October 15, 2017
Sunday, 2:30 p.m.
Letter #469: Marriages in Crisis
Let me describe for you, if I may, an all-too-common occurrence in my life these days. Let me show you a glimpse of dorm living in all its lack-of-privacy moments, as God chooses to use my brokenness to touch the lives of the men around me. The example I’ll use? What just happened five minutes ago. But first, let me set the stage for you.
A week ago, a guy in my dorm who goes by “Chino” asked me for two manila envelopes. I frequently get asked for the use of my art supplies and stationery. I have a bit of everything, and I’m glad to help where I can. I only asked him to replace them when he is able, then asked why he needed them. What followed was a half-hour discussion about the divorce papers he was trying to fill out and send to his wife.
Serving a ten-year sentence, Chino told me that his wife had intended to ride it out with him. But after four years of trying to raise their three children alone, she was drawn into another relationship while still letting Chino be a part of his kids’ lives. Heartbroken, yet trying to stay strong, Chino has hung on for the last two years before deciding to dissolve their marriage. I had to say something.
I first asked him if he believes in God, and though not outwardly religious, he gave me an emphatic, “Yes!” as if I shouldn’t have ever doubted such a thing.
I then said, “Well, you know that the vow you made at the altar with your wife invited God into your relationship, right? You committed, with God—it’s called a covenant—to remain true to each other until death alone could tear you apart.”
I could tell that he was softening, his tough exterior with emotions carefully hidden away beginning to crack. “Help, Lord!” I silently prayed.
I spoke honestly from my own poor example, sadly hurting someone dearest to me. I told Chino how I’d needed to address my own insecurities and failures before I could learn to truly love. Then, I told him I’d be praying for his marriage, and I asked for my envelopes back. “I don’t want to have anything to do with someone making a choice to walk away from their marriage,” I said, smiling.
“Is she worth fighting for?” I asked Chino. “Do you love your wife?” He answered yes to both questions. “Then don’t give up so easily. God has given you this opportunity to build your character. Be the man she fell in love with.” I recommended that he read one of my books, “Love and Respect” a marriage book by Emmerson Eggerichs … or at least read the introduction to it. He took the book and agreed to read a little bit.
So, that was all within a week ago. We only spoke in passing since then, and now here he was, standing next to my bunk again moments ago, asking to please use my white-out correction tape. I looked at him suspiciously. “What for?”
He tried to coyly avoid the heart of my question. “Oh, I made a mistake, and I need to correct it,” he grinned back at me.
“You know how to ‘fix’ those divorce papers?” I asked, then made the hand motions of wadding up paper and shooting it like a basketball into our trashcan.
“Look,” he said, staring at his feet, “I’m just gonna fill out the papers, just in case I need them later.”
I reminded him that I’d been praying for his marriage along with him, so I didn’t feel comfortable helping him try to get divorce papers moving along. I posed the question, “How do you think it looks to God if you are fervently asking Him for something, yet planning for the opposite of that thing to happen?” I shared that he needs to trust and believe that the great God of all creation is able to make him the perfect husband for his wife, and that he shouldn’t listen to the cowards in the dorm who encourage him to give up and move on.
I inquired if he’d taken a look at the Love and Respect book, and he immediately brightened, “Of course! I’m in chapter seven. It’s a great book. A really great book!”
I congratulated him on his follow-through. “Great job, Chino! Now’s not the time to be giving up on your wife. A guy who easily gives up isn’t attractive at all.” He agreed, and I followed with, “You know, you’re really blessed that your wife is cheating on you with someone else. You have an opportunity to show her the love of Jesus Christ and pour out forgiveness on her. The Bible says that ‘while we were still sinning against Him, Jesus died for us.’ We gave God our backs, and He said, ‘Well, I love you, so I’ll be over here, dying for you.’” Chino was visibly moved, and he could see the tears forming in my eyes as I spoke.
I wish I could say that what happened next was nothing short of a miracle—that Chino repented, dedicated his whole life to God, and purposed to work on his marriage. But, it wasn’t anything that dramatic. Instead, I saw his heart soften as he quietly replied, “You know, you’re right, Christopher. It IS good that I’m going through this, so that she gets to see how much I love her with an unconditional love.”
I told him that they will both look back on these years as the ones where God worked to build patience, determination, and resilience in them. These years will provide the beautifully strong foundation for the rest of their lives together.
Now comes the fun part, where I get to encourage Chino to keep being loving, keep sending sweet, thoughtful things, and keep trusting God to do the work of reconciliation. What a privilege I have!
This week, I also counseled another young husband, Daniel, to be patient and loving toward his wife, and another guy, Eric, asked to read “The Praying Husband.” All three guys don’t attend church, but their needs bring them to the foot of the cross, just like the rest of us, praise God! May I be found faithful in these “interruptions.”