Our Not-Christian-Enough Marriage

marriage
This is a post by the lovely and talented Heather King. Heather and I have only met once, in person, but she is a kindred spirit and has a beautiful story to tell. I’m so excited to share part of that story here. You can also visit Heather where she blogs at: Extraordinary Ordinary.

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I got the feeling he wasn’t really listening.

We were telling him the truth, but I could see he was preparing The Answer. The one pastors often have pre-planned for what they seem to think they already know about your particular problem. It is already packaged.

But I’m not a package and neither is my husband or our marriage or the God we believe in.

So as you can probably guess, this appointment didn’t go all that well. It started with, what brings you here? which is hard to answer and quickly went to, “you say you’re struggling with communication in your marriage and you say that you haven’t been spending much time with God. It seems quite clear what the problem is.

What do you expect?

We had detailed the struggles of the last few years. How I had admitted I was dependent on alcohol and how the painful beginning of healing had begun. We told him about our son’s medical condition, about extended family stresses and the cancer of one of my dearest friends. We had said all of this and also explained that both our second and third babies had severe colic symptoms and we had therefore spent most of these years under water, that feeling that exhaustion and sleep deprivation provide.

The constant screaming, for months on end, how it unravels you, entirely.

I could tell he wasn’t listening from his impatiently shifting body language and the way I could see his wheels turning,”yeah yeah yeah we all struggle in life, but you still have to do certain things so you don’t allow this to happen to your marriage.” After we finished pouring our hearts out, he pulled out a little statue of a shepherd with a lamb draped over his shoulders — that one that signifies that Jesus carries us and our burdens — and he steered away from where I thought he was going.

He told us that the baby lamb was on the shepherd’s shoulders because the shepherd had broken its legs.

The lamb deserved this discipline and it was the only way to get it to stop wandering off, toward cliffs.

I could see the thoughts in my husband’s head. Even though we struggle in our not-Christian-enough marriage, I know his humor. He is thinking, Jesus broke our legs. hm. Jesus is a leg-breaker.

He said that we were in pain because we were wandering too much. He said our marriage felt broken right now because we weren’t getting up around 5:30 a.m. to spend time with God. That’s what it takes, he said. I stopped myself from spewing something about how I’m up most of the hours of the day and night, but I sat silent, going numb.

Ryan, you cannot function like an island. God made you. Why would you ignore the very One that created the Universe and resides over it? What do you expect?

Ryan nodded and said, “Yes, I understand all of that, but I feel like I don’t know where to start.

I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.”

I felt those words. Hit by a truck. My husband. He’s hurting. He admits it. He humbles himself in front of me and the pastor and he says that he is not enough. He knows that. He wants to remember that it’s okay to not be enough but instead he is getting,

What do you expect?

Now Heather, earlier you said you feel closer to God than ever before since you’ve been sober. I’m confused. Because now you’re saying that you get very impatient in conversation with Ryan. Do you know what the fruits of the spirit are?

Um….Yes.

Well, patience is one of them, right? So I’m not sure how you could truly be that close to God?

Yeah, I do struggle with patience and yes, I am feeling like God is closer than ever. He is. I know that. I’m still human, though. I can’t seem to shake that, you know? I went on (and on) to talk about how I finally get it. Finally. Grace. Because of recovering from an addiction, I am swallowed by it and I know that accepting my humanity is as important as accepting Christ because one letting go cannot exist without the other.

I cannot shake either of them.

He stared at me, formulating the next speech he would give us, with a prop, again.

On the way home I slapped my hands down hard on the dashboard and I yelled and I cried. I’m done! I said. I’m done! I will not set myself up for that shit ever again! I’m done and I’m finally ready to not feel bad for being done! I do not fit there. I am not that package. I will not do this anymore.

Ryan, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that he said that over and over — What do you expect?

Do you know what I expect? When you tell God that you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck and you are only able to say that much, I think He sits down with you, on the ground and He waits. Isn’t that what you would do if it were one of our kids? And then they’d find their energy again and wouldn’t you respond like lightening, putting your hand under their arm, lifting them up?

Yes. He said. Thank you, that helps.

_______

Later, we started counseling, with a trained therapist. She listened. She reflected how our place in this moment makes sense, after all of the days of strain and pain. She asked us to say what we want. We both said we want to stay, to make it work, but we don’t really know where to start anymore, to make it better than a co-existence, a disconnect.

