It had been 24 hours since the nasty fight. The cold silence was getting to me. Heavy sigh. Now was the time. This marriage is falling apart. This is the right thing to do. “I’m sorry for what I said,” I blurted out, trying to sound convincing. “I forgive you.” He replied. “Your turn.” I thought. Wait for it… What? “Ok. Just wait for it….” I reassured myself. What? No apology from YOU?! Breathe. Give it a few more seconds. Surely he’ll apologize too. Crickets. How can that possibly be?! You were clearly in the wrong. What I said was only a reaction to what YOU said! But YOU! You started the whole thing! Why am I always the one to be the first to apologize?
Have you ever felt like that? It might be a strange statement coming from me of all people. I’ve been on staff at a large church for 14 years now. I went to church three times a week growing up. Church is in my blood. Church is in my DNA. How could church be such a difficult place for me?
After a while, I just quit asking if he would go to church with us. It was so hard to get the kids to understand why they had to go to church and Daddy got to stay home and “watch cartoons.” I walked into church with such a heavy heart each week.
And they are all there. The men. They’re dressed up. Some in suits. They were so happy to be there. So happy to see each other. Men were hugging men. “Hey, how you doing? So good to see you…” Laugh…shake hands again. They love God. They love God’s people. Why can’t I have that? I thought I married that. This is so hard. Oh, great. Let’s sing about “Our God is an Awesome God.” (yes, this was in the early 90’s.) And the men are singing!
Those men were there every week. And I felt more and more like I didn’t have that man. It was hard to go to church and be reminded of what I didn’t have. The big hole I had in my life.
But I kept going.
I knew that if I told my young sons that I would stay home one time, I’d lose traction with them. And my husband would call me weak. “See you’re not as good of a Christian as you think you are.”
Eventually those men faded and I started to notice other people. The kind older woman and husband who sat next to me each week. They always said hello. Never asked why I was sobbing through church again. Never. And I’m so grateful for that. She just shook my hand and said hello with warm eyes. She must have known I was there to heal… The music healed me and the Word healed me.
Then it happened again.
Different city. Different church. The 20 year marriage was becoming more and more difficult. We were back in marriage counseling for the fourth time in our marriage. Our love story hanging in the balance. I still go to church each week alone.
There they were. All the happy couples. Where were all these people before now? If they were here, they didn’t look this happy. Oh great. I happened to be sitting behind the PDA couple. They even hold hands during prayer!!! Oh God. Why do I have to sit behind this couple? Why today? When he’s been so cruel to me this week. I’m not sure I can do this one more Sunday. The lump in my throat so thick and strong, I can’t get out the words to sing…
But I kept going. By then, I worked there. I had responsibilities on most Sunday mornings. And I knew I needed to keep the kids going or I’d never get them back. And eventually the happy couples look normal. I can even imagine some of them fighting on the way to church that morning and I smile to myself. Don’t miss that. Slowly, I see more and more of God each week. Through people’s kindness. Or a scripture that grabs a hold of my aching heart.
Then it happened again.
Of course, the kids started fussing in their teenage years about going to church. It was a battle. They were tired. They didn’t care. “Can’t believe you’re making me do this.” Ugh. I don’t dare tell them I don’t want to go either. Sometimes I hated Sunday mornings. But I kept going, dragging the kids. Who didn’t want to sit with me. And who text during the whole service. Who look like death warmed over.
And there they were. Happy teenagers.
They’re sitting up front. So many of them. So happy to be there. Happy to be together with their friends. Raising their hands to God in praise to him. Why didn’t I see all these kids before? Oh, and the ones that aren’t sitting up front with their friends? They’re with their parents. They put their arm around their moms as they’re standing there praising Jesus. They’ve brought their Bibles, of course. Why am I seeing this?
But I kept going. Eventually, I don’t see the happy teenagers anymore. They’ve faded in with all the other people. And every now and then, I see a teenager that doesn’t look so happy to be there. I see more of God each week. He showed me things. I hear of people struggling to have babies. How grateful I am to have these two sons.
Then it happened again. Finally, I was getting suspicious. Was there a pattern here?
It was a fat day. OK – not as bad as some of my other days, I’ll admit. But you know what I mean…you’ve eaten too much this weekend. You feel like you’ve gained 10 lbs. Jeans are too tight. You just feel fat. And on a really bad day, it’s an ugly day too. Ugh. My hair is gross today. And I feel gross and fat. Gotta get back on the stick. But I just don’t care.
