This afternoon I had some outside chores I needed to do, chores which I despise doing for no other reason than I hate the feeling of being outside of my home in town because I constantly have the feeling that someone is watching me, that I’m somehow on display. I recognize intellectually, objectively, that this is simply not the case. In fact, most people are not even home when I’m out doing chores in the middle of the week. They are at work, they are out shopping, they are living their own lives. But, emotionally, psychologically, the feeling is always present every time I go outside.
One way I’ve found to counteract this or at least lessen it is to have my headphones on and to be listening to something else – a lecture, a podcast – anything that will distract me from those imaginary eyes. And that’s what I did today while I was outside working, and the podcast I turned on was one I found on Youtube, Jordan Peterson interviewing Greg Ellis. Now I have no idea who this fella is. But his story was quite reminiscent (at least to a certain degree) to what I went through during my divorce, and some of the outcomes are very similar as well.
So, I thought it might be good to discuss some of the issues covered in the podcast and discuss a little bit about what I went through….
I have to say at the outset, I was extremely lucky in the initial breakup of my marriage and the ultimate divorce that ensued after the fact. There was no violence. My wife and I had no children together. There were assets but none that I really cared anything about and could let go of easily. There were debts, but she ended up taking them along with the vehicles those debts were attached to.
But it seems that this Ellis fella had an abrupt and terrifying ordeal thrust upon him and I would argue we are not actually being given the whole picture in the interview. First off, he waits until the end of the podcast to mention that he had been unfaithful, but there did seem to be some extenuating circumstances (not that this is an excuse).
One interesting point that came to mind while listening was that it really doesn’t matter how much money you make, how successful you are, or what kind of influence you have. Marriage is hard and seems to be inherently prone to massive amounts of risk. Risk that cannot be managed, that cannot be negotiated, and cannot be hedged. It is simply there and remains there throughout the relationship and it is simply up to both individuals to never act upon that risk. They have to both be willing to choose the relationship over the self-destruct button. And this is not just women against men, either. There are many, many women who married the men of their dreams only to find their husbands cheating on them 5 years later, who end up separated and divorced, now single mothers with no choice and no say in how their lives turned out.
I know from my own experience, I’m pretty certain our marriage began to unravel before we ever said “I do.” We were doomed from the start, given who we were, given our specific circumstances, and ultimately given the fact that our marriage was built on the lies of one of its participants.
One contributing factor that led to our relational disease was the immediate and near constant emotional stress that accompanied us through our entire marriage. We had criticism from my parents, passive-aggressive criticism from her parents, from the parents of the exes who were the children’ father. We had court battles with him, for nearly 3 years we had our attorney on retainer (and in the end the ex just disappeared into the woodwork after costing us thousands of dollars in legal fees).
We also struggled with religious stress, trying to serve God in a system that was not in any way built for our personalities. My wife and I were both introverted, and yet we were expected to be servants to be leaders in extroverted programs and systems. Every time we stuck our neck out in a religious setting we were criticized for not doing it the right way. I was constantly stuck in between trying to do what the “church” said we should be doing and how that caused a tension between myself and my wife.
We also had constant stress from everyone around us, from society, and from family concerning the kids (my step kids). My wife and I had many discussions about the children’s education. They were doing terrible in school. They hated daycare. And, at least for me, the solution was staring us right in the face. After a field trip one day, I remember my wife telling me while we road on a bus full of disobedient and willful children, “Okay, I’m ready.”
We started homeschooling and pulled the kids out of school. Yes, it was challenging. Yes, we did many, many things wrong. We tried to look to other homeschooling families for help, but there was such a disconnect for my wife and socializing with other people that I finally gave up and just tried our best to do it on our own.
It’s not that our kids were doing poorly as homeschool kids. But, they struggled to keep joy in their lives because of their abandonment issues from their past, likewise their mother was not really involved in their lives (after about 6 months of marriage she bought a laptop and disappeared into games – something I knew nothing about when we first met because her computer at that time was broken and she did not have the money to fix it).
I was a stern headmaster. I take full responsibility for that. But I also do not agree that it was a failure or that it was wrong. Everyone around us praised our children and praised how we were raising them. Neighbors would take time out of their day and cross the street to tell me they appreciated the fact that I was “raising” my kids rather than just letting them grow up. People in the store would walk up to us and thank us for how well behaved our kids were. Was I overly domineering? I don’t really think so. Was I sometimes short-tempered. I would say a resounding yes.
We also struggled with housing issues and work dissatisfaction, but the greatest stress I think we had was our relationship itself. My wife had been abused sexually as a young girl, and this led to some very uncomfortable experiences between the two of us, experiences that were greatly exacerbated by the fact that my wife refused to really talk about how her childhood was affecting our marriage, or how that trauma often surfaced in bizarre and unsuspecting ways.
