Warning: This post contains references to rape. If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, please tell some you trust and/or contact the authorities.
“I’ve never known anyone who wanted marriage so much,” a best friend told me eight years ago.
Now he smiles in an understanding when I say I’m relieved I’m not married.
At age twenty-one, my life’s plan was set: graduate college, get married, fulfill my dream of being a wife and mom. All the pieces were in place, and I would have enthusiastically agreed with the blogger who wrote:
“My desires to be a wife and a mom are God-given, so I trust that He’ll fulfill them in His timing.”
I enjoy watching the marriages around me, and believe marriage can be good. My mistake a decade ago was to assume I was guaranteed a good marriage if I followed the rules. In my immaturity and idealism I didn’t see myself making the all-too-common mistake of elevating marriage dreams above other desires.
The hope to be an overseas missionary or prayer that your friend survives cancer are good, but we don’t patently assume God will answer “yes” or call them God-given.
Why are marriage dreams different?
So, feeling old at twenty-three, despite warning signs, I made vows. I wanted that marriage and I never dreamed the consequence our problems would be divorce.
Hard days, sure. Help from a counselor, okay. Divorce wasn’t on my radar. All I could see was the dream.
Even when my life was shredded, the dream survived, still insisting on fulfillment at any cost. Because of that I’ve been guilty of asking a man to do what he shouldn’t have to: carry the burden of healing the damage that other men inflicted.
Only God can ease that pain and close those wounds.
After the first divorce I unconsciously hoped for what the media portrays as the romantic ideal: a wounded girl is rescued by a kind man who teaches her to trust and hope again. I wanted a man to convince me I was beautiful and deserved love, because I couldn’t believe those things on my own.
I wanted someone to do the healing work for me.
Problem is, the movies and books don’t tell you that no man should have to carry that burden in addition to his own burdens. There will be conflict. You’ll both be tangled in each other’s demons in addition to your own.
How would it work, anyway? Does the first un-coerced kiss after a rape cancel out a negative memory, or merely trigger a flashback?
Until I am healed enough a man can approach me from behind without me flinching, or until someone can touch my face without me spiraling into panic, I don’t need a boyfriend.
I need healing and time, and, at the least, to take Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” off replay.
I need to heal enough to not cringe at normal, casual movements. It’s unfair and unloving for me to expect a man to do my healing work and undo years of what other men ingrained in me through every imaginable method.
I won’t say the media-fed dream of the hero arriving in time to save his princess or, at the least, vindicating her honor afterward, never occurs.
But in real life the princess often has to rescue herself when there’s a gun to her head or drag herself home when evil finishes the abuse and dumps her in the gutter.
If good men will come alongside and you don’t put an unrealistic burden on them, they can help you be strong for all those times the knight in shining armor missed his entrance (or exit). You are comrades who love, not lovers.
When I think of love, candlelight dinners and roses don’t make the list.
Love to me is the best friends who always keeps me company in the emergency room, even if it’s just through rapid-fire text messages. One time he flew all the way from Alaska to spend half an hour on a hospital bench holding me while I cried.
It’s not someone holding a door (though I’ll thank you if you do). It’s the man who will put himself between me and the gun (unlike last time). A friend who loves will let me fight and show my strength but be there to lean on when I overdo it.
Think of the bloody cross. Our healing is there, not in the arms of our dream guy. Our life is in pursuing Christ, not a desire for marriage.
It took two stakes to the heart, i.e. divorces—I’m a stubborn learner—but those idealistic dreams are finally (mostly) dead.
I think, for now, that’s God’s mercy to me.
My dream now is to see my son become, as his Hebrew name means, a strong man of God. Yet even this dream, which I believe is pleasing to God, I don’t assume is guaranteed fulfillment.
As Christians, I believe we’re guaranteed nothing but grace. But if we understand grace rightly, there is nothing else we could possible hope or ask for. It’s everything we could hope for and nothing we may expect. Let’s dream of grace.
[Photo: seanmcgrath, Creative Commons]