Nobody gives up their dreams easily, especially when it comes to relationships. People can talk all they want about doing the hard thing or the right thing, but when you're in that moment, it is anything but easy. I know, because I've been there too...
Five Years Earlier...
I couldn't stop staring at the picture on the computer desk. Two strangers looked back at me; her blonde hair nestled against his shoulder, his arm rested comfortably around her waist, both with easy, happy smiles on their faces. The faces of two people on the verge of marriage, on the verge of a new lifetime, two people riding the crest of hope and possibility.
I didn't recognize them.
Six years had passed since that photograph, and with all the bumps and scars of a rocky marriage, a previous separation, and the years of putting it all back together over and over again, the time had come. Like Humpty Dumpty, the cracked shells of a once promising and fruitful relationship had long since soured, had fallen off the wall too many times, and it was time to confess the truth. It could not be put together again.
I flipped our picture face down on the desk. I could feel the tremors in my stomach and up into my throat as I waited for her to come home. I watched out the window as the sun began to sink low on the horizon, the orange glow slowly fading into the blue, its final bit of light an almost throbbing horizontal wedge of reds and whites, as if someone had tipped over the lamp in the corner to lend the world one final moment of brightness. I checked my watch. It wouldn't be long now.
It was hard to even contemplate what I was about to do. The separation had been hard enough the first time, but what would happen now? There was no second chance, no Disney ending here. Just the painful reality of a failed adult relationship. Even worse, it violated almost every core belief I'd ever held. I was heading towards an unmarked trail, and I could not be sure about where I would end up.
The door opened softly behind me.
"Hi." She said.
There was a pause, and I flipped our engagement picture back up. She stood in silence behind me for what seemed like a long time.
"I can't do this anymore." I said finally.
"I know. Me either."
I forced myself to stand and we headed into the living room. The sun had faded, the last of its dying light now cast into the sky for a few brief moments before the night would enshroud the world in darkness. We sat beside one another on the couch, and without so much as a word, embraced in a long and heartfelt hug as we cried and wept together. Night had come. The day had ended. And neither one of us knew what was next. All we knew was that it was the right thing to do, that we were slowly tearing each other to pieces, and that life was meant to be more than this. Insults and indignancy would come, especially from the church where we'd both been leaders. It would come from those who inevitably saw themselves as more and better, not only from Christians, but from the world of low self-esteem and unmerciful and un-nuanced thought. It would come from all those who saw the failings of humanity as strangely unmatched with those who believed in a purposeful and loving Creator.
It wasn't the opinions of others that worried me though. What scared me was the unknown, this life I had turned towards. I hadn't planned for my marriage to fail. I hadn't planned for a life in a city outside my hometown. And I hadn't planned for a life outside ministry and the church. And then, perhaps, there was my greatest fear. That somehow this change in relational status would provoke God's wrath, or that, more clearly, I would lose sight of my faith and the One to whom I'd been drawn even as a young boy.
The past five years have mostly been a journey along an unmarked trail, it's true, and ending my marriage was the hardest thing I've ever done, but time has proven it the right decision. That night, we both made the tough choice, and we are both better for it.
That said, I would never recommend divorce, as much because I understand its pain and its scars as anything else, but sometimes it is the right decision. I believe it saved my life, and the life of a good woman (happily remarried now) from being one of discontent and frustration. However, more and more I see this tendency within the church of carrying forward this notion that divorce is evil... that the institution of marriage is more important than the people in it... that God loves the idea of marriage more than He loves the people within the marriage. My point is that doing the hard thing, doing the right thing, does not always mean that the religious organizations will agree with you. Doing the hard thing is not about acting religious or making religious choices, but making the choices that will allow us to pursue our God given purpose and passions in our life. (And not for our own gain. Not to make ourselves look better, but to better affect the world around us.) Still, if we want to get to that point, we must learn this truth:
If you want to make your life easier, you need to learn to do the hard thing.
Even as I mention this, I'm certain that every one reading this can think of one or two things that they have been avoiding. And I'm not necessarily talking about something as huge as ending a relationship. Sometimes the thing we're avoiding is considerably smaller. Like going to the gym. Or making that phone call to our friend or family member. (Or setting a budget - every time I hear the word 'budget' a little piece of me wants to shrivel up!) Within each day, we will face one or two opportunities to do something difficult, something we do not want to do, EVEN THOUGH IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO.
Much of our trouble in this world comes from our unwillingness to do that thing, to have that talk, to end that relationship, to speak to our boss or coworker, to do our homework. Instead, we believe the myth that all things happen for a reason, and proceed to let it walk us down the path of laziness and complaint and bitterness and sorrow. So many people speak as if they are victims in their lives, and it is because they are. They have failed the litmus test every human is given, the one we take each day when that assignment or conversation or person comes across our path.
Will we do the hard thing? Will we make our lives easier and more abundant in the future, by doing what we know to be right? Will we train ourselves to see the world as a place of opportunity, instead of seeking places where we can hide, be they physical like our homes, or metaphysical like booze or work?
To do that however, to do the hard thing in life, we have to learn to love it a bit. We have to teach ourselves that it is in the challenges of life -- when our hearts beat fast, when the unsurety of our future paralyzes our thoughts, when fear is about to cast its final stake -- it is in those moments we need to smile and take a deep breath. It is in those moments, more than any other, when you begin to live, when you throw 'existence' and 'shame' to the side, and when you start to grasp not only who you are, but what the world can be.
I'm not talking about someone who holds an addiction to crisis, who needs to be continually fixing some 'important issue'. For that person, the right thing, the hard thing, will be to let it go, to pass the torch to someone else, and learn how to truly relax.
As the years have passed, I occasionally think about our decision that night, our decision to start over with someone else. Some nights are longer than others, because I have yet to join someone else on their life journey, and the possibility exists that it may not happen again. That said, I have no regrets. I laugh more than I used to laugh, a lot more. And I don't seek to escape as I once did, or run from new ideas. Possibilities and dreams ride within the freedom I now extol, and I have grown to love the challenges that wait around the corner. God has carried me this far, into new relationships with friends and colleagues, and into a much greater understanding of his mercy and grace.
People say many things when it comes to change, but doing the hard thing is never easy. There are days I don't want to workout, days I don't want to write, and times when I simply don't want to talk to people. But as I have learned to push myself, to create a blank spot in my mind so that I stop thinking about the negative possibilities and just leap, I've noticed how much easier it is to navigate life. I've noticed how much the world bends when I am willing to bend it, and what a great impact that can have on people.
My prayer this week is that you will examine your life closely. Take two things that you know you need to do, be they conversations or something else, and do them. Don't dwell on what will happen, just walk. Trust that your feet will guide you, and that God will be there where ever you end up. If you do that, even if the steps you take are small, I can promise you that the very world you live in will begin to change. And while the sun may fade for a while, while its rays may be lost for the evening, it will, as it always does, rise the next morning with new hopes, new dreams, and perhaps, a new life.