It got to the point that our sex life was a minefield of apprehension and misunderstanding, dissatisfaction (for both of us), and yet as much as I tried to fix her issues, tried to do things she wanted, nothing really helped. Convincing her to get professional help ended up with her being rejected all over again, this time by the counselor himself. It took a lot to convince her that going to a therapist would be good for us and good for our marriage. It took an enormity of trust and courage for her to show up at the first appointment, and then, once she spent the 30 minutes laying it out for this guy, he smiles and says that she is too damaged for him to help us, that he would need to refer us to someone else – this took the wind out of her sails (it also didn’t help that he never bothered to call us back with the referral).
We both gave up I think at that point, yet, we each continued to try different things in the few years after that. But nothing really worked. I tried checking out books at the library, but this was a slow process and not one my wife took to. I do remember we tried talking about our problems once or twice. But we just danced around the uncomfortableness of it all, never really willing to risk making the other one upset, suspicious of each other, suspicious of ourselves.
The real catalyst, though, was when my wife’s mother resurfaced after years of no contact. It was her mother who was ultimately responsible (as a proxy) for the abuse she had suffered in her childhood, and yet, this seemed to brand in my wife a kind of impitus to fall into old patterns with her. Mind you, there were other siblings who suffered worse abuse than my wife did in those early years. One could barely get out of bed, whose spouse had to do everything from taking care of the children to working outside of the home. The other sibling appeared untouched psychologically, though I personally think they were suppressing whatever might have occurred.
My wife and her mother formed a habit of talking for hours on the phone together. I never knew what they were talking about, but it was shortly after this that my wife abruptly approached me one day and said that we needed to make a decision about not being together anymore. I remember being simply floored, or laughing, thinking she was making some kind of joke. My whole reality fell out from me when I realized she was being serious. There was no real explanation. No reason for what she had already, apparently, spent months preparing for or deciding on her own.
I later found out that my wife had talked about these issues with her best friend, with her dad and stepmom (for some unknown reason, I was never once consulted about any issues going on). They told her to talk to me. They told her that she was being unreasonable. In the end, though, I can only assume that she took her mother’s advice and made the decision to leave me.
Of course, she didn’t want to completely leave me. She wanted the business I had built for her. She wanted the vehicles. But she also wanted me to stay in the house and take care of the kids so she could run around town and sleep with other people (you know, not be married anymore but still use me for free child care). I remember trying to get her to go back to counseling, for us to really work on our issues (I still didn’t fully know what those issues were, she refused to tell me). In our first meeting with the therapist (a different one), all she would say was, “How do I tell him it’s over?”
A week or so later, I finally gave my wife an ultimatum, as she continually kept pushing this plan of keeping our lives co-mingled, but her being able to do whatever she wanted, with whoever she wanted, and I keep helping with the kids and the business. I finally told her that we either move forward with our relationship as a married couple, continue with counseling and work our problems out, or she needed to tell me to leave. I was not about to accept her runner-up alternatives.
With that, I was given the nod to go. And I went.
It was an incredibly difficult thing to do when I left. I spent a month or so getting myself together, trying not to let on with the kids what was happening (but they already knew). I bought a used van with the intention of living in it. At the time we were selling our first house and she gave me the $1000 profit we got from that (how nice of her).
I was torn, though, on that final day when I left for good. I was devastated and shocked that I had lost my wife and my family for reasons I still had not been told and did not understand. I was ashamed. I was broken. Yet, I was simultaneously so very thankful that the stress and the monotony and misery was coming to an end. I was thankful for my autonomy. But I was still brokenhearted and felt betrayed by the one person I had believed would always be there for me. The one person I trusted in this world.
To this day, I still don’t know for certain why our marriage ended. I believe it stems from the sexual abuse she suffered from in her childhood and how that trauma seeped into and ultimately poisoned our relationship, and surfaced in bizarre ways. There were also some pretty significant interpersonal issues that seemed to have graded against each of us over the years, slowly eroding the goodwill, the mutual respect we had. The fact that my wife spent no time actually trying to work out our issues, the fact that she had always been willing to entertain divorce if things got even slightly difficult, contaminated my soul, poisoned my heart from really ever thinking I could ever trust another human being again.
She, of course, I imagine, would not describe our breakup this way. I would imagine she would say that we were just not compatible people, and that we gave it our best shot, and if we were not happy and having fun, then we just needed to split up and find other people. Who cares about what it would do to the children (she had already been spending years damaging them psychologically with each successive relationship after the other so why not again) or to each other, and the fact that she seemed completely ambivalent to the vows we each made before God spoke volumes to me about her insincerity in her faith and what she claimed to truly believe.
And What Happened to the Kids?
Toward the end of the interview, Dr. Peterson asked Ellis about his two boys now. Immediately, the man’s voice and countenance betrayed his dispair. It was obvious, this man’s story had no happy ending. In fact, as he told it, his children were now 15 and 11. They never were able to see him. They were poisoned by their mother, and with no recourse and no ability to speak into their life with any frequency, those two children turned on their father pretty quickly.
I experienced the same. Keep in mind, leaving behind the step children I had was actually a good thing. I learned during my marriage that I really had no business raising kids, especially someone else’s kids, despite the fact that they really had no mother to speak of and their father was a dead beat.
