I’ve said before that the events which lead to my husband and my separation last year was so intense and sordid that it would have made a great episode of Dateline Special Edition. If only we had no shame and one of us were a homicidal maniac. But, since we enjoy healthy levels of shame and we didn’t devolve into poisoning one another (not that such a thing was never contemplated), it’s a story which will have to wait ’til the great by and by to be widely disseminated. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t really anything either of us did that pushed us over the edge. Rather, it was the way the response to events unfolded which undid us.
In his book, Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch says that couples are pretty much always working at about the same emotional level. It’s why they are able to bond to each other. Couples who are a mismatch in terms of emotional depth, maturity and functioning who somehow marry each other nearly always end up with a failed marriage within the first two years. What happened with us, and what I believe happens to many couple facing an intensely traumatic experience, was that as we coped (or didn’t cope) with what was going on, we were jolted into wildly different places emotionally speaking. Instead of being matched and basically moving forward and growing up emotionally in the normal push and pull ways that couples do, we were suddenly completely out-of-sync. And within two years, our marriage was kaput.
Of course, we’re back together now although I can’t begin to say that everything is fixed. Instead, we seem to have stumbled into a way forward which is familiar to any serious Christian: waiting. We’re just waiting. Waiting for the other to work through their issues. Waiting for greater empathy and understanding to form. Waiting for time to take away the sting of the past. Waiting.
Waiting on God and for God is a theme found all throughout scripture. Abram waited. Joseph waited. Moses waited. The psalmists waited. The prophets waited. Jesus waited. The women and the disciples waited. We still wait today through dry times and unanswered prayers and silence that as a psalmist said is like a dark cloud God wears about him. As Christians, these waiting times are frustrating. We know that somehow this waiting is for a reason. Usually. Maybe it’s for our benefit. Or maybe it’s because there’s a problem elsewhere that needs to be worked out. Which is part of the frustration – we don’t really know.
We don’t know what it is we’re supposed to be doing or learning while we wait. Endurance, sure. But you know that verse about “He will raise you up on eagles wings. You will run and not grow weary. Walk and not faint”? Do you realize just how long you’d have to walk to actually grow faint? It’s not a very comforting promise, really. Besides, either endurance is just the most important virtue in the entire universe, or it’s not the only reason we wait. If only God would just tell us, then we’d do what we need to do or learn what we need to learn and be done with it!
Just recently, I’ve started to realize that there are almost certainly commonalities between this season of waiting that’s been going on in my marriage and the waiting which we are sometimes subjected to in our dealings with God. All through scripture, God uses the language of marriage to describe his relationship with us. The relationship between my husband and I was shattered when we wound up at levels of functioning which were simply incompatible. No doubt the break between God and his creation resulted also resulted in incompatibility which has made it very hard for us to understand God, to relate to him, to remain faithful to him, to even trust him. Almost certainly some of our waiting happens because we all come to points in our journey where God basically has to say, “we can’t make any more progress until you work through some things.” We think we’re waiting on God, but perhaps it’s more accurate to say that God is waiting on us.
One of the most difficult things about this waiting time in my marriage has been having to resist the urge to seek out my husband for comfort, encouragement, a place to vent or even just someone to bounce ideas off of. I’ve had to accept that because we’re working from such different places, those just aren’t things we’re able to do well for each other. Every we try, we get hurt, it seems. Dealing with this reality has meant I’ve had to become better at self-soothing. I’ve had to learn to build myself up and hang onto myself in the face of discouragement with more fierce determination than I’ve ever had to use before. Not being able to spout off to a receptive live audience at will has most certainly been a boon for my writing. None of these things are entirely new to me, but I’ve been pushed and stretched in ways which are enormously beneficial nonetheless. Probably the best way I can describe it is that the waiting is forcing me to become more me. And I’m starting to see, forcing my husband to become more him as well. Which is a hopeful thing.
I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t also why God makes us wait. Not just so we’ll build up endurance, but so that we will grow to become stronger, better functioning people. Maybe he’s not always there offering comfort, because we need to self-soothe. Maybe he’s not rescuing us from a hostile world because he wants us to learn to walk through it ourselves. And maybe he’s not always filling us with an awareness of his love for us because he wants us to reach deep and grab hold of our own loving selves. Maybe he sometimes makes us wait so we can learn to stand more firmly on our own. Rooted in who he has created us to be.
And perhaps this is just what redemption is – to become rooted in who God created us to be to begin with. To discover that when God created us in his own image, he was equipping us with every good thing – all that we needed to survive and thrive in this world. Maybe each time God withdraws a bit from us, it’s so we can discover within what we’d learned to depend on him for. And maybe, just maybe, when we’ve followed and learned and leaned and waited long enough, we will be so much who we are, that we can stand before God as the bride, the wife and the lover he’s been chasing after from ancient times. Maybe. In the meantime we all wait.
Today is (was depending on your time zone) the first Sunday of Advent. Tonight retro Christians around the world light the first candle of the advent wreath. The one which symbolizes hope. I used to think that hope was what got us through the waiting. But now I think hope is more like an inevitable by-product of faith. Our faith says that redemption waits for us and our world. So we cannot help but hope, although it often makes us sick. But this year, like all years, the Advent season reminds us to re-orient our hope and our waiting back towards the imminent arrival of Jesus. That although the days and the times may be dark, we’ve been witness to a great light shining into the darkness. That the darkness we walk in does not comprehend the light, but is defeated by this light nonetheless. And that is our hope. That at the end of all our waiting, our bridegroom is standing on the other side. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!