It is hard for me to process this because for nearly 30 years, I never missed a Sunday (unless I had a provable excuse -- like a kidney stone or I was in the ER for asthma). I mean, my ex-husband simply wouldn't allow us to miss church. Even when my son was a baby and was sick, I had to bundle him up and take him to church. I would say, "But the nursery workers won't let him in the nursery because he is sick," and he would say, "well, you can sit outside the sanctuary and hold him." I know it was his upbringing too, and the fact that his parents never missed church for any reason whatsoever. The problem I had is that often I would suffer from anxiety-related problems or I would have a very bad menstrual cycle, and I barely could make it through a service.
So even now I seem to make myself feel guilty for missing church. My reasons are different, of course, but still I beat myself up about it. I shouldn't do it. It is wrong. It is sinful. It is neglecting the body of Christ. Yes, I hear those accusations in my head, and while I know that my accuser is the one who is hurling them at me, I tend to believe what is being said. I believe it because I think these things are true.
I was praying about this today after I woke up. I wanted to head over to SBC, I had planned to do it, but when it came time, I had this feeling like "let's not." I asked the Lord for His help in the matter because I don't want to displease Him. I asked, "Lord, why do I feel this way? Why am I so conflicted on this matter?" I heard Him reply to me: "You are struggling with the fact that your ex-husband attends this church with his girlfriend. You are offended at his behavior, and how he is able to freely attend with her after what he did to you and to your son." WOW! Zam, bam, amen!
I sat there for a time before I replied, "Yes, Lord, you are correct. This is exactly how I feel." I can tell you that every single Sunday I go and sit there by myself. I sit in the back row of the service, and while I enjoy the music, the warm up banter (friendly and welcoming), and the message (always great), I look around me to see if I can see them sitting near me. They are usually in front of me, and I watch them as they sit close to one another. It hurts me, stings me, and that wound, is still tender. It is not that I want to get back together with my ex-husband because I do not; rather, it is the way they walk in to this sanctuary, the way they act. It is if they see nothing wrong with what has happened. Nothing at all. Our family was torn apart, dissolved, and here they sit acting as if they are free to come and do as they please.
I sit there, on the other hand, and feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that I am a divorced woman and that this church, in which I had such special and strong feelings attached to it, somehow is embracing these two when I am cast out. It is wrong, and it bothers me deeply. I have tried to overlook it. I have tried to see the BIG picture -- how they need Jesus, they need to come to Jesus and confess their wrong doing -- and take the high road. But, I cannot do it. I just cannot do it. I try to do it, but my heart and my mind suffer each time I enter into that building.
I want to go there because my son is there. I want to be apart of this ministry because I like the church, and I like what they are doing locally and across our valley. But, I cannot do it because the sting still hurts, and until I am able to let this go 100% of the way, I honestly do not think I will ever be comfortable there.
Now what do I do?
I asked the Lord today, and I said, "Lord, perhaps I need to go back to Paradise Church for a time." I know I am welcomed at my parents church. I have issues with the biblical approach and stance they take, but it is right across the road, and I can easily go there. The problem is that I feel like such a lost person over there. I mean, more people will come and say hi to me, but there is no real love connection. I can slide in and out, wave to say hi to others, but generally, I feel like this is not my home either.
As I prayed over my situation, the Lord suggested something to me that I hadn't really considered as an option. I think it might work, and I am going to give it a go today, to test it out. You see, my dissertation is on the American Megachurch, and as such, many of the churches that I am profiling have very large online offerings. The Lord suggested that perhaps I should begin my study into these churches by attending them on Sundays (virtually, that is). I could start my research, begin compiling my data and get a very good feel for their approach as I begin to write my proposal this spring. I thought about it, and the more I considered it, the more it made good sense to me. I am going to have to do this anyway, so why not do it now?
As I thought about doing this today, I asked the Lord, "Lord, when will I feel at home again, really at home again in church?" I heard Him reply to me, "When you move away and are settled in another place." I know that He is right on this matter. I honestly do not think that I will feel comfortable in a church local to me simply because of the fact that as long as I stay here, in Phoenix, the memories of what were and what happened, will still affect me, they will still be with me.
I guess it is hard or difficult to explain really, I mean, unless you have experienced it first hand. There is something about divorce that changes your perception, changes you physically, mentally, emotionally, and yes, even spiritually. I didn't set out to be divorced. I believed I would be married for life. I didn't want to be divorced. I did everything I could to keep it from happening. I put off getting a divorce for three years, even when my ex-husband asked me twice to consent. I didn't want to bear the stigma of being divorced.
