[I wrote this article for Relevant Magazine’s online edition a few years back. It is no longer available online, so I am re-posting it here.]
I have a friend who is in the midst of a separation from his wife. He’s hurting. We were talking in another friend’s kitchen tonight about all that is going on in his life.
There are the practical things about the separation: phone calls with lawyers, figuring out the timing of who has the kids at what time, and looking for a temporary place to live.
Then, there are the relationships with others around them. How do you re-approach your own parents and in-laws in this sort of situation? What happens with the relationships in a small group when both people are involved in it? They are trying to figure out who their support network is, when everything is so intertwined.
At the core is their relationship with one another. Do they want to work this out or not? What if they don’t even agree about that? What if he’s blown it too many times? What if she’s hardened toward him? What happens when the pain traces back through years and multiple events? Did they get married too young? What about the kids? Is there still hope?
All through the conversation, he kept breaking down in sobs of tears. It’s not too often that three grown men stand around in a kitchen drinking coffee and commiserating with tears and hugs. His shoulders shake. His face scrunches up in anguish. His lips quiver. The end of his nose is pinky-red and moist. He’s a mess. And the outside is nothing compared to all that is within.
I try to listen. I really care. What would I do in his place? What if Kelly and I were there? My God, are we headed there? What would keep us from the same spot in two more years?
My friend is broken? It’s sad and difficult to see. I never enjoy seeing someone in this state. It’s not pretty or neat. It’s not controllable. It’s not one of those places any of us ever imagines ourselves in when we’re asked to think about who we’d like to be or what we’d like to be doing in five or ten years.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” we’re asked. Would we ever answer, “Ruined”?
I hate being weak. For me, the only thing worse than seeing another person being broken is to be broken myself. I like to portray the image that all is well at all times and in all ways.
“How are you, Matt?” someone might ask.
“Fine,” I casually offer in response.
“Fine?” they ask quizzically.
“Really, good,” I elaborate mildly.
“Good?” they query me again.
“I am doing quite well,” I firmly conclude.
It really doesn’t matter what’s going on in my life at all. The portrayal tends toward automatic similarity.
I hate being weak. But the awful truth is that I hate being weak before others more than being weak itself. Even if I feel shattered, God forbid that I should have to talk with someone else about it. “We just don’t do that!” reverberates in my head for some reason. “It’s not our way. We are above that.”
Somewhere along the way I learned this avoidance of any appearance of weakness. “All is well. All matter of things is well. And even if they’re not, you’d better not tell.”
So, I stand in the kitchen with my broken friend: nose dripping, eyes watery, hands wringing, not knowing what to do, where to go, how to do anything. In his anguish, he’s trying to run to Jesus daily and be held there.
I keep thinking of the words of a psalm:
The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise (Psalm 51:18).
Perhaps my friend is in the best place he could possibly be right now with God, himself, his marriage, his kids, and everything else.
Broken and weak.
Learning the right sacrifices of God.