I have heard it said that we should be able to live free in any situation. These people point to the Apostle Paul who wrote a good deal of the New Testament while in prison or Anne Frank who wrote her famous diary while hiding from the Nazis or they simply refer to this verse:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. –Galatians 5:1-
And though I see where they’re coming from, I’ve got to say, it can be super hard to thrive under constant stress, especially the stress of living in a difficult marriage long-term.
First of all, according to one of my amazing counselors, our bodies were not created for long bouts of stress, only short bursts. So when we endure a long-lasting difficulty, it can begin to take its toll on us in many ways.
We become preoccupied with our hard thing. All I thought about, really, was my difficult marriage. It ran through my mind and life as if I had the same CD on repeat all the time. I got other stuff done, sure, but never once did my thoughts stray too far away from the problems I was trying to mentally untangle.
I was sad all the time. I perhaps didn’t act sad all the time, but I was. I saved most of my tears for when I was alone, but there was a baseline sadness – fed by my loneliness, fear and confusion – that accompanied every experience of my life for about seventeen or eighteen years.
I was a physical mess by the time my marriage had hit its lowest point. Migraines, eye twitches, difficulty sleeping, heart palpitations, and I was on anti-anxiety/anti-depressant medication.
They say that hurt people hurt people. I might have been trying to have good relationships with every other person in my life, but I’m sure – I am certain – that as I attempted to tamp down my anger, sadness and fear, I hurt many people with my rougher-than-average edges.
I was inauthentic. I was constantly trying to remember who I had shared what with, continually trying to discern who could handle what portion of my story, always knowing that no one could take the whole thing, that I must keep it to myself at all costs. I might not have been trying to be a fake, but I absolutely wasn’t the real me for the past two decades.
I lived my twenties and thirties not only trying to stay married, but trying to live a super full life besides that. I think I did that for a few reasons. I was trying to please Jesus. I was trying to be obedient. I was trying to find myself. I was trying to make up for what was lacking in my marriage. I was trying to find validation and affirmation (scary). I think I was even trying to pull together a nice long list of good things I did so that when I met God I could say, I know I failed at being married, but look…I started a couple ministries and wrote some books and went to some third-world countries…please still love me. I was trying, I was trying, I was trying. So very hard. All of the time. But I wasn’t me.
Listen, I’m not saying all this to make the woman in a difficult marriage feel less-than or feel like she can’t contribute anything to the Kingdom of God while in her current state. I’m actually saying this as encouragement. I remember with utter clarity how I felt when I was where you are standing right now. I remember the pain, the burden, the heaviness, the weariness.
Can you live free even in the middle of your pain? Of course you can. I have no doubt about that. Can you thrive? In your own ways, yes, you can. But I would caution you to check your motives. Are you trying so desperately to pull together the semblance of a “normal” life for appearances’ sake? Are you trying to fill something that your husband isn’t? Are you staying busy so that you don’t have to look deep inside, so you don’t have to sit with the pain? Or, are you able to be still and to ask God honestly what he wants for you, what he wants your life to look like right now – in the mess – even if it’s hard to hear? Even if he tells you to slow down, or do something new to try to restore your marriage, or do something scary to move your marriage to a place (of healing or of wrapping up) that you don’t want to? You can thrive, sweet one…just make sure you’re thriving the Jesus way.