I love a dewy, feel-good, happily ever after Hallmark romance.
I love the “meet cute” over video rentals (long gone), e-mails, car accidents, and spilled coffee. I soak in the formulaic “circumstances” that nearly break apart the adorable 20-something couple before they laugh over the misunderstanding, and the movie fades as they kiss off into the sunset.
But I know, ever more now than ever, it only happens in the movies.
I’ve seen some gut-wrenching love stories wrestle with realities lately. The porn addiction. The relapsed alcoholic. The cancer diagnosis. The loss of a child. The affair. The job loss and bankruptcy. The family scandal turning brother against brother.
I have watched up close my friends beg God to release them from a marriage that is in the darkest of places. To escape the hardest of the hard. The unfathomable. Those parts left vague in the wedding vows promising for better and worse.
It doesn’t make an entertaining story filmmakers want to shoot. Reality, without the farcical injected drama of today’s television shows, is hard to stare at in the face. In fact, the colleague you pass at work would never tell you about what’s going on. The person in the pew next to you would never show you the pain. Even friends out to celebrate a birthday together won’t make mention of the horror.
It’s whispered in the cavern of a car to a soul-friend on the way to carpool or in a bathroom after everyone has gone to bed. It’s shared in bits and pieces because it hurts too much to say it all at once. At times, sobs choke the words from coming out. Other times, the voice is devoid of any feeling at all.
I love him so much, but I can’t trust him. I want to leave.
I have loved her with all I have, but this, well I can’t bear it.
But it is still a love story. And bear it they do. Stay, they decide against all logic. They fight and claw and cry and beg and scream and, most of all, they hope. They hope they can survive. They hope they can rebuild. They hope and pray and long for a miracle.
I’ve seen the miracle. I’ve seen those dedicated faithful friends grit their teeth and strengthen their grip and spend their mornings on bended knee believing their relationship can survive even this. I’ve watched their inner circle come around them to do whatever needs to be done: laundry, accountability, restoration, bringing meals, showing forgiveness, mercy, picking up kids, recommending doctors… They checked judgment at the door and sat down to hold a hand.
If you are in one of these marriages struggling to make it through to the other side, you are not alone. Others have gone through the battle and bear the scars even after making it through. I’ve had girlfriends battle everything from sexual addiction to infertility to alcoholism to great loss. Their marriages survive. Their marriages end up stronger in the place it was broken. Their marriages light the path for others still in the darkness. They are the survivors living to tell you that God can make it better and restore you to love each other even more than you did when you innocently took those vows.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair. (Isaiah 61)
Put your hope in the Lord,
for with the Lord is unfailing love
and with him is full redemption. (Psalm 130)