal more to the situation than I was aware of. I was wrong to judge my son-in-law so harshly without knowing the whole story, and I’m very sorry I misrepresented what was going on.” That covers your concerns without throwing Jill under the bus.

A Spirit of Gentleness

And yes, Dorothy, I believe she may deserve it too. But I’m thinking here of what the apostle Paul says to the Galatians:
“If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him [or her] in a spirit of gentleness.”
Since the Lord’s ultimate objective here is restoration rather than permanent judgment and exclusion, anything that makes it harder for Jill to repent is to be avoided, I think, and that would certainly include excessive talk among her friends and fellow churchgoers. Assuming the facts you’ve shared with me can be established through a second witness, the elders at Winston Heights may feel it is necessary for the believers to “remove” Jill for her own sake until she has a change of heart and life (although since Jill seems to have elected to remove herself from church fellowship, that may be moot). Best to let them work through that, I think. I won’t presume to guess how they might proceed.

The Right Thing

Finally, I can’t tell you what to do about Brad. Obviously you feel you have wronged him. Asking his forgiveness would be a real encouragement to him, and it may help you too. But regardless of how Brad responds and how it makes you feel, it’s still the right thing to do, not least because this is affecting your fellowship with the Lord.

Thanks for getting in touch, Dorothy. That can’t have been an easy thing to do. I continue to pray for Brad and Jill, and for you too.

Love in Christ,

Tom

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