Sometimes, when you’re standing in the rubble of your life, the first step to figuring out what’s next is determining what isn’t next.
For me, after my divorce in 2003, another marriage was definitely not in my future. I don’t just mean it wasn’t in my near future. I was done with marriage. I had willingly taken it at 22, like a magic pill that was certainly good for me. It would soak into my system and emanate from my pores into my life—the life I had always envisioned for myself. After all, I saw no real evidence to the contrary and I certainly saw no real alternative.
But as my marriage crumbled, over the course of a decade, my belief in marriage as an institution crumbled along with it (and my faith in God gradually became buried in the rubble). I wasn’t giving up on all men, or the idea that companionship was important to me. I just felt like God (or maybe Christianity?) had pulled a bait-and-switch on me with the marriage pill, and I certainly wouldn’t fall for that again.
Walking away from marriage and church felt incredibly freeing—at least for a while. The lightness came from my enlightened understanding as much as from my trimly edited circumstances. I didn’t need marriage. I didn’t need church. I probably didn’t even need God. I was beginning again, with a fresh determination to be real—to not depend on the social constructs and institutions I had previously trusted and had clearly failed me.
I was also determined to ensure my kids wouldn’t grow up in the midst of harmful ideas, like the concept of a marriage devoid of love, respect and kindness, or the idea of a church (and, therefore, a God) void of forgiveness and hope. And although I trusted my parental defensive moves, I began to seriously question my lack of offensive tactics. I knew what I wanted to protect them from, but what did I want to teach them? What would I give them, to help them win? After all, leaving your children with a zero score isn’t the ultimate parenting goal.
When Jason and I began dating in January of 2006 (you can read more about how we met, here), marriage still wasn’t part of the plan. But as I began to understand my relationship to church and God in a completely new way, it occurred to me that the same was possible with marriage.
Being “free” began to take on new meaning. I thought I had been freed back in 2003 from the confines of marriage and church, but I saw that the true freeing process didn’t simply mean cutting ties and walking away from the institutions that confined me. The freeing process, as it turned out, required embracing those institutions again, in different forms and new ways. It meant teasing out all that was good in the tangle of bad and carrying it with me to make something new, not tossing it all and walking through life empty-handed.
Jason and I have spent the past five years building on all that is good and true and important about marriage. It has supported not just who we really are, but also where we’ve been and where we’re going, along with our three daughters.
As we celebrated our fifth anniversary yesterday, we celebrated a whole lot of happiness—I think that’s apparent in the photo we took while we were out for dinner last night. But I suspect that happiness is rooted in a lot of forgiveness that has gradually taken place over the past several years. I’ve forgiven God, he’s forgiven me. Jason and I have forgiven our exes, and they’ve forgiven us. Jason and I have to forgive each other, too. We’re trying to live out that forgiveness every day. It’s important, because we’ll never get it completely right.
In the end, I think it’s that paradigm of forgiveness—within marriage, community and church—that will be the greatest legacy we can give our children. Maybe some people can learn lessons like this in the midst of happy, successful first marriages. But I needed to journey down a more painful road to reach this place. And I’m very glad I did.