It’s been so long, this two ships in the night thing, answering to the demands of the daily grind.

She looked us in the eye and she said, “Before you come back next time, I want you to have gone on one date. Just one 3-4 hour date.” She didn’t talk about a big picture that feels overwhelming.

Do this one thing, she said. I know you can. Don’t question how to do it just right, just do it.

That’s just it, you know? Taking just one small step feels…possible. It feels good.

What happens when we do just one small thing is that it opens us to progress. Toward each other. Toward better parenting. Toward sobriety. Toward health. Toward community. Toward God. There is always movement, even under the tires of the truck we’ve been hit by, even then. It is under there and in the movement forward and in the disconnect and the reconnect.

It is in the one small step and the bigger picture and it is in the wandering off. It is the return, being lifted by the arm and sometimes carried, the breaking only a result of jagged cliffs simply because they are there.

Progress is God and there is no stopping Him.

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Heather King has been writing at The Extraordinary Ordinary since 2007. She’s an editor for Story Bleed Magazine, a contributing writer at A Deeper Family and Owning Pink, and one of the directors of Listen To Your Mother Twin Cities. She is a sporadic tweeter at @HeatheroftheEO and her blog has a facebook page for you to follow. Heather lives in Minnesota with her family, including one husband, three children, a dog and three chickens.

Comments

  1. Michelle W. says

    Heather, your post reminds me of all the times I have given (and received) advice that was more a hindrance than a help — even when offered with the best of intentions.
    I so appreciate your honesty, and thank you for the encouragement to just keep moving, however small the step may seem, and to remember to really *listen* to those around me.

    • says

      Hi Michelle,
      Thank you for your words. Yes, I too have had to take a look at the past–the times that I said too much when someone only needed me to sit with them.

      This pastor DOES mean well, and I can let it go because of that…it just makes me sad that these are his go-to answers. So many people are hearing these responses and feeling like their pain is only a result of not getting it just right. Sadly.

      Thanks again!

      Heather

  2. says

    Thanks SO much for sharing this!! I had a similar experience and it wasn’t until I was led to a (good) Christian counselor that I learned how to truly sit in and live in grace. My struggles were related to severe depression and in my desperation, seeking pastoral help was NOT helpful. I agree with the previous commenter, I’ve also had to mourn the advice I’ve given in the past, that (unknowingly) came out of a heart that was NOT full of love, but full of MYSELF wanting to fix peoples’ problems…rather than taking the risk of just sitting in their problems with them…just being there in that vulnerable and uncomfortable place…where grace can do her thing in HER timing…because isn’t that how and where Jesus meets us? And in that place, we can have real human connections, in which we get to extend and receive grace, and let Jesus do the work of healing, transforming, and freeing…how beautiful it is…Oh I am so passionate about this… thank you.

    • says

      I’m so passionate about this too!
      Thank you for your comment. You spoke so much truth. Grace in its own time and just being together. We don’t like to wait, but that’s what we need from each other so often. Just allowing each other to be wherever we are and to stay.

      Peace.
      H

  3. says

    Heather, thank you so much for sharing part of your story. This intimate, honest thing you went through. You have inspired so many people just by how you opened up and shared your words. I’ve recently read a few blogs with the same theme: marriage is work. I’ve gone through a similar time, in fact, I feel like we’re going through it right now. The daily grind of managing a household is starting to get in the way of our relationship, how we express our love. But we’re working on it. And sometimes, that is all you need to do. To show your partner you care and you love them and you want things to get better. Because I believe they will if you both work at it. Hugs!

    • says

      OH my goodness. Thank you. I hope this post helps a lot of people. I’m pretty candid and transparent in public simply because I want people to know they aren’t alone. So I really appreciate your words.
      Heather

  4. Jan says

    I can relate so much to your experience. Prior to my divorce, my ex and I met with a variety of people–professional counselors and church leaders. There was one time when things were bad and as the time approached to speak with our church leader, I was so hopeful that they could boost me up, give me some help and have some words to keep me pushing along. What I got instead was trite platitudes and no acknowledgement of how bleak my situation was–even after I told them, “I’m hanging on by my fingernails.” Fortunately, not every experience was like that. There were others who could see us more clearly and truly listened. While my marriage did not survive, I am so grateful for those good people who saw into my heart and helped me do all that I could so that when the end came, I could feel peace and God’s love despite my heartache.
    All the best to you as you and your husband work to make your marriage all the good things you wish it to be.

  5. says

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