Paul and Brenda's Testimony (Part I)
I was devastated, but in some respects, not too surprised. Brenda and I had had some tension in our marriage for a while and had not been good at communicating and sorting things through. We famously fell into that category of misconception that says "My husband/wife should know what the matter is;" instead of telling our spouse what is bothering us. Brenda and I had bottled things up from the past, without discussing them, and got resentful when we were not meeting each other's unspoken needs.
Five years prior to Brenda leaving, I had been unfaithful to her. We never really worked through that situation as we should have. At the time, Brenda stood by me, saying "I forgive you," but the root of the issue and our feelings surrounding it sort of got swept under the carpet.
Her call that day, saying that she had left me started a long process of healing for me. I was shattered by Brenda suddenly wanting to leave and I realized that it was not the first time I had experienced this very same emotion. I had also been shattered, years prior, when I experienced my parents divorce. Fortunately, I was working for a friend who was very supportive and allowed me to process all of this, once and for all.
In addition, I received court appointed counseling, that helped me to start the process of healing and reconciliation. My new counselor helped me unpack my parents’ divorce and the suppressed feelings I had locked away for years. I found the wild sense of abandonment perplexing as I relived the pain I experienced when my parents gave up the fight for their own marriage. For years, I have dealt with rejection and worthlessness, among other things, and my own lack of identity. I have also had to learn what healthy boundaries are and how to set them. Prior to counseling, I was unaware how much my parents' divorce affected my own marriage. Session by session, I was putting the pieces back together of the life that was shattered as a young boy.
One of the first and most powerful lessons I learned was the difference between law and grace. I had determined, in those unfolding weeks, that God hated divorce (Malachi 2:16) and quoted scriptures at Him to let Him know Brenda and I had a covenant that was not about to be broken. Funny though, He didn’t cave in to my demands of timing, wave His wand and restore our marriage like I expected. Instead, He worked gently on changing my thinking first.
One day, like a bolt of lightning out of the blue, I heard God speak into my heart. He gently said, "Don’t quote the law to me; cry out to me for mercy for you and your family." I was awestruck by the power and simplicity of His message and broken by the revelation of how I was approaching the whole mess. I have always been somewhat legalistic and had difficulty comprehending the concept of grace. However, as I was telling my employer, my counselor, and one of my church pastors my deepest, darkest secrets and they continued to love me without batting an eyelid, I began to comprehend a little of what God’s grace is all about. How could someone know about my sin and still love me? I was slowly putting another piece back into the puzzle.
The change this revelation brought about in my life was tangible and evident to those around me, including Brenda. God spoke to me about the need to back off and let Brenda be free to make her own decisions. He assured me that He was in control, not me. So I decided to follow the Lord's lead, and give Brenda her loads of room without my interruption. I got on with my life and tried to keep up with her in communication about our children’s affairs, activities, etc. Everything else was off the table.
Once, during a session with a court appointed counselor, Brenda told me she had been afraid of me, that I bamboozled her with my many words, and she was afraid to challenge my views. I didn’t see myself as controlling, but what Brenda said indicated otherwise. The Lord gently convicted me about how insecure I was and how important it was to me that others saw things my way. I went to great lengths to persuade others to believe what I did, and probably drove many away. In essence, I had not put my hope, value, and worth in Him.
Aside from the counseling and the love of friends, one of the most important influences in my life has been the supportive environment of my Covenant Keepers group. We have loved and supported each other through many difficult times. In particular, I have enjoyed the time spent praying together and believe that those prayers are the greatest key to success.
After a few months, God seemed to say that I wasn’t to expect reconciliation in a short span, but that it could take four years or more. I remember the shock of this. But seeing the faith and perseverance of those around me from my CK group, I learned to press on and let God work in His timing.
After two years of separation, Brenda dropped the bombshell that she wanted a divorce. My world fell apart as it does for all of us when this sort of news is announced. I immediately wrote Brenda a letter suggesting that she could divorce me, but we would never be free of each other, especially if she remarried someone else. I thought God needed a hand in teaching my wife about covenant. Brenda responded with a rebuke that "divorce was not necessarily the end if I actually had any faith." Ouch! The truth hurts sometimes.
Despite the plans Brenda had made to divorce me, something got her thinking (the Holy Spirit?) and she didn’t serve the evil papers as she had planned. In my mind, I was celebrating a victory in the Kingdom and decided to invite Brenda along on our yearly family vacation that I had planned on doing alone. Even with the “D” word hanging over us, I felt we ought to try to have a family holiday. Brenda agreed, and we had a wonderful time.
To my surprise, when Brenda had to return to work from the vacation, she asked me if I still wanted to give our marriage another try! Are these not the words we all dream of our spouse asking? Thus began a long process of restoration that will no doubt continue to our dying days.
Prior to our going away, God gave me the word, “transition.” Funny, the period of transition we entered was to last over 18 months. God’s ways are definitely not mine. It was an interesting period. Brenda moved in with her sister, who lived next door to me. This in itself was remarkable and it began the rebuilding of our friendship. Brenda was easily able to escape when she needed because we lived so close. In some ways it started to feel like we were a family again.
At the time, our daughter Hannah, was eight years old. One day, she announced to me, “Wouldn’t it be nice if you and Mummy got back together on the same day you separated? That would make a sad day a better one.” Brenda and I talked about it and agreed. So we moved steadily toward that goal of reconciling on the exact day we had separated. Not coincidentally, four years to the day of our separation we made that bad day a better one with Brenda moving back home for good.
God spoke another very important thing to me about my wife's homecoming. He told me, in advance, not to badger Brenda about goming to church when she came home. I didn't know He was preparing me for the time when Brenda would announce that when she returned home she would not be returning to church. Because the Lord had prepared me, I simply responded, “That’s fine. God has already told me that your salvation is not my responsibility and I am to leave you alone and let Him take care of you.” This was a big change in what I would have done in the past and the relief on Brenda’s face was apparent. But God still had a plan....I just had to trust in the unknown. A year later, Brenda started coming back to our home church without me pestering her. This was her choice and God’s handiwork, not mine.
For years now, we have continued to host my Covenant Keepers group in our home and Brenda has become a much loved and respected member of the group. My wife has a wonderful perspective on covenant keeping that many of us don’t have—that of the other spouse.
Brenda and I still don’t think of our marriage as "healed;" we see it more as a "work in progress." However, we are both in agreement on one thing........marriage is until "death do us part." Even now, there are times when our relationship is a real struggle, but the alternative..... giving up and walking away will never provide the growth, security and long term (heavenly) reward that working things out and hanging in there will do.
May God bless you and your marriage today, tomorrow and forevermore.
Also, consider meeting others like you in 2020. We are a FAMILY. Join us for our Covenant Keepers Conference July 23-26, 2020 here in BEAUTIFUL Charlotte, NC. I promise, you will leave changed, blessed and encouraged in your marriage journey!!!! Can't wait to see you then!!!
This is beautiful!
So sweet, and very inciteful with good advice on how to tenderly and gracefully approach our spouse toward restoration with patience. Thanks for sharing! =D
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