Wednesday, April 11, 2007

School of the Broken

I have come to realize over the years that sometimes I can be way too optimistic for my own good. My tendency towards hyper-optimism is especially dangerous when mixed with naiveté and testosterone. At no time was this more obvious than when I embarked on the road of marriage.

My thinking about marriage before I got married went something like this:

I love God.
She loves God.
I love her.
She loves me.

How hard can marriage be?
I mean we will be sharing the bills, loving God and having sex! Easy right?

Well, I realized about three days into my honeymoon that there was going to be a little bit more to this whole thing than simply loving God and having sex.

I was naïve enough to think that the few programs on the topic of marriage that I’d listened to on Christian radio by the likes of James Dobson and Family Life Today paired with the three half-hour marriage talks with my pastor were really all I needed to know to make the whole marriage thing work.

Boy was I wrong!

Marriage proved to be harder for me than anything else I had ever done.
It felt a lot more like war than love most of the time. Not quite what I had envisioned.

So in the midst of my trials and troubles I sought the advice of other Christians friends and pastors on how I could fix my marriage.

I got all kinds of advice:
“You need to pray more!”
“Try fasting!”
“Read the Bible more!”
“Memorize and quote scriptures!”
“Bind it up Brother!”

So I tried binding and loosing and praying and fasting and quoting scriptures and reading books on marriage until I was blue in the face but to no avail.

If anything my marriage was getting worse. And the sad thing is that I was only a couple of months into the thing. I knew that marriage would have its trying times but I assumed that I’d at least get a few months of good marriage before things got tough. And so goes the line about “assuming” things.

Our marriage began to feel like being on a sinking ship. Even though I sincerely felt like it was God’s will for me to be married to Dina I could see no chance in hell that this thing could stay afloat.

Despair was setting in. I began to feel like such a complete failure of a Christian because nothing seemed to be measuring up to the image in my mind of what a “good Christian’s” life should look like.

Aren’t things supposed to get better when you become a Christian?
Aren’t you supposed to be blessed?
Doesn’t following Christ mean that your marriage will get easier and you’ll prosper financially and be physically healthier? You know all that “more than a conqueror!” stuff you hear.

Well, things were certainly not getting better for me. I was emotionally, physically, and spiritually empty. I had finally got to the point where I had completely exhausted my spiritual arsenal. I had run out of scriptures to quote and my once eloquent prayers had been whittled down to the “OH GOD PLEASE HELP!” variety.

A pastor friend of mine from Jackson Mississippi made the mistake of giving me his card and telling me I could call him if I needed anything. I don’t know if he really expected me to ever call him, but call him I did!

Even though it was the time of the evening when most pastors are asleep, I didn’t care because I was a desperate man. For all I knew, he was going to give me the same line of advice that everyone else had given but I figured I didn’t have many options left.

Thankfully his advice was of a completely different type.

“Consider yourself blessed that God has chosen you to go through this time of breaking,” he said.

I thought to myself, “God must be a pretty sadistic person!”

He continued to tell me about how God likely wanted to work something deep in me through this time of trial if I would just submit to him in it—the school of brokenness is what he called it. He then went on to tell me that all I had to do is stop trying to fix everything and to simply show up to class – asking God daily what he wants to teach me. The hope he offered, if you could call it that, was that maybe 15 years down the road God could really begin to use me because of the breaking he was doing in me.

Though what he spoke to me offered no hope of anything getting better any time soon, those words seemed to lift the burden of all of the religious expectations that I had been carrying for so long.

So I stopped trying to fix things—namely my wife— and just started asking God what he wanted to show me— a dangerous question indeed. Up to that point I figured that I pretty much had the Christian thing down pretty good— after all, I was in ministry full-time, traveling around leading worship at youth camps and in churches and was very disciplined in prayer and Bible study. Surely God didn’t have much to work on with me!

Nevertheless I was warming up to the lack of religious expectations weighing me down. So I figured I had nothing to loose and I would “show up to class.”

Things didn’t get any better for a long time. In fact, the next few years would offer trials in every area of life I could imagine and in some areas that I could have never imagined. But somehow those words spoken by that pastor stuck with me and for some strange reason helped me to keep going.

It’s been nearly ten years since that desperate conversation with that pastor. I thank God for those simple words that he spoke to me that night for they truly changed the course of my life. In the ten years since, God has not run out of stuff to work out of my life (surprise, surprise!). And he won’t as long as I keep showing up for class.

I’m finding that life doesn’t get easier when you attempt to follow Christ, in fact it can be quite a perilous road sometimes. But I am beginning to understand, even if ever so slightly, what was written in the scriptures about rejoicing in trials and testing. What God puts in a person in the most desperate of times is truly worth more than gold.