My first three blog posts came out of me quickly and surprisingly. It caught me off guard how readily the words came out, as if they had been waiting there for a long time. It has been therapeutic to identify what I’ve been experiencing and helpful to dig deeper. I named my story, shared about my last few weeks, and finally explored what had come to light about myself. Where I sit now feels messy and uncomfortable, and everything in me grates against that. I never thought I would be navigating a separation with my wife, and am in many ways still trying to regain my footing. The landmarks in my life have rearranged themselves and I’m trying to leave behind the broken compass I’ve trusted for so long.

I am in the first stages of fighting something new. It was a huge step to identify the unhealthy ways I held my marriage, but living out something better is another story altogether. It’s something I need to sit in and experience. I have trained myself to think in a particular way for so long that I can’t trust my instincts right now. I see I need boundaries and space from my relationship with Jess. It is going to be a painfully slow process to break myself of the notion that the only way I will be ok is if I have somehow won her love, respect, or admiration.

Guarding

This week I’ve needed to guard myself vigorously and begin to allow the damage I’ve sustained to rise to the surface. I’ve needed quiet moments and patience with myself. I’ve needed to put scary words to my wounds and start to grieve that for what it is. Those things are hard in the midst of a busy life with three kids and a million distractions. But I found myself less interested in numbing the pain today and more interested in seeking a quiet place to sit and feel. I want to notice what is going inside myself and not be enslaved to it. I want to push in instead of leaning out.

A special shot of my late grandmother’s kitchen chair, a great place to sit and think.

There is a massive knot to untie inside me and so many emotions. So far the path is laborious, obscure, and full of false steps. I’ve fought immensely with anger and have needed to take life hour by hour, moment by moment. My time with the Lord in the mornings feels like a necessity in a way that it never has before. I need help to make it through the day and absolutely cannot think about tomorrow. It feels like a great effort to keep in touch with what honors my heart right now, to defend my boundaries, and to protect myself from more blows. I notice how tempted I am to betray myself. It’s shocking to see how willing I am to swallow poison in order to feel safe. I’ve taught myself to disregard my pain and immediately pursue any softness I feel towards Jess because I’ve always been convinced that softness is a dependable path back to security. I’m uncovering how I’ve laid down my plans, given up dreams, changed directions, taken on burdens, and swallowed my words in order to keep the boat from rocking. I was and still am willing to give up my soul at the drop of a hat. It’ll be a long process, but I’m finally starting to move out in a better direction.

Strategizing

I also see that I strategize. About everything. I feel safest when I can wrap my head around my circumstances, see a clear path forward, or cling to something solid. I do NOT do well sitting and simply existing in discomfort, fear, or pain. It sends me into a spin and makes me frantic. When my insecurities rise up, when my longings aren’t met, or when pain knocks the wind out of me, I begin to strategize to avoid pain. This is so new that I am still learning to recognize when I do it. There’s a feeling I’m starting to associate with it that has come over me especially strongly during this separation as I feel lonely or insecure. A desire for control. It’s the feeling of wanting to get my fingers into my situation and meddle with it. To fix it, run from it, or make it quieter.

I’m seeing now that this is ultimately self-reliance and an unwillingness to grieve. It has no other name than pride. A deep-seated, ugly pride that was hard for me to pin down or even identify. I was never ready to see it until now. All this time I have been invited by God to sit in my pain and allow him the opportunity to heal it, but I have never let him. Deep down I’ve thought I’ve known better than Him how to meet my longings, avoid pain, deliver truth, and make my life work.

My latest counseling session was different in the sense that I was ready to hear this for the first time. To trace it back through months and years and name it for what it is. It was quite a humbling thing, but I’m grateful for it. These words were given to me, and they hit as near the mark as possible. They are words from Henri J. M. Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love (emphasis mine):

Stay with Your Pain

When you experience the deep pain of loneliness, it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment. When, underneath all the praise and acclaim, you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing –to be with the person who once was able to dispel these frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.

It is not easy to stay in your loneliness. The temptation to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God’s healing.

God does not want your loneliness; God wants to touch you in a way that permanently fulfills your deepest need. It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart. The person who was able to touch that place has revealed to you your pearl of great price.

It is understandable that everything you did, are doing, or plan to do seems completely meaningless compared with that pearl. That pearl is the experience of being fully loved. When you experience deep loneliness, you are willing to give up everything in exchange for healing. But no human being can heal that pain. Still, people will be sent to you to mediate God’s healing, and they will be able to offer you the deep sense of belonging that you desire and that gives meaning to all you do.

Dare to stay in your pain, and trust in God’s promise to you.

Sitting right here feels overwhelming and unsustainable, but I am gaining confidence that God has a bigger purpose in this separation. In my fragility, I have needed to hear his truths more than ever. He wants to build me up and strengthen me through during this time. I took comfort in Ephesians 4:14-15:

So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.