My life has improved one-hundred fold since the divorce, mind you. I mean, I am in such a good place now. I am happy, content, and for the most part, settled in my life and in the direction my life is heading. But, there is a part of me that bears this awful banner that says "Marriage failed" and that stings me, wounds me, and deeply hurts me. I did my best, and while I was not 100% innocent (I am a sinner after all), I know that I didn't walk away from my marriage. I didn't choose the end my marriage. I accepted the end, I accepted the reality, and I moved on from it, but I didn't choose to bring it to an end. No, he did. He did that, and now he is living without a conscience and without any feelings that even consider what he did to us, to our family.
I struggle with the label, "divorce." I struggle with the way the church treats divorced people. I struggle with the way I am accepted as a divorcee, but I am now considered second-class. I am a failure at marriage, and because I failed, I will wear this new banner for the rest of my life. It is wrong, so wrong, yet the church does it and they hurt the very people who need their healing hand of hope.
I am looking forward to leaving Phoenix. I have prayed about it for many years, but then it was to escape the unpleasant life I was living so near to my ex-husband's parents. I wanted to go far away, to be free from their incessant control and domination. I wanted to try to make my marriage and family work, and I believed that by moving far away, we would have the best chance of making a new start. In the end, of course, my ex chose to stay near his parents because his parents were his life-line. They bailed him out, gave him what he wanted, and treated him as a child. He had this love/hate relationship with them, but just like the addict who recognizes they are addicted to the drug, they also know they have to have the drug in order to live.
When my life began to fall apart, the Lord revealed to me that He was going to move me from Phoenix in time. Back then, I had no inkling of what would be, just that things were changing, and that some day, I would leave Phoenix and live elsewhere. In time, I came to believe that He would move me east, to the southeast, and then to the Midwest. I wanted to go home to the Midwest, in particular, because there I had happy childhood memories, and there I believed I would most happiest. Of course, my family wouldn't consider returning to the cold, so I assumed that my heart and my head simply would have to agree to remain where I was until the Lord made a way possible for me to go.
In 2009, when my life took an abrupt stop, and I realized that I was in the midst of severe marital crisis, I began to feel that the Lord had a timeline in mind for moving me elsewhere. I believed, and I still do, that the latest date I would remain in Phoenix was 2017. During the ensuing years, I tried to figure out how I would leave my parents, how I would pick up and go to another place. I mean, what kind of work would I do, how would I get there, could I even handle moving across the country by myself?
I know it sounds weird, but back then, I couldn't imagine moving on my own. I was afraid of the process, of driving across country, of resettling myself some place new. Now, of course, I am ready. I am bold, I am confident, and my faith is strong -- I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Yes, I believe I could easily pick up and go. I am ready, I am willing, and now, I can do it. I can do it.
The more I think about it, the more I am ready to leave this place. I am content here, but it is getting harder and harder to stay. I need to go. I need to live some place else. I need to start fresh, to start over, and that means, to begin my life anew. I believe this is the Lord's will for me. I need to go someplace where I can live my life according to my own desires and way. Yes, I am fully surrendered to the Lord, so I really just mean, live according to His way for me. I am ready to take on the full responsibility of living on my own. I am ready to buy my own house, to set down roots, and to develop new friendships in a place of His choosing.
Thinking More About Labels and Identity
In communication studies, we often look at how labels affect our belief systems. We all wear a label, and through the use of labels, we conform to standards and ethics that determine not only what we believe about ourselves, but also what we believe about world. Furthermore, our identity becomes shape by the labels we wear, and our behavior thus is a direct response to those labels.
As a communications researcher, I am well aware of how we adopt labels to help us understand our world, our reality so to speak. Our construction of reality is predicated on how we see ourselves and those we interact with intimately. My life has been constructed from a number of labels, some of which were given to me at birth, and some which I adopted later in life. I am a child of my parents, and I am a daughter and sister to my parents and my brothers. I was a wife. I am a mother. I am a Christian.
I am also a professor, a teacher of English and communication courses, and a doctoral student. I am a pet-owner, a friend, a girl friend, and a neighbor. All of these labels have expectations, rules, and norms for behavior. I understand my role and my responsibilities, and as I interact with my world, and the people who live in close community to me, I accept that I will behave in certain ways toward certain people.