There they are. All the skinny women.
They look so cute. They have on cute clothes and their hair is cute. And her arms are so skinny. Those jeans look amazing on her. Why do I have to sit behind these skinny girls today? I’m so fat. Where are all the other overweight gals? I know they’re here. Why do I not see them today – of all days?
Then it happened again. Divorce was 2 years ago. Their Dad has put a bullet in his chest and now my kids are fatherless. Some days grief is so overwhelming I can hardly function to go to work, let alone come to church. But I do. And guess what I see each week?
Yep. The Dads. These amazing wonderful Dads. I saw them in the nursery holding babies. I saw them serving EVERYWHERE in the church with their kids in tow. Serving shoulder to shoulder for God. Teaching their sons to love Jesus and use their skills and talents to serve Him. During worship, those Dads are sitting with their sons and raising their hands in praise. Then they reach over and put their arms around their shoulders and kiss those sons on the head. I’m dying. We’re singing, “It is Well With My Soul.” I just can’t choke those words out. It is certainly not well with my soul today. I can’t stop these tears from streaming. I hate Sunday mornings. I don’t want to cry and I don’t want to feel like this. On the other hand…it feels so good…to cry…to cry here.
And I kept going. Because I needed HIM so badly. And honestly, I didn’t know what else to do.
I was desperately hoping for a glimpse of Him through the tears. The Dads. All those giant holes in my world. Holes that would never be fixed. Then eventually the Dads and sons faded in with all the other people. And I saw more of God each week. I get peace. I hear scripture of God being the “father to the fatherless.”
I can’t believe it took me so long to identify this pattern! Every time I have a void – a hole in my life – that’s all I see at church. Why did I not see this before?
It’s the enemy. He picks on me on a “Hole Day”.
Why did I think I would be protected from his devious ways at church? He is amazing at what he does. He attacks me in places where I should feel safe. He clouds my mind with so much grief and pain from this broken world. And it’s so loud that I can’t hear or see my amazing God. On Hole Days, I feel like I’m the only one with a Hole. And I doubt that God loves me. Why wouldn’t the enemy attack me at church? Why wouldn’t he stoop to remind me of all the things I don’t have? And in the very spot. Where I need to be.
I have a friend who has had a pretty rough road. Some self-induced, to be honest. One day she said to me, “The reason I don’t go to church is because I cry so much.”
Oh sweet girl. Don’t you know that tears are your soul’s way of healing? Every day is a “Hole Day” for you right now. Those tears are gifts from God. This is where Jesus wants you to heal. He wants you to come with your mess and soak these chairs with those tears. Show him the Holes in your life. He knows already. Dump it here. Cry here. Tell him you just can’t sing, “Good, Good Father” one more time until you’re better.
He will heal you. Just keep coming to Him. Keep coming to His word each day. Keep coming to His Church. His people that care for and love you so much they annoy you with questions. When you’re having a Hole Day or Hole Month or Hole Year, keep coming.
And know this:
We all came to church with a Hole today.
And Satan will do whatever he can to expose yours to you. Try to ignore him and chuckle about how absolutely weird it is that THIS is all you see today. Remind yourself that the enemy has distorted your vision.
Close your eyes. Try not to look at the dads and the husbands. The skinny girls and happy couples. Pregnant women, babies everywhere and the kids who aren’t lipping off to their parents. Brides-to-Be and everyone who seems to have no money problems.
Bring the Hole to Him. Ask Him to speak louder to you because your broken heart is too noisy. Close your eyes during worship and ask to FIND HIM there.
It’s Hole Day. But He is a Holy God…who fills Holes. He really is that good.
After 20 years of marriage, I found myself a member of a group I never – ever – thought I’d be a part of. I’m not sure what bothered me more: The word “single” or the word “single mom.” (One was about me. The other was about the two people I treasured more than anything on this earth.)
But over those eight years being single, I would learn a lot about marriage.
Here’s my top five:
1. Loneliness is not a marital status.
I guess I came to this realization when I didn’t feel any different. Even during those first two years when the kids would go to their dad’s on weekends. I didn’t feel any more lonely than I had when I was married. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. And I didn’t feel alone. I felt…well, the same. Then that part made me really sad. I realized that I had been alone for a very long time. It was then I realized that some of the loneliest people in the world are married.
