My holidays this year have been overshadowed by a spiritual crisis. I’d like to personally thank Phil Robertson for helping me to forget the reason for the season. Because in the midst of the celebration that is supposed to be about the Christ I’ve come to know and love, I felt disillusioned about who He is and what He thinks about me. This is not a new struggle for me, so Phil is just a catalyst, he’s not the cause. I struggle with the Christian faith. And, personally, I believe struggles with dark nights of the soul are quite normal. If I don’t ever question and grapple with the truth, how do I really know what I believe. And, I believe God wants me to come to him fully informed.
A little kid that I love asked me the other day if I was divorced. “Yes, I am,” I answered, knowing full well that this Christian lad was about to grapple with the teachings of his faith and this woman that he loves. “So you are not going to go to heaven?” he asked. Ouch….. ouch …. ouch. I looked at his father, and his father commented that it was much more complicated than that. But, there I stood …. a PROBLEM in the discussions of faith and what is right and wrong and what happens when you do wrong. This is the problem with rules. They are never really that simple. And, when somebody breaks a rule and maybe you feel it’s justified, then how do you explain the rule. So, there I am, standing in their kitchen, unexplained. I don’t know if they heard it, but I felt the silence was palpable. And my guilt was extremely painful.
I grapple with the rules all the time at work. We want to make something mandatory. I hate that word mandatory. Because, for every good rule, there is a great exception. My neck tightens every time we start a conversation about making something mandatory. And I ask my list of questions …. WHY is it important?…. WHAT are we going to do if they don’t do it?… Are we prepared to go on without them? In my opinion, if we can’t answer these questions and accept the fact that we may have to let an employee go as a consequence, then we don’t need to make it mandatory. Ultimately, if we say something is mandatory, it has to be mandatory. Otherwise, it is just a suggestion.
A friend of mine has found a new church that she loves. She’s involved in a couple of the ministries. She’s making friends. A few weeks ago, she told me that she was feeling conflicted about whether or not she wanted to stay at that church. I was a little surprised since she seemed so happy there. She told me that the minister had preached on divorce that Sunday. She didn’t have to say another word. I knew the feeling. I knew the OUCH that comes from being condemned publicly. No matter the message, everybody knows you’re divorced. If you’re married, you can sit comfortably in your pew and revel in the knowledge that you’ve made it work. But, if you are divorced, you cannot undo it, and you are the example. The guilt is unbelievable. The embarrassment is painful. The fear that God does not love me is torture. For there is no “but” in scripture. It is mandatory. My first reaction is always to flee.
I left the Christian church when I was younger because I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t live by the rules, and I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I decided to embrace the real beliefs that I had and find another path. I found my way back to Christianity via a radio station that is a recovery ministry and a Christian counseling organization. They understand mental and emotional disorders and the way that they color the mind. They provided a path of healing to get back on track to a better way of life. They provided an image of Christ that I could love and that loved me. A lot of people talk about Christ’s love and forgiveness, but they harp on the rules so much that the forgiveness gets lost in the rhetoric. I personally came to believe in Christ but I struggle with church, and I struggle with some Christians. Unfortunately, the ones that speak the loudest are the ones that push me away.
I believe that God hates divorce. I believe that God hates anything that creates a rift between me and Him. But, I have to ask if staying married at all costs is mandatory. When I think of WHY he hates divorce, what I come up with is that he hates anything that causes pain to people. He hates it because I have to live with the guilt for the rest of my life. I have to put “divorced” on my marital status. I have to explain why I divorced to save face with friends who think it is mandatory to stay married. The divorce itself is very painful, and it takes years to get through it. It hurts everybody. I believe God hates that. But, I don’t believe He thinks I’m evil even if I chose divorce for the wrong reasons. He provided paths for me to leave my husband that were obviously supportive of my choice. And…. if I’m wrong …. if I’m wrong about why God hates divorce … if He wants to condemn me because I made a hard choice that goes against His wishes…. I don’t want to believe in a God like that. A good friend of mine who was a Methodist minister used to say, “I’d rather believe in a tree than a God like that.”
At this point, I’m still struggling with my faith. I sit in 12 step meetings, and I am cradled by a God that loves me and all the troubled masses enough to provide a place that meets us where we are. I believe that God inspired Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, to create a place for all the “sinners” to go when they couldn’t walk into a church. For every sin that Phil Robertson called out, there is a 12 step group that reaches out to those people who want a way out of their lifestyle. Some churches are now offering their own recovery groups to help people, but it’s been a half a century in the making. The 12 steps are principles straight out of the Bible. What I know about guilt is that it can be a catalyst for change. But, shame, its wicked stepsister, is a catalyst for relapse. The more shame I feel, the worse I feel about myself, the more likely I am to self-medicate with whatever compulsion makes me feel better.
Yes, I believe Phil has every right to say what he believes. But, I would like him to know that his words …. his quotes of scripture …. have caused a rift between me and His God. Yes, there are people who are evil. But, they are living in their own hell and aren’t listening anyway. The ones who are listening and really feel your wrath, don’t deserve your condemnation. They deserve your compassion and help to find a way out. Part of that compassion may be allowing them to suffer their own consequences. You see, that’s the harder thing to believe. To walk a gray line where right may not be right and wrong might not be wrong is difficult. To really believe that it is “much more complicated than that” is a harder road to navigate. To believe that we know the heart of GOD with our small little minds is arrogance at its greatest.
I am in your list – and God’s list – of those who will not inherit the kingdom, Phil. Like my little friend said, I may not go to heaven if scripture is correct. I’ll just have to live with that. If I’d lived my life by the rules, life would be much easier. I could sit in church and not feel guilty when the preacher talks about fornication, divorce and drunkenness. But, for whatever reason, I didn’t live by the rules. I’m trying now, but not because they are the rules. I’m trying because I know the other way involves pain. The biggest motivator in my life is avoiding pain. And, right now, I’m struggling with the pain that is involved in being a Christian and being divorced.
For awhile, I was really attracted to going back to the Catholic Church. I called to get information, but I knew the biggest issue was my marital status. I talked with the woman in charge of helping newcomers to the church, and I told her my concerns. “Well, eventually you’ll have to talk to the priest about it and deal with it,” she said. I hung up the phone and, sadly, I knew I couldn’t do it. I’m at a place where I don’t want to “deal with it” anymore. It’s done, and I feel supported in my decision to divorce by God. I want to avoid the shame that I’ll feel during that conversation. It’s chicken, I know. Maybe I’ll go to hell. Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’m already in it. But, I’m not choosing to go to hell of my own accord. I’m sorry. I just won’t do it.