Editor’s Note: When I came up with the idea for Good Women Project when I was 23, this is exactly the kind of stuff I wanted to read. This is all the ‘stuff’ about love and dating and marriage and divorce that we don’t get to see unless we live it, or unless someone bares their soul and lets us into their inside life. Today’s story is by Tracy Wells. She blogs at theroadtobeautiful.com and tweets at @roadtobeautiful. – Lauren
Love is enough… Love conquers all…
My young heart took these statements into my marriage and lugged them around for 22 years. I knew before I ever said, “I do” that God was saying, “Don’t.” But I married anyway, and I paid a heavy price.
The first four years of marriage were blissful, and then it started. The cycle was always the same – he would accuse, I would cry, I would reason, we would talk, he would apologize – I’m so sorry. I know you’ve never cheated on me. I don’t know what’s wrong with me – and I would forgive. Over and over for 18 years my husband accused me of having multiple affairs. With every painful accusation, every cutting look, through each hellish argument I told myself, it will be okay because we love each other. I didn’t see that things weren’t even close to being okay.
I soon understood why God had said, “Don’t.”
I still remember the first accusation; I was shocked, blindsided, dumbfounded. I didn’t even know how to react. An affair?! Me?! I had never even had any offers or an inappropriate conversation with another man. I was never unfaithful, but that didn’t matter. My husband was my accuser. He was the source of my pain and my comfort. He was my best friend and my worst enemy.
Bad was mingled with good, hurt intertwined with love.
Years went by, our children came and grew and life seemed normal. But normal in my marriage wasn’t normal at all. My husband never laid a hand on me, but I was terrified of him. His words and eyes cut me deeper and did more damage than his fists ever could have. Physical wounds would have healed much sooner than the gaping cuts my heart walked around with. Maybe if he could have seen that I was battered and bleeding inside, he wouldn’t have repeatedly demanded that I “just get over it.”
Even when things were great between us, I was acutely aware that it all could go south in a heartbeat. I walked on eggshells all day, every day. The ache in my heart was constant. I cried more than I care to remember. All I had ever wanted out of life was to be married and have kids. I used to think, I guess I got my wish, but this is not what I had in mind.
On the outside, my marriage looked fine.
My kids were happy, and I was smiling. I wanted to be okay, so I acted like I was okay. Only God knew I was going through hell. No one at church knew, not even my family. I was completely isolated. I was a genius at covering up my pain. Survival mode said, “Preserve the marriage; protect the kids,” and I did.
I was then and am now deeply in love with Jesus. I love my kids dearly. They’re so great, and I love being a mom. I loved being married in spite of the junk. I was happy in spite of living in fear every day. I was full of joy and yet hopelessly sad. I didn’t want a divorce, I only wanted my husband to stop treating me so terribly. I wanted him to trust me. I wanted him to believe in me. To see into my heart and know that I truly loved him. To know that all my heart was for my family.
I was desperate for him to know, once and for all, that the affairs he imagined in his mind never happened, and that his suspicions were unwarranted. I wanted him to stop taking back his apology with the next accusation. I wanted him to be the good man that I knew he could be.
I told myself the same things that I’m sure most do, “But we’re Christians. If I pray enough, hope enough, believe enough…I know God can fix this. Divorce is not the plan!
And divorce is never the plan.
I know that God can fix a troubled marriage and that nothing is too hard for Him. I know He is the Great Physician and healer of all hurt. I know of His life-changing power. This knowledge kept me going, gave me hope and kept me sane. God will not, however, force someone to change.
I remember the day this realization hit me like a truck. If a person isn’t willing to change, change will not happen. No matter how much I prayed for God to change my husband, to change me, or how much I tried to adapt to this ever-changing/always-the-same situation, it was never enough. I told myself, If my words, expressions and actions are just right, he won’t suspect me of having an affair. If I just try to be the perfect wife, maybe then he will see that I really do love him. But no matter what I did, nothing changed. It never dawned on me that I was in an abusive relationship. My every move was controlled, and I didn’t even realize it.
The abuse escalated during the last three years of the marriage. The accusations became more disgusting, more harsh and more frequent. His words and eyes grew more violent. No one has ever looked at me or spoken to me with more contempt than my husband. My husband – the one who promised before God to cherish and protect me. The one who should know me better than anyone. How could he hate me so much one minute and love me so much the next?
