Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land. Proverbs 25, verse 25.
“But” is a favorite word of Satan the enemy. ‘But’ can be a conjunction that links one thing to another, or it can be a contrast between opposing ideas. The enemy uses it both ways, and it’s no surprise that, since he’s a damned coward, he uses it most effectively where and when we are vulnerable. “Things could go well, but you know that isn’t likely.” Or “that’s true, but you know you’ve tried everything.” And then there is, “You may have been forgiven you in the past, but you know you’ve used up your nine lives, Mr. Cheshire Cat.”
The surprising thing about this versatile word is that God uses it too, moving His Spirit at moments of crisis to say “I know you’re hurting, but…”
This past weekend was a weekend of “but” for me. I had moved myself to a distant land. Specifically, I moved out of my house. This had been coming for a long time. We had been separated, reconciled, and falling apart again. For months my wife and I had been talking, trying to spend time together but also trying to have it both ways, ensuring we each had something for ourselves just in case things didn’t work out. For me that didn’t work and I looked for a way out. I rented an apartment and moved there. I knew what the message meant: divorce, dissolution, change. In the land into which I moved my heart, I accepted this.
All through this process there were ‘but’ moments, and the longer I waded into it, the more I felt like a man in that distant land. There was no good news for me. Yes, moving out meant divorce which, on a so-called ‘positive’ note meant taking charge of my own life, of getting some of ‘me’ back. It meant being able to break free from unhappiness and discontent. It meant forward motion in life after so many years of uncertainty. Or so I thought. Get ready…
…BUT not really.
I sat in the apartment after loads of furniture and belongings and I wept. It wasn’t the life I thought it would be, and it wasn’t going to shape up to be either. I didn’t want to be a live-away dad; I didn’t want to be a single father. I didn’t want to be a former-friend or a single anything; it wasn’t me and it wasn’t the me I wanted or envisioned. And it wasn’t worth it to me. I cried and I prayed and I unloaded things into the apartment, putting them away as I brought them in. That only made me hurt more. I knew inside that the hard moment wouldn’t last long, but the hard heart probably would. When I had finally made my move and played my card, I would win…and lose. I would get what I wanted, and that’s what made me weep even more. The few people to whom I did reach out hadn’t been able to follow through yet. Never had I felt so alone even as I knew deep inside that I was never alone, that somehow God was at work through all this even when I couldn’t figure out how. My spirit really needed a drink of cool water, ya know?
So I resolved to go and talk, once again, with my estranged wife. That’s where a bit more resolve set in for me. Proverbs 25, verse 24 says “better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” How ironic is it that this verse immediately preceded today’s? My wife hadn’t been too quarrelsome, but neither had she been supportive to me in ways that I needed. I had already felt like I was living on the corner of a roof. She knew something was wrong with me, but didn’t know how to go the extra mile to find out what it was. The tension had only been building, not abating, and that only made me rebel even more. The verse 24 wife was the one I expected when we finally put it all on the table. If I went to her and she was angry and fuming, then I would stick with my decision and go back to my new place of residence.
“Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good. His mercy endures forever.” That’s Psalm 107. That’s also what I found when I went home to my wife and really, truly opened up about the things that were bothering me. We talked about my estranged heart, about not being in love, about the affairs, about my hang-ups and her hang-ups, about balancing work, about friends, about kids, about our daughter moving, about money, and about a hundred other subjects. I cried even more, even harder, about just wanting to love and be loved, and about wanting so desperately for someone to fight for me as I felt I had been fighting for others in various ways. She had every right and every reason to be angry, to throw my middle-age-crisis butt out and scream for me to talk about it to an attorney.
Instead she held me while I wept. Then she prayed for me. She could have been angry, BUT instead she chose His path.
We’ve been in arguments before, and we’ve cried and held and prayed together before; every couple does. But nobody has ever done that for me before, not in this way. It was undeserved grace and mercy and love. Where anger and even hatred had taken root and logically should have been in play, love stepped in and covered over all of that. She listened and gave mercy to one who didn’t deserve it. She changed my life. More than this, He changed my life through her.
Yesterday I looked at pictures of ladies with whom I sought comfort and compassion, both as friends and as more. For the first time in many years, I looked at them and smiled with happiness, feeling glad that I was privileged to have shared their lives (even in the middle of crisis), and feeling even gladder that they can live them as they do now, with or without me as a participant. For the first time I looked at them with forgiveness in my heart, feeling thankful to be putting shame and regret behind me and goodwill in their place. And despite great beauty and cherished memories, none of them can hold a candle to my lady. I’m privileged to be in her life and to invite her back into mine. In reality, she never really left. Despite separation, drifting apart, infidelity, change and discord, she never abandoned hope, never stopped insisting that God wasn’t done with us yet. When I should have found vindictiveness and anger, she gave me undeserved grace, mercy and comfort. Nobody I know has ever given me such a gift as this. Nobody could, because in the comfort of her arms while I wept out my tears of hurt, I felt God’s presence and mercy in her own. I had chosen to live in the distant land of divorce and future days alone, yet she was like a spring of cool, living water as His mercy flowed through her over my parched and sunburned soul.
I went incommunicado for most of the weekend. My pastoral calls were eventually returned as my friend reminded me to pour out my heart because that’s what Christ always does for us. And my China/Uganda/mentor pal called me too, to talk me through the bad moments and give me more encouragement; thanks Brother Bill, thanks much more than you know. I spent time deciding what to do now, and working to cancel the lease. And I moved home. I decided to kick my pride to the side, and let love get back to work on where it will lead us next. It became a time of re-connecting, of starting to build back. To the eternal enemy, I got to deliver a message: I made a choice and accepted the consequences, but then love revealed its true colors. Good try, Mr. Devil, but you lose this round.
And there’s that ‘but’ again. Thank God for it, and for how He used it in my life.
The days ahead won’t be all wine and roses; we can’t afford them all the time. Besides, we don’t want to tarnish their magic. There are more times of hard talking ahead. We will be doing much more talking, and not all of it will be as soothing and pleasant as our talks this weekend. More counseling is in our future, and some struggles; God-forbid, we might reach an end that neither of us wants. More changes are likely, and some people will fall in and out of our lives. I refuse to focus on that anymore. Instead, I will center my relationship on my wife, and start pouring my heart into hers. I will center my life on God’s mercy through His son, as it was given to me by one I cherish dearest of all. I will put my own proverbial words into play and do my best to live my life as He wants me to live it, to use my talents for better good, to pour myself out for others the way He pours Himself out for me. That will be hard, but, you know, maybe I can then be a drink of cold water to some other weary soul wandering in distant, unfriendly lands.