…to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.
I said similar words almost 25 years ago. Marriage to the husband was forever. There would be no quitting because things were hard, we disagreed or just didn’t want to be married anymore. After all, I’d watched my parents stay married. Through poverty, abuse and the horrific terrors of the night. No, I would not quit. God absolutely demanded no less than a lifetime from me. It would be only a few months later that I felt I had agreed to a lifetime prison term.
There was an opt-out clause. Adultery was absolutely a deal-breaker. After all, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” was one of the commandments. God was at least merciful enough to give the betrayed spouse an out. I had one more clause: Thou shalt not hit me. I had seen my father take the belt, that lashed across my body often, to my mother’s body. I remember the cries as she tried to avoid the belt. I remember running to my room and hiding under the blankets praying that it would end. I refused to endure that as an adult. And so the husband agreed. There would be no hitting one another.
I tried to be a good wife but honestly, I’ve never been successful at being good. So it was not entirely a shock when I found myself sitting in a car with another man on my lunch break. “You have to make a decision.” I just looked up and whimpered “I can’t.” So he took my hand and simply said, “I’ll make it for you.” The next day, for my 21st birthday, I received a note asking me to leave my husband, promising me freedom from the man whose name and bed I shared. And everything in me wanted it. He told me I was beautiful, the husband constantly reminded me how I wasn’t. He loved my quirky, loud self, the husband had pretty much squelched that. He represented everything I couldn’t have, and the husband represented the only place I’d ever known. But then he said the wrong thing. “I don’t think it was an accident I came to work here. I knew the minute I met you that God had set me in your life.”
God. God who demanded a lifetime together. Who rewarded adultery with stoning. This God would not send someone in my life to commit adultery. No matter how much chemistry we had. No matter how much we were two peas in a pod. No matter how much I wished I’d met him before I’d met the husband. I made a commitment to God and I intended to keep it.
The husband saw the letter and I spent a weekend refusing to tell him where the guy lived. At the end of Sunday we prayed for God to mend our relationship and made a pact to never talk about it again. But I never forgot. And the guilt weighed on me. It made me accept everything that was wrong. And even when I was miserable and angry and hurt I told myself it was what I deserved. Because I’d broken my vow and shared my heart with another man. Mercifully that man refused to take it further than emotions because he didn’t want me to feel the guilt. He didn’t understand my faith, but respected it.
When the husband decided to move out in 2014 I told him I couldn’t just quit on our marriage. When he asked why, I replied, “Because it would cost my walk with God. He does not allow for divorce.” The husband disagreed, which shocked me. This was a man who spent HOURS reading the Bible. How could he possibly believe in anything less than complete, total commitment for life?
We sat across from one another, eyes locked, neither budging. Katie asked why I couldn’t just quit my job since it was causing so much stress. I retorted “Because if I quit my job he’ll divorce me.” The husband was quiet. “I can’t leave, because that means divorce. And I can’t divorce because I’ll lose God.” Katie stopped me. “Anti-divorce is actually anti-marriage. If you don’t have the right to leave, you don’t have a marriage.” I just looked at her. The husband got it. “You have to be able to walk away. Have the right to say no. To leave. Otherwise you are a slave. God doesn’t demand you stay. He wants you to choose to stay. If you can’t leave, how can you choose to stay?”
The idea that I had a choice to walk away from my marriage never, ever occurred to me. The idea that I could choose to stay, because I wanted to and not because I had to, was really hard to grasp. That by accepting that I COULD leave, would give me the freedom to leave or stay. That would change everything.
And it has. One of the things I’ve never felt is control over my life. I know, I’m not in control, God is…but we have some control of our lives and I never have. And Katie, she gave me back my control.
Choosing to stay and not leave has made me love the husband more, not less. I’m losing the fear of losing him which is allowing me to enjoy the moments I’m with him. Of leaving in the present. And I always know that if things go sideways, or things are not as they should be, I can always leave.
It’s why I watch my friend go through her own journey and my heart weeps. Because they throw at her, “God hates divorce, it is a sin.” All while refusing to see the bondage and sin and weight that is making her flee for her and her children’s safety.
And as I type this I realize this. Marriage is beautiful and wonderful, when it is as God designed. But when it’s not as God designed, it is a yoke of bondage and it kills and destroys. Marriage has become an idol to the church, to the point that the souls of women and children are less important than keeping a dead, abusive marriage together for the sake of the law, “What God put together, let no man take apart.” When the law becomes more important than love, death wins. Every single time.