I’ve been thinking about divorce a lot lately. No, not me. But, yes, close family members and friends…more than one couple that we know are going through it now and/or have recently gone through it and are still dealing with the ramifications. And these aren’t my “secular” friends either. These are people of faith…believers…church people.
Sometimes it’s undeniable who’s at fault, isn’t it? I mean, if a spouse cheats, that’s a relatively indisputable indictment. If there’s abandonment or abuse, it’s pretty clear who to blame. But then there’s that ever-broad, most common reason that so many couples offer: Irreconcilable Differences–which is a fancy way of saying We just don’t get along or I’m just not happy. [The entire premise that one should always be happy in marriage, or that your happiness is in any way a condition of staying married, is a complete puzzlement to me, but that’s another can of worms for another post.]
So, setting aside the victims (those that are cheated on, abused, or abandoned–you’re off the hook here) as well as our secular, unbelieving friends who are not followers of Christ (because there’s really no point in holding them up to a standard they don’t believe in), let’s address the issue of Irreconcilable Differences within the community of faith.
I recently read Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions to Adulthood by Lisa Damour. (Excellent read for parents of tween/teen girls, BTW!) In the book, she compares conflict to the common cold in terms of relationships. Conflict is unavoidable, unpleasant, and there’s no cure for it. You can, however, manage the symptoms, provide some relief, and avoid germy situations. But, bottom line, people disagree. And often continue to disagree. That is conflict. You should probably just make your peace with it now, ’cause it’s a fact of life. But it isn’t deadly…not like pneumonia or any other number of infectious diseases. It’s manageable.
So…if conflict is unavoidable, because people are always going to disagree, we need to learn to deal with it. How? That’s going to depend on the situation, but you know the basics: talking, listening, compromising, prioritizing…honestly, you can Google and get a million tips for conflict resolution. But none of them are going to work unless you get your heart in the right place first.
Let’s start with Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This little oft-quoted verse is in the midst of one of the most wisdom-dense chapters in the Bible. (Seriously, read Romans 12 right now and meet me back here. You won’t be sorry.) It’s a miniature treatise on inter-personal relations. And guess what the key is? Humility and sacrifice.
I lost a few of you there, didn’t I? Nobody wants to hear that. But, follow the logic: If we claim to be followers of Christ, our goal is to become like Him. And, well, no one exhibits humility and sacrifice quite like Jesus. So if the Bible tells us–no, commands us–to do everything possible to get along, and that the key is to put the needs of others ahead of ourselves, well, we’d better be humble and sacrificial, right?
Which brings me to this: I’m convinced that the bulk of marital dissention is a byproduct of pride and selfishness (the opposite of humility and sacrifice). We worship at the church of ME. My needs. My wants. ME-OH-MY! We want it to be fair. Actually, what we want is for it to feel fair (regardless of the actual balance of fairness). We’re approaching the whole thing wrong.
I know this is a bit of an over-simplification. I don’t like it when I feel like I’m doing more than my share…or when I think I’m making more effort than my husband. (And, truly, there are some jerks out there who aren’t doing their share and aren’t valuing their spouses.) But I also know that when I step back and honestly examine a situation, I’m often perceiving it through my own unique “ME” filter. Sometimes, yes, I think too highly of myself. And all too often I put my own needs first. I am irritable and irrational. I occasionally worship at the church of ME. When I have a moment of clarity, I surrender to the Lordship of Jesus. (He’s a way better Lord than me. Not irritable or irrational at all.)
So, there’s that loaded phrase in Romans 12:18, “as far as it depends on you.” How far? Well, there is that whole seventy times seven thing about forgiveness (Matthew 18:22). And then there’s that turn the other cheek thing too (Matthew 5:39; Luke 6:29). Oh, and let’s not forget that bit about noticing the speck of dust in your brother’s eye when there’s a log in your own. It seems the Bible is full of instruction and examples of how we’re supposed to be gracious when we see fault in others, realizing that we’re no angels ourselves.
It was a long trip, but we’ve arrived back at Irreconcilable Differences. And I’ve come to the conclusion that no differences are irreconcilable for two believers who are following the example and commands of Jesus. (There are a few qualifiers in that statement, so make sure you catch them all.) Messy? Yes! Hard? You bet! Heartbreaking…arduous…downright hellish? Sometimes. But stay in it! Conflict is life. If you don’t learn to deal with it in your current relationship, you’re sure to face it again in the next. As a follower of Jesus, don’t be the leaver. Don’t be the quitter. Don’t be the first to take off your ring, to use the D word. Just. Don’t. As Romans 12 starts, “I urge you…” Stay in it, pray, fight. It will get different.