I prayed repeatedly, How much of this do I have to take?! When will things change?! Each time I heard God softly tell me to stay. To this day I don’t know why, but I knew I couldn’t leave him. God didn’t remove me from the situation when I would have chosen, but He sustained me. He was so faithful to hold me and wipe my tears. Every. Time. Never. Failing.
And then one day, out of the blue, God said, “It’s time.”
I didn’t have to ask, “Time for what?” He didn’t have to tell me twice. I knew exactly what He meant, and I ran. I ran and didn’t look back. Some may argue that God would never tell a person to leave a marriage, but I have no doubt that had I stayed, the abuse would have become physical. I believe God rescued me that day.
I literally felt like I had been let out of a cage. I felt so free and yet so afraid! The thought of being a single mom kind of terrified me, and I was so concerned about my kids. Accusations continued to fly, and no matter what I did to protect my children and their ears, they were not to be immune from the lies. But a full year before the day of my escape, God had spoken to me very clearly. He said, “Don’t worry about your kids; I’ve got them. I love them more than you do.” Little did I know then how much those words would impact my life. I have clutched them so tightly, and they have brought me great peace.
I would love to tell you that my husband changed. I would love to tell you that we worked things out and my marriage was saved. But that is not the case. I learned some hard lessons when I disobeyed God all those years ago when I married him.
I learned that love does not conquer all. I learned that love is not enough.
Love does not always ‘fix.’
I said earlier that no matter what I did, nothing changed. That’s not entirely true. I changed.
God took my disobedience and exchanged it for priceless truth. He taught me how to run to Him, and every time He met me with strength and wisdom that I did not possess on my own. I learned how to pray and trust on an entirely different level. I learned that real worship doesn’t just happen on a warm and fuzzy Sunday morning. Real worship happens when you remain faithful in the trenches day after day even though your life is falling apart around you. I learned what it means to be truly happy despite your circumstances.
Real joy comes from God alone and cannot be taken from you when life gets hard. Little by little, year after year, through stubborn determination, I learned. I learned what real love is. You see, the truth is, I did have a love affair. I fell so desperately in love with God during those awful years, and that is how I survived. I had no one else to turn to. God was all I had, and I learned that He is all I need.
I learned that His love conquers all, and that His love is enough.
I disobeyed God and walked willingly into a situation with an outcome I could never have foreseen. But God, in His grace and mercy, didn’t abandon me. He followed me. He took my hand and walked with me on my journey, even though it was not His plan. He protected me and comforted me.
He never once said, “I told you so.”
He never once – not one time – left my side. He has never condemned me. He is gentle in His correction and passionate in His love for me.
I will be your God throughout your lifetime — until your hair is white with age. I made you, and I will care for you. I will carry you along and save you. (Isaiah 46:4)
I am not advocating divorce. I hope that is not what you take from my story. I want to impress upon you the unconditional love of a God who passionately pursues us. A God who redeems all of our mistakes. A God who runs after us into our storm with an umbrella and an anchor. He is our refuge and our strength (Psalm 46:1). God is our rock, our fortress, our deliverer (Psalm 18:2). He will never leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) even in our disobedience.
And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. (1 Peter 5:10)
Three years have passed since God brought me out of that situation. He has taken me on a journey of healing that has been so amazing. I no longer live in fear or feel the incredible pain that was my constant companion for nearly my entire adult life. He has put my heart back together, replacing the missing pieces with pieces of His own heart. He has wiped away my regrets and my shame along with my tears. He is my perfect husband who knows me better than anyone. He cherishes me and protects me, and I am precious to Him. He speaks only words of life, and if I could see His eyes, I know they would be filled, not with hatred or contempt, but with great love. He is the forever faithful love of my life. I know this today more than ever before.
For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With His love, He will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs. (Zephaniah 3:17)
I hope that you feel the love of God today and every day no matter where you are in life or what you are going through. In gain and lack, in peace and turmoil, in hope and despair, God is a good God. He loves you unconditionally. This is my prayer for you always.
I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit. Then Christ will make His home in your heart as you trust in Him. That your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)