What happens to us when we shift labels, when a label is stripped from us through divorce or death, is that we are often left with a hole in our identity. We will seek to repair the damage done when the label is removed by either replacing that label with something similar or we will change our role or our responsibility and adopt a new label. This process can be difficult and time-consuming. It really depends on how long one has worn a particular label and the events that lead up to or contributed to the change in identity.
In my case, the label I wore as a wife was stripped from me. I was bare for a time while I learned how to accept a new label -- single or divorced. My role as a single person had to be defined for me because I didn't recall what it was like to be single before I got married. I was young when I married, so I never experienced single-life. I needed to embrace it, learn how to navigate the rules of single-hood, and then determine if I was willing to accept this label as part of my newly formed identity.
I never have accepted the label of divorce, even though legally that is what I am. I have refused to acknowledge this label, and to wear it, and I think this is part of why I struggle so with being a divorced woman. I have thought a lot about this, and I have come to the conclusion that this is why the Lord suggested that I remain single. It makes good sense to me, and I understand it. You see, it is much easier to wear the label "single" if you are content with it. I am content to be single. I am content to be single for the rest of my life. I would like to be married again some day, but for now, I am okay with this label. I accept it. I wear it. I have no issue with it.
The problem is that as long as I am near my ex-husband, as in living in close proximity, then I am reminded of the label I once wore, married. Moving away now has taken on more significance to me. I see now why the Lord chose for me to move. You see, it is not that I have to move away, per se; rather it is that it is good for me to move away. I see this now. I see how my identity needs to grow, be shaped, and be influenced through the experience of moving away.
I used to think that moving away was only to escape the problems here in Phoenix. Then I looked to moving as a new adventure, for a job, and that it would open doors of opportunity. Now, I see it as integral to the process of growth, the process the Lord has for me. I need to move away to start over, and I need to go some place on my own so that I can form a new identity that is not tied to any person, any place or any thing. I need to go, it is good for me to go. I must go, and I must go soon.
Looking Forward with Expectancy
As I process this all today, I realize that this is the Lord's will for my life. I need to step out on my own, without my parents near by, so that I can become a fully functioning single person. I need to cut the apron strings and go some place where I can be my own person, fully and completely dependent upon the Lord. It is something I should have done 30 years ago. I should have moved away from my parents, gone away to school, moved into my own apartment, separated from them so that I could become fully functional. Instead, I did what all my friends did -- get married -- leave their parents home for their spouses home. Don't get me wrong, I see the value in keeping young girls safe from harm, but I believe in this day and age, young women need to stand on their own too feet, and they need to become adults before they get married. This will help them be a person of interest to their spouse. It will also keep them from becoming a door mat to a young man who believes his wife is his to choose to do with as he wills. I think the same thing is true for young men, by the way. They need to learn how to handle their own business, to be responsible, to be able to make decisions and choices for themselves. They will make far better husbands once they have grown up. Of course, this is all individual in many ways. My ex had lived on his own for many years before we married. I thought this was an advantage, but in truth, he never left college or left that college-mentality behind.
Still, I see this as a vital next step for me. I cannot engage in thoughts of marriage until I am fully functional once again. I need to move out on my own, move away, and make a life for myself FIRST before I even consider making a life with someone else. I get this now, and I see what the Lord has been saying to me. It is best for me and for my intended spouse. I will never give my identity up again. I will never give away that which has been hard fought and hard won to any person. I need to be the woman God has made me to be, and by that I mean, the woman He needs me to be for His work, His will, and His way. I see this now. It makes such sense to me. I get it.
As I consider all of this today, I am sensing that your desire for me to move was for my sake and no one else. I realize that I must do this so that I can be the person you need me to be. I must take control, take authority, and begin this way, this way, so that I can be fully functional and free. I must do this in order to do your will, and so that I will never feel as though I gave up my freedom for another person. I must accept this way, walk in it, and allow the process to come to completion. In this way, I will become someone who is ready, ready for the next steps, and who has what they desire, want and need, and who is can articulate those wants and needs clearly and carefully. It is for my best that you are laying this on my heart. It is for your work and your will, but it is for my best. Thank you for helping me to see this now. I ask that you will open up the doors of opportunity now, make a way for me to go, show me where to go, and then help me, guide me as I prepare, plan, and then purpose this move for your name, your praise, and your honor. I ask all this in the matchless, merciful, and most majestic name of Jesus the Christ, amen! So be it, thy will be done. Selah! (Pause and calmly think about it).