Posted by: Dan | June 2, 2007

Coming to Grips with Separation (Part 2)

Just over a year ago, and a few weeks before their thirty-third wedding anniversary, my parents separated (see this post: http://poserorprophet.livejournal.com/90167.html, for my first public effort to “come to grips” with this event). Neither my mother nor my father are seeking a legal divorce, but they no longer have any contact with one another and are well on their way to legalising their separation.

So it goes, as Vonnegut would say.

As I have sought to journey alongside both of them, albeit from across the country, the last twelve months have contained quite a swirl of emotions — there has been joy in seeing both of my parents experience various forms of liberation, and there has been sorrow in seeing the unveiled suffering, both old and new, of those whom I love — but mostly I have felt a lot of unknowing. Often I have not known how to feel, let alone what to say or do. However, this is an unknowing that, despite the discomfort that it brings, is one that I willingly embrace. I think that genuine empathy requires us to move into places of unknowing, for in those places we come to share the unknowing and the helplessness of those with whom we journey.

However, if there is one thought that I have found myself returning to, and emphasising to others, again and again, it is that we must think of emotional woundedness in exactly the same way as we think of physical woundedness.

It seems that this point is one that Christians (especially of the Conservative/Reformed/Evangelical variety) seem to have trouble grasping. Given the emphasis within Christianity upon forgiveness, reconciliation, and embracing suffering, many Christians refuse to take seriously the depth of emotional woundedness a person can experience. Thus, in the situation of my parents, where it was my mother who formalised the separation by leaving (I say “formalised” because I believe that the marriage had already been in the process of fracturing for years), and where my father has become a very different person over the last few months (i.e. before my mother formalised the separation my father was not a Christian. Miraculously, one of the wonderful things that have resulted from all this is a “road to Damascus” experience that has begun to transform my father in many ways), many Christians have said that it is my mother's “duty as a Christian” to now return to my father. To suggest that there may be a wound in my mother (or in her marriage) that makes it, literally, impossible for her to return sounds like a whole lot of “liberal” or “unbiblical” nonsense to those who provides this so-called “counsel.”

However, I believe that we can be emotionally wounded in ways that make some things impossible for us, just as we can be physically wounded in ways that make other things impossible for us. Think for example, of a young man, let's call him Mark, who breaks his spine, and becomes paralysed from the waist down. Of course, we all know that God's desired ideal is for us to be “whole” and unmarked by brokenness, but none of us would tell Mark that, because of this ideal, it is his “Christian duty” to learn to walk again. The idea of wagging our heads, and continually making Mark feel guilty if he isn't making walking-again his top priority, is totally absurd. Now, one of the things I can say with certainty after having spent a lot of time journeying alongside of people experiencing brokenness, is that emotional brokenness can be just as real, and lasting, as Mark's form of physical brokenness. Telling my mother that it is her duty to fix the brokenness in her marriage is just as stupid (and harmful) as telling Mark that he “god-damned better get up and walk already.”

Futhermore, I like to use the example of Mark, because it reminds us that the language of “woundedness” or “brokenness” doesn't have to carry derogatory implications. Sure, Mark's back is wounded, sure his spine is broken, but that doesn't mean he is any less virtuous, or any less human, than the rest of us. Sure, my mother may have a wound that means that her marriage will always remain broken, but that doesn't make her any less virtuous, or any less human, than the rest of us. I would never think of defining Mark by the fact that he can no longer walk, and I certainly would never think of defining my mom by the fact that she can no longer be married.

Of course, by making this argument, I'm not trying to deny the fact that God sometimes intervenes and works miracles. I'm just saying that the chances of that happening in my parents relationship are probably as likely as the chances of God healing Mark's spine and making him walk again.

The irony of all this is that, if the Church began to approach brokenness from this perspective, we might actually begin to see a lot more of the miraculous for which so many of us long.

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