"To die to our neighbors means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate. Compassion can never coexist with judgment because judgment creates the distance, the distinction, which prevents us from really being with the other.”
Over the past two years I've heard from so many women who have experienced a separation or divorce, or who know that they need to leave and they haven't yet. I've read, and listened to, heartbreaking stories. I've nodded and ached for them, hearing my own story in their words. I've prayed over every single one of them - both the women and their husbands. It's hard to leave an addict, friends. It's hard to walk away from someone you love and have come to depend on. We say things like, "How can I leave him when he's sick? If he had cancer wouldn't I stand by him?". We cling to the moments of sanity, hoping that it will stick this time. We believe him when he says he can just stop - and that he doesn't need help. We keep cycling and he keeps getting sicker.
The most common obstacle for every single one of us has been fear of the church. We know that there are people in our communities, and on the fringes of our lives, who won't understand and who will grossly judge us. Most of these women would say the same thing - from the outside our husbands were the kind of men who made everyone feel interesting and important. They served well, seemed to listen with humility and were always quick with a joke. From the outside they were good men, maybe with faults, but nothing extreme. They WANTED to be better, right? And that was enough, right?
No. Because no one else has ever looked past the front door. No matter how well someone else thought they knew my husband they had no idea what his addiction did to him, and to me. Almost every time someone thought to ask me what life was like, before judging me, they would sit back with a sudden acknowledgement that they were so, so wrong. Sometimes they still thought I should stay and be obliterated by his addiction and verbal abuse. Sometimes they stood on the shelf of their own pride and distorted the Word of God to support their own theology.
Even now that things are healing and Joe's heart and soul are changing, people say things like, "I'm so glad YOU decided to finally work on things" while giving me a condescending nod. As if I didn't spend nine years working on things, praying over my husband and myself and doing every ridiculous thing I could to get him to WANT to be free. As if it has all rested in my hands all along. As if my choice to stand for truth, dignity and life was selfish and ungodly.
Someone recently told me, with a great sigh, that my mom must be so happy now that we are back together. Um. My mom, who loves my husband and is FOR him, has only ever encouraged me to do whatever needed to be done to gain freedom. My parents were not disappointed in me. They weren't ashamed or embarrassed. They were sad - we all were. They never took a side, other than to support both of us as best they could. So, yes, my mom is happy. Not because I'm finally coming back to reason, or because she was afraid for my soul. My mom is happy because true healing is seeping into our entire family. She's happy because we held hard and holy ground and things are changing as a result.
Here's the thing, friends. We don't get to judge someone else's marriage, home, or choice to leave. We just don't. Having read and studied the Bible does not qualify us to make a decision about something we actually know very little about. None of us knows what kind of destruction, abuse, or heartache is happening behind closed doors. None of us knows what that picture-perfect-secret-addict is like at home. The holiest thing we can do for someone in our community, who has made the shocking and sad decision to step away from their marriage, is to cry out to God for them - and maybe even buy them a coffee, without having to say a word. They are SUFFERING. Their hearts are BREAKING. They are in hell, friends. Don't heap more disaster over their already bruised hearts.
The hardest thing about leaving is staying gone. The hard part isn't even in working up the courage to leave - it is in keeping yourself obedient to the decision to stay away. You don't think those mamas are exhausted and lonely? You don't think they are scared of finances and empty houses? You don't think it feels like a knife in their hearts the first time their kids spend the night away from the house? Don't you know they have to battle manipulation and co-dependency every second of every agonizing day? You don't think it is both terrifying and soul crushing? Leaving an addict isn't selfish. It is a great act of love. The kind of love some people never get to experience. Leaving someone you love in the stink of their sin and brokenness can be the only thing that ever opens a door to true freedom. If you haven't lived with an addict, or crawled away from being an enabler, you will find a surge of grace in admitting that you don't know what lives on the other side of that door. Your best option is to stay quiet, offer to help when you can, and pray for God to break through the stubborn iron cage of addiction and abuse. That's it.
When I first left Joe one of my friends, who had been in my wedding, wrote me an email and said that since they had stood with us in our wedding, they would stand with us now. As we were. Her husband wrote me too - telling me that they would help me however I needed. They didn't stop loving Joe. They didn't throw ugly words at either of us. They didn't judge the why of our separation. They just saw that we were hurting and broken - they acknowledged that something must be very wrong for me to leave. When I said I wanted a divorce she cried with me, and never tried to make me read a Bible verse that has been misinterpreted to miss the mark. And, now, as we move into restoration, she supports that too. Her heart can rejoice with me because she humbled herself enough to mourn with me.
Does that hit home, friends? We have to mourn with one another. We have to remember that we know nothing about the inner workings of another human being. We have to trust that what they are experiencing is raw and true. We have to lean into the suffering of other people in order to get to be a part of the redemption. That's our one job.
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As I'm writing this I'm praying that a seed of mercy falls into your already plowed heart. I'm praying that God brings someone to mind who needs help, or mercy, or affirmation. I'm praying that healing comes through your words, your generosity and your humility. I'm praying that you will seek out someone you don't understand - who you may or may not have judged. I'm praying that God leads you onto holy ground - standing with someone else as they mourn, and rejoicing with them as peace comes flooding into their lives. It may not be what you expect it to be, and that's okay. Its okay. Truly. God is paving a road of life, and healing, and community, and redemption and it is covering the planet. It is for everyone. For the judged and for the judger. For those in darkness and for those in blinding light. For the lonely and for the overflowing.
We need each other. Lets choose that road. His road. Together.