When I was in my late 20s, my marriage was overwhelmingly difficult and I had no idea what to do about it. But thankfully, I was in a community of believers so I prayed for help and then reached out.
I tentatively shared what was going on, through tears and a catch in my breath, because I didn’t know what to expect as the response.
I saw tears flowing on the faces of my listeners and felt for a moment utter relief. Things were as bad as I thought. That’s a horrible place to be, but at least I hadn’t just been overdramatic. I felt hope. I thought I would be helped.
And I was. And I wasn’t. Because not everyone knows what to do with the things that I shared about. So I was given some advice, some good, some that just enabled me to keep enabling.
But I did everything I was told to do and then some. And then when the problems didn’t get fixed, I moved on with my life, continuing to try to fix everything on my own.
Fast forward a dozen years and a handful of small groups and about five counselors and a hundred books on marriage and thousands of bits and pieces of marriage advice and a million tears and prayers, and I found myself absolutely positive that I was to initiate a short-term separation as a wake-up call.
Things were desperately wrong and horrible. Not only had nothing gotten better over those years and with all those attempts, things had gotten worse (as these things tend to do if not treated properly).
So I had prayed and read books and read Scripture and gotten wise counsel and I felt as concretely as I had felt anything in my life up to that point that Jesus was leading me to initiate this separation. That it was what was needed. That it was what was best for my then-husband, for our children, for me.
And here’s where it gets interesting.
I told my then-husband of this decision. And, with no prayer or thinking it through, he said no.
And then he went to talk to one person from our church and that one person, with no prayer or thinking it through, told my then-husband to tell me no.
And so we didn’t separate.
And I was…what was I?…livid…heartbroken…confused…crawling out of my skin…furious…beside myself…undone… I could keep going.
How were two men able to completely and utterly discount what Jesus and I had decided upon as the best course of action for my crumbling apart marriage?
I’ll tell you how they were…and I don’t even like this answer…because I freaking let them.
Living in community is a very interesting thing. It is a beautiful thing. It is a strange thing. We were created for it but sin makes it so uncomfortable sometimes.
And yet. When I stand before God at the end of my life/at the end of time, I will not be holding hands with every person in my church community. I will be standing alone. No one else will be responsible for my decisions. Only I will be.
Somewhere along the way, I never learned to think for myself. Somewhere along the way, I took on the opinions of my church family as if they were my own, as if I needed to obey them without thinking things through for myself.
Yes, we are to obey the authorities that God puts in place for us, and yes, Church is one of those.
And yet, we are not to blindly obey no matter what. But that’s what I spent fifteen years doing. If my church told me to jump, not only did I already know how high, I then went and jumped higher.
This is not a call to stop listening to what your church is telling you to do.
It’s a call to do the hard work of making sure that what they’re telling you to do lines up with Scripture and lines up with what you believe to be true. And it’s a reminder that the same Holy Spirit that is in your advisers is dwelling within you if you know Christ. And because at the end of it all, it’ll just be you and God. Just you and God.