I tried not to look anyone in the eye as I scanned around the room. No one was forced to be in this class, yet no one wanted to be there. “I’m glad you’re here today, but I’m sorry you have to be here.” The facilitator of my divorce support group didn’t need to command our attention. None of us were feeling very chatty.
“We’re hoping to get a Godly perspective on an ungodly situation.” The facilitator was careful and balanced his words around all the emotional china in the room. A few boxes of Kleenex held their place in the middle of the table. That’s never a good sign…
As I listened around the table, it didn’t take me long to realize there was two kinds of divorce: The Slow Leaks and the 2 by 4s.
My divorce was a 20 year Slow Leak. The drip, drip, drip of problems. In and out of marriage counseling. Drip. Drip… The first affair. The reconciliation. Drip. Drip…. Up and down like a roller coaster (and all the stomach aches to go with it.) The outbursts of anger. And my unsolicited forgiveness. Drip. Drip… An emotional affair. My confusion. Drip. Drip…The neglect. The blame. Drip. Drip…
With each year that passed a drip, drip, drip of loss.
With each loss, damage.
With each damage, a pull-your-boot-straps-up resolve to keep the marriage together.
Time does not fly for a Slow Leak marriage. It’s all excruciatingly slow.
But 2 by 4 divorces are different. These divorces happen to those who, for the most part, have a normal marriage. Sure, there are normal disagreements. But they work through them. Have great make up sex. A 2 by 4 victim, goes along thinking everything is fine. They pay the bills, raise the kids. Go to church. Go to soccer games. Then all of a sudden – out of nowhere – Wham! Like a 2 by 4 upside their head. The person they’ve been married to, suddenly decides they just “aren’t in love anymore”. Or they just don’t “want to be married”. Or the ever-popular affair that “just happened.” Wham-o!
The first time I noticed such contrast between the Slow Leakers and the 2 by 4s was the way we would walk into our classroom. Slow Leakers looked weary and exhausted, pale and drawn. Smiles come easy to them, but their eyes are empty. 2 by 4s had a quicker pace about them. They looked exasperated. Their faces said, “I can’t believe this is happening to me!” Their adrenaline was up and their eyes have shell shock in them.
I listened to the 2 by 4s describe all the losses they were experiencing. It was sad. There were lots of tears. As they painfully described their stories, thoughts would race through my head. I remember feeling that way. Wait… that was 10 years ago. Yes, I went through that. But that’s before the kids were born. I felt a strange mix of judgment and compassion.
Someone described how horrible it was to come home to an empty house. That’s weird.
I heard people saying how hard it was to go places alone. Pssh. C’mon…
The hurt when you find out he’s been sleeping with someone else. Let’s see…that would be year 2 of my marriage. So long ago…
Going to church alone. Been doing that for 12 years, honey.
“I feel so ugly, un-loveable, un-desirable.”
Check. Check. Check. Been there. Done that.
This Slow Leaker wanted to move on to something new like:
“How am I going to pay for all these attorney’s fees?”
But the 2 by 4s were bleeding all over the floor. I just didn’t have the heart.
There are layers and layers of damage when this precious thing called marriage shatters in two. There is always a spiritual disjoint. There is the loss of physical intimacy. The loss of fidelity. The companionship is gone. There’s financial devastation. The kids are now from a broken home. Often, there’s a step-parent or step-date now. One is left feeling un-loved and un-loveable (yes, there is a difference!) And don’t forget all the holidays that suddenly become the most horrible time of the year. There’s all kinds of questions about vows and wondering if “they really meant it.” Weddings are brutal.
Then there’s the collateral damage: Who “keeps” the church? Which friends are “going with” who? Who keeps the antique chair we bought in Ohio? Who gets the dog?
But for my new 2 by 4 friends, they were experiencing this all at once. No wonder some of them could not sleep or eat. Every devastating loss and by-product emotion punching them in the gut. Then when they’re lying on the ground in pain, they get punched again. It was heartbreaking. No wonder we need Kleenex.
The facilitator had recovered from a 2 by 4 divorce after a 25 year wonderful marriage. He spoke with great compassion and had a deep sadness in his eyes. He talked about the remarkable way God had redeemed him twice: Once, several years ago, to his eternal salvation and then again, saving him through his divorce. “For about a year,” he reflected, “I processed this pain through lots of prayer. All I wanted was just 5 minutes of peace.” He told how remarkable it was the day when God answered his prayer. “I remember thinking, ‘Hey, I haven’t thought about it for 5 minutes!’” 5 minutes at a time…one day at a time.
The tables turned on me. The more I listened to people in a 2 by 4 divorce, the more I felt like the wimp. Sure, I’d dealt with all that. But I had dealt with those things one at a time. One loss at a time. Grieve it. Move on. Try to keep the marriage together. Next loss. Grieve it. Move on. Try to keep the marriage together.
People in a 2 by 4 divorce are tough. I grew to admire them. They are like Olympic sprinters. They have to run hard and fast. They deal with all the issues all at once. Their muscles are chiseled. They need all the power and strength to get through each and every day. Because each and every day is a horrible day. They need every sculpted muscle they’ve got to get through it. The race is relatively short. Their whole world watches as they suffer through the race. If they cramp up – have a bad day – all the people in the stands are watching. Critics, fans, family, friends, ex-spouses. All eyes are watching the sprinter through the entire 2 by 4 divorce.
People in a Slow Leak divorce aren’t like that. Oh, they are strong. But they have endurance strength. They have marathon strength. They have patience and long suffering running through their veins. They plod along day after day year after year. They just keep going mile after mile. Marathoners in a Slow Leak are lean because they’ve already lost so much. They don’t have much more to lose. Oh they’ve had horrible days. But those were back at mile 13 when no one was watching. Truth is, Slow Leakers have no idea they’re running a marathon. They’re just trying to run through the next mile. They don’t really tell anyone they need support and help.
When a marathoner admits they are in a divorce (or forced to admit that) – when they’re coming into the stadium for that final lap, they discover all their fans! All these beautiful people cheering them on. Calling them. Praying for them. Checking in on them. It’s a shame, really. Because they sure could’ve used that cheering crowd back when they were struggling on mile 13, 16 and 20. But they didn’t tell anybody. They didn’t realize they were in the race of their lives.
Sprinters and Marathoners do, however, have one thing in common:
Sprinters are afraid of losing everything.
Marathoners are afraid they’re not going to make it.
“I’m so grateful, Lord.” I said as I left class one day. “I think I’m going to be ok.”
Wait. What was that? I’m in the mess of my life and I’m actually finding something to be grateful for?!!
I about fell to my knees right then and there.
Oh, my dear God. How you know me! You saw the road leading where it went. Maybe you allowed me to see things – experience things – all along the way because you know me! You knew I would not be able to handle a 2 by 4. You let me live a Slow Leak.
Why does this surprise me? You created me!
You know every inch of my heart, every hair on my head.
And all those times I doubted you. Sometimes I even wondered if you existed. It seemed like you weren’t even listening to my prayers. I wondered what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks you were doing with my life.
Silly me. How could I have doubted you?
There you were all that time protecting me. Buying me time. Covering me day after day. Year after year. Mile after mile. You threaded pieces inside of me and into my circumstances, so that I could take the big hit. Allowing other people to have their free will, but protecting me along the way.
You knew who I was. You knew who I wasn’t.
I was not a sprinter.
I was a marathoner.
And you loved that about me.
And I’m gonna make it. I’m really gonna be ok.