2. Married parenting isn’t much different than single parenting.
With single parenting, the workload is more, the taxing around is harder, the money is a stretch. But the actual “parenting” isn’t different. Being divorced didn’t change what I thought should be the core values I would instill in my sons. I still disciplined the same, encouraged the same, expected chores and homework to be done. Now, there are things I missed out on (someone to bounce things off of, someone to help me think through my approach to a problem, etc.) But the actual parenting was no different.
3. Staying together “for the kids sake” is a pretty darn good reason to stay together.
I wrote an earlier post on kids not being as resilient as people think. I suspect people just say that to feel better about the situation, whether they are at fault or not. Unless there is an affair(s), abuse to someone or of something: Hang. In. There. For the kids. Divorce is just trading one set of problems for another. Get some counseling. Read, read, read as many marriage books as you can get your hands on before you call it quits. And don’t expect your spouse to come along to counseling or read books. Do this on your own. For the kids. They are precious, vulnerable and formative. An intact home is a gift.
4. Life is really hard.
Once again, this isn’t a marital status. Marriage is hard work. Single life is rough. Life is just hard sometimes. To quote one of my single friends: “The grass isn’t greener. Green grass, needs to be mowed, fertilized, watered.” No matter what side of the fence you’re on.
5. The bouquet and garter toss thing at weddings is really, really stupid.
Please don’t ever do this to your single friends.
If you’re single, what things do you feel like you’ve learned?
Do some things look different? Some the same?
It was tempting for sure. Like most everyone, I had a very responsible first born child. I wanted to maximize my “resources” and tell him to keep an eye on his younger brother. But in trying to build a long lasting friendship between my two sons, I tried to be very careful not to do this. I kept telling myself, “It’s not his job. It’s mine.”
I think putting the older kids in charge or their younger brothers and sisters puts all the kids in a no-win situation. The older kid is not equipped to handle the younger one. To be honest, sometimes, I can’t even handle it. The younger one hates the older one because, “…YOU’RE NOT MY MOM!” The older one wants to do a good job for you. That’s the way he’s wired. But he’s not equipped. Especially if something goes wrong. If they wander off and the older kid has to drag him back kicking and screaming. Or if there’s an accident. That older kid will feel that guilt for a very long time.
I don’t know any parent who gets through it all, looks back and says, “Man, I nailed that in every area – every aspect!” You interview parents who are done with that chapter and they say something like this, “Well, I made a lot of mistakes…” or “Well, I had one kid there that really was a challenge,” or “Well, I sometimes wonder what we did wrong…”
Just as an experiment, ask your own parents. Text or email them this question right now, “Do you think you were good at parenting?” (Be careful that you don’t just leave that question hanging there with them. You’ll need to follow up with a “thank you for all you did.”)
“Everything happens for a reason”
I think this statement is cruel. It makes it sound as if God wanted it happen. And it doesn’t seem to line up with the God I’m coming to know more and more each day. I think that the God who sacrificed so much for me, would not make bad things happen to me. “This I know…for the Bible tells me so.” That’s what the little song says. Right? I know that he is incredibly sad when things in this world hurt me or make me sad. I know he is “close to the brokenhearted,” and that he sees “every tear that falls.” What happens to me in this world matters very much to him. But, that’s just it – we live in a broken world. Oh, so broken. So many injustices. God’s world is a Garden of Eden. He doesn’t wish for families to break apart. He is sad when people leave this earth because of cancer. He is crushed when a dad puts a bullet in his chest because he just can’t take it anymore.
“Am I the only one feeling this way?” I’ve said that a lot as I’ve faced some really hard times in life. When I felt I was the only one going through this or that (huh…”this or that” makes it sound so simple!), those hills were so much harder to climb!
“You should write a book.” People have told me that a few times. I have heard that a few times. But when I look back on some of my most challenging experiences, it doesn’t seem book worthy. It doesn’t even seem Facebook worthy. I was just trying to cope. Keep my head above water. But I’ve started to share my experiences with audiences and people listen. Apparently, you’re all going through something similar too. Who knew parenting could be so tough? (Our parents told us that, but we couldn’t resist, could we?) Who knew that parenting alone would make that job even tougher? Divorce was as horrible as everyone said it would be. Dealing with suicide would tangle me up in an endless knot. And who would have ever thought that dating again would be so confusing?