A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. Ecclesiastes 7, verse 1.
Chapter 7 begins a section of proverbs about wisdom. As you can tell, this one contrasts two completely different concepts, but I think there is actually a connection between them. That connection is you and your name.
The other day I mentioned that my wife and I renewed our vows last weekend. Without dredging up all that happened in the last few years, let’s just say I lost my good name. We lost ours, in fact, as much for my indiscretions as for peoples’ thinking that she should leave, that she deserved better (which she did). God knew better than those nay-sayers, or us. Hard work, hard issues, and tough love were things He used to rebuild us. That and lots of patience.
Yet how do you regain a good name? It’s very true what people say about one lie shattering a thousand truths. Affairs shatter trust. Control shatters confidence. Anger shatters peace. Divisions shatter unity. Through all those, people are watching. Through all those, you gradually lose your good name. How do you regain that?
In reality, do you want to regain it? Names are important, you know. If you think of it, your name is the first thing you give to someone; in many cases, it is the only gift you give. God’s name matters so much to Him that he devoted a whole commandment (the third one, right after the ones that say “I’m the only God” and “Love me with all you’ve got”) to explaining why His good name is important. When someone’s trust in your name is shattered, how do you regain that trust? How do you change someone’s opinion of you? The answer isn’t really that complicated, and I’m thinking you know it already.
It takes hard work and that work has to start in God. I’ve known people who built back their marriage after dissolution, but I can’t tell you that I know any one who has done so without help from the Man Upstairs. I’m sure there are people who rebuild their marriages into platonic friendships, equal partnerships, and tense dictatorships. I’ve known quite a few people who have bounced back from a split by declaring that, now they’re past it all, they have the happiest, best relationship possible because they and their new love never fight, never argue, always agree. Whatever. When I meet such people, I wonder which one of them is giving in so the other can have what they want; like I said, tense dictatorship.
No, the only couples that I have ever known who rebuilt intimate marriages (and no, I’m not talking just about sex) are those who did so through God. It takes counseling, talking, forgiveness, real repentance, real sorrow, and real patience. Both sides need to work together, but both must do so following God’s guidance. God helps us to pare through the underlying issues, through the hurt and the pain, and through doing this in an understandable climate of mistrust. God helps us re-learn how to think, say and do the things that are necessary to become considerate of each other and to give. God helps us to understand my friend Peter Kahle’s quote (from his own father): “the nine hardest words in a relationship are ‘I am sorry, I was wrong, please forgive me.’” They are right, and they’re inspired. Re-investing in your relationship through the Almighty makes it both possible and worthwhile.
But through all of it, you’re going to find that you think you’d sometimes rather be dead than alive. Sure, I know that eternity will be spectacular; hence why dying is better than being born. But what about now? It’s HARD to regain trust, to re-earn love. We don’t earn God’s love – He gives it no matter what – but other people? Well, let’s just say that people aren’t God. It takes earnest work to re-earn what we’ve lost. With some people, it isn’t even possible. Either we can’t give or they won’t receive. Some folks build up opinions that just won’t be changed, and some of those people are people we value. That’s just the way it is, though. When you realize that, when you’re honestly, earnestly doing what you can – and more – to prove yourself, sometimes you get worn down, want to give up. It’s natural; it may even be inevitable.
Except that it isn’t. It’s natural to feel beaten down, and it’s even more natural to give up. What isn’t natural is to try again and again, but that’s the good part. We GET TO try again through Him. When everything else says we should give up, we get to try again. I guess that means love is unnatural. What isn’t inevitable, too, is that we have to give up. Freedom is the natural yearning of the human spirit, and real freedom is found first and always in God. When we go to God with our issues, He works in us and through us to address them, to improve on them. God NEVER means bad for us, only good and His love. Making that change sometimes hurts; it can hurt a lot. But it’s worth it. Giving up when there is still hope is really losing freedom. Trying again may just preserve that freedom for you because the freedom to choose to love someone who forgives you is the best freedom of all.
And whether you know it or not, it’s what helps build back your good name.
The ceremony last Saturday wasn’t a big soiree. It didn’t take long to plan, and like I said the other day, I could have done more to invite a few other people who I wish I’d invited. But it was a big deal to me. It gives me hope. It may sound strange but I feel liberated, like I’m free to be somebody better than who I was. That I’m free to be the kind of husband, father and man that I just wasn’t before. Like my good name is coming back but better, and that this life is indeed much better than the death I once knew. The wonderfully goofy thing about living in faith is that you don’t need a ceremony or a line in the sand to know these things. The ceremony was meaningful, but God was with us, working in us, growing us long before it and He will be doing so long after.