Learning to act right (12)… Choosing to end a marriage
July 14, 2010
Here's another tale of growth occurring, as it often does, on the back of division and depression. This one emerges from an explicit conflict between two publically accepted versions of right behaviour in the mind and heart of a friend charged with modelling right behaviour for others. David presents this conflict in clear and unflinching terms. More importantly, he's unblinking in assessing his own struggle to do the right thing. Like many such struggles, his tale bears tinges of the unresolved or the uncompleted aspects of the conflict. Doing it can never be fully over it, perhaps.
Choosing to end a marriage
In the late 70s I found myself struggling to deal with my marriage which was at a terminal stage. The major struggle involved dealing with two ethical considerations which were in conflict.
I was a Baptist minister working as an independent Christian education consultant, which meant that I was not engaged in pastoral care of a congregation but I was a member of a local church where I and my family worshiped.
I was part of a tradition and culture that expected any minister to set an example to others of upright Christian living and this was reinforced by my mother, a very strict, conservative practicing Christian. This meant that a minister's marriage had to be sound and above reproach – or at least to appear to be so no matter what the reality might be. This expectation weighed heavily on me to such an extent that I took far too long to acknowledge that the marriage was anything but sound.
While working with a church in the USA (in the early 70s) I was exposed to a different tradition and culture, one that took a different view of what it meant to be an example. This culture perceived that the important thing about setting an example was to be open and honest about personal failings and about the struggle to live up to the expectations of what 'being a Christian' meant. I was attracted by this perspective yet I did not find it easy to take on board as part of my ethical framework.
When the marriage eventually got to the point of crumbling I found these two ethical considerations were creating an internal dilemma as I faced the question of what action I was going to take.
I found myself having to make a choice about whether to leave the marriage or not. When I reached a point where I felt that a decision had to be made I struggled to find the willpower (courage?) to actually do it and looked for help from external sources. The following extract from my journal at the time describes the experience:
An advert in the Saturday paper for a furnished country cottage caught my attention but did not produce any action. Sunday morning's sermon not only had a strong note of "Be strong and trust me to meet all your needs" but was illustrated by a story of a woman who separated from her husband by taking a country cottage!!! My response was not to do anything till Monday, taking the risk that it would still be available. Before phoning I had a time of prayer and Bible reading from Psalm 144 "You......rescue your servant David. He is my protector and defender, my shelter and saviour, in whom I trust for safety." With this reassurance I rang the landlady, arranged to view the cottage and then took up the rental.
Although that helped me to finally make the choice to leave the marriage it did not create a situation of subsequent clarity. My journal reflects an ongoing struggle for almost a year before I was finally content that I had made the right choice and was able to adjust to a new way of life.
Looking back some 30 years later I can still recall the pain of the struggle to resolve the ethical considerations described above and am fascinated that I could not earlier find the strength within myself to implement the choice I eventually made. Perhaps this is an indication of the deep-seated indoctrination that occurs within the conservative Christian tradition and the consequent struggle that is experienced by anyone wanting to find freedom from it.
David J Scott - 280610