The short answer: God.
The long answer: Well, there are many, many reasons.
When I was a little girl, my parents divorced. I could probably stop writing right here. I was bound and determined to not repeat the cycle of divorce in my family, even if it killed me. I stayed because of my childhood promise to myself to remain married to one man for my entire life, no questions asked, no matter what.
I don’t believe life is about being happy. I believe life is about enjoying God and living a life that reflects Christ. I believe there is a deep joy that holds me up. But I do not believe that God guarantees a life of happiness, and I certainly don’t believe we deserveit. If someone bases their marriage on their happiness level, I would suspect that no marriage could stay standing. I stayed because I believe life isn’t about happiness, it’s about holiness.
I thought God would answer my prayers. I prayed a lot. I prayed for God to change my spouse. I prayed for God to change me. I prayed for God to rearrange my expectations. I prayed for God to make me more selfless. And I hoped that God would answer my prayers and heal us. Now, the natural conclusion would be to look at our circumstances, see an unhealed marriage, and therefore determine that God did not answer my pleas for help. But this is where you must take a longer, broader view and realize that God’s ways are higher than our ways. He heard me. He rescued me. But he allows free will. I stayed because I was waiting on God to perform a certain kind of miracle, but as it turns out, he is performing a different kind instead.
I was in a church. Community holds you together and holds you in place and keeps you from doing all sorts of things you might otherwise do if left to your own devices. My spouse and I began attending our current church two weeks after we got married, and we never looked anywhere else. We grew up there, basically. We had our children there. We served there. I worked there. We were known there. And when you let roots grow deep and people see inside your life and heart and you know you’re going to see those same people another one or two times that week, it’s really difficult to slide into a sin or completely walk away from what you know to be true without a bunch of people taking you to task. I knew that if I up and walked away, I’d have many people in my face – because they loved me – and if I stayed away, I’d probably lose my support system. I stayed because my church body takes care of its own and we try to protect each other from hurting ourselves.
I have two children. I believe to my core that it’s my job to show my kids how to live as adults. I have failed miserably in this respect. But I wanted them to see that what I said I believed – that marriage is for a lifetime – matched what I actually lived out, by actually staying married for a lifetime. Children of divorce have a higher marriage failure potential. I didn’t want to do that to my children, set them up for failure before they even married. I stayed because I didn’t want my children to be raised in a broken home.
I didn’t think things were that bad.Don’t get me wrong. I thought my marriage was bad. I knew deep down that there was no way God wanted this kind of marriage for my spouse, for me or for my children, and yet I didn’t think it was that bad. I liken it to the frog in a pot of water that has no idea it’s slowly being boiled to death because the temperature is going up in such small increments. I would journal things on a regular basis that seemed not quite right and I would occasionally toss them out in my circle of friends and they would sometimes gasp, but I still just thought we weren’t a good match. I’m no fool, I assure you, but I stayed because I honestly didn’t realize there was actual abuse taking place.
I’m tenacious. I ran for vice president of my class when I was a freshman, sophomore and junior in high school. I lost each year but kept going back for more. When my first manuscript was rejected fifty-one times, I didn’t give up. I’m grateful, because it finally found a publishing home with my fifty-second try, and that turned out to be one of my life’s best surprises. In other words, when the odds are stacked against me, I tend to fight harder for the thing that I think I’m supposed to have. I stayed because an intact marriage was something I was certain I was supposed to have.
I know that people are watching my life. There are people in my life – family and friends – who don’t believe in or follow Jesus. I know they are watching to see how I handle life’s ups and downs. I have readers and audience members who want to believe that what I write and say match how I live my life. I believe in marriage. I believe God wants marriages to stay together. I stayed because I didn’t want to let people down, I didn’t want to turn people off from God, and I wanted to be the kind of person who does what she says.
I promised God I would stay. I told myself innumerable times over the years that the only reason I was staying was because I told God I would. I made a promise, a vow. I entered into a covenant. I don’t take that lightly. I want to be the kind of person that people count on, that God can count on. I stayed because God is my authority, the One I will answer to, and the thought of disappointing him broke my heart on a regular basis. (It still does.)
Only God knows the rest. I suppose I could keep going. I suppose there is a reason that I stayed versus left for every day that I was married. I’d pick my daughter up out of her crib and know that I wasn’t going anywhere that day. Or I’d sit with a friend in a hard marriage and know that my staying helped her to stay. Or I’d hold the hand of a stranger after a speaking engagement and pray that she would have the strength to stay and do the hard, right thing. Or I’d watch my son be taught how to throw a baseball by his dad and realize that he wouldn’t have this memory if I hadn’t stayed. I stayed for a thousand reasons that I know of and a thousand reasons I can’t even see.
But bottomline, I stayed because of God.