The reality is, children are a difficult, difficult challenge to live. I would wager it is even worse than marriage itself, riskier than any other endeavor on earth, simply because they are free to choose their own path, to make their own decisions, and are prone to melancholy regardless of what good you bring to their lives.
My oldest stepped reached out to me several years after the divorce. She was an adult by then, probably 18 or 19. She tried to call me, but I responded by text that it would be better if she just emailed whatever she wanted to say (I really was not able to emotionally handle a phone conversation and especially not a face-to-face visit).
The email came not long after and she told me about her life. She was engaged to a young man who was soon to be enlisted in the military. She talked about her faith, but also talked about her recent miscarriage (which meant her faith really was not biblical), but what she really wanted to talk about was me.
She proceeded to say that, regardless of whatever happened between me and her mother, regardless of what her mother might or might not have done, she wanted me to know that she blamed me for every bad thing in her life. She was socially awkward because I pulled her out of school and homeschooled her. She was traumatized because I was overly strict. Everything that was wrong was wrong in her life because of how terrible of a step father I had been. But, she wanted me to know that, despite how terrible of a person I happened to be, she was good enough to forgive me. She wanted to forgive me of all the bad things I had done, all the wrong things I had done.
My instinct, of course, was to strike back at this privileged and quite ignorant child. First, there is no way to separate my actions from her mother’s. Her mother was there through the entirety of our marriage (and had been there long before I even arrived). This kid had either took it upon herself to poison her memory of me from her childhood or it was something her mother and the other family members around her took great care and pleasure to do.
Second, I did the very best I possibly could with not only the children I was given but also with the wife I chose (poorly in hindsight). It’s an oddity that I’m still confused about even to this day, that childhood is misery no matter what social class you find yourself being raised in, no matter if you are subjected to public schooling or homeschooled or unschooled. One of the main catalysts I operated from in my decision to homeschool our children was how miserable public school had been for both of us. I would have given anything to have discovered the Teenage Liberation Handbook as a child, preferably around age 12. I would have dropped out of public school, would have convinced my parents that I could do ten times the work I was being required to do in that public prison. But, not only was I destined to be subjected to that hell, but every option I considered was rejected outright by my elders (parents, counselors, etc).
Unfortunately, my step kids apparently thought the same of homeschooling that I thought of public school. How does one process that? I know with certainty that the oldest (the one who emailed me) was thrilled when she was pulled out of school at 10. She hated school at the time. I guess perspectives change when the one parent is sent packing and made the scapegoat for everything ill that surrounded them.
In the end, I resisted the urge to lay blame where I am to this day convinced it rightfully belongs. If anyone is responsible for that young woman’s life being a dumpster fire it would be her mother. Yes, I was hard on her and her siblings. Yes, I certainly made my fair share of mistakes. But I think she definitely has some blinders on when it comes to the reality of who did what in that household.
But, it actually really doesn’t matter when all is said and done. I tried my best with my wife. Yes, there were certainly things I could have done differently. I could have tried to reach her at her level rather than try to get to the bottom of the issues. I was freely able to discuss our problem (because they really weren’t my problems to deal with). But she could not. Would not. It’s take me many years to realize how terrifying it must have been for her, with me constantly trying to pull on psychologically threads on childhood wounds that she’d managed to sew up tight. Then again, another possibly is that she’s just a horrible person and has always been a horrible person and she saw me as an honest, truthful, and gullible individual who was dating down, and I was seen by her as an opportunity to have a man who actually had a steady job (and could keep a job for longer than 6 months at a time), who had good credit and could buy her vehicles and even a house and build her a business and take care of her kids. Who wouldn’t want that, right?
I’m not sure what went wrong. After all, I was able to do all these things for her. But, I’m sure the lies and the second guessing was increasingly difficult for her to maintain after years of basing our marriage on dishonesty. To this day, I really question if there was anything I could have done that would have changed the final outcome.
I honestly don’t think there was.
What Did You Do Wrong?
Dr. Peterson asks his guest this question. What did you do wrong? And this is when Ellis admits to cheating on his wife, and he gave all the typical excuses. The romance was gone. There was no intimacy. The sex dried up. Yes, these are issues. These are, in fact, terrifying issues that send me running for the hills away from relationships and toward solitude and personal freedom and independence. Because, in the end, there is no way to predict or protect us from changes – even fundamental changes – in the life of a relationship.
I remember thinking to myself after the crisis of my divorce was over and I was left to pick up the pieces again, “What could I have done differently?” Taking longer to select a spouse does not seem to really make a difference. Choosing only someone who has been a believer for many years does not seem to really make a difference. I know one pastor who met his wife, converted her to the faith, married her within 3 months, and they are perfectly happy today with 10 kids. I have also known couples who were born into the church, were Christians all their lives, and one of them wakes up one day, sometimes after 10, 15, or even 20 years of marriage, and just decide that they no longer want the life their living. They divorce, they completely change who they are, and be damned the carnage left in their wake.
I tried. No I did not try hard enough. I did not take advantage of the time I had available to me. There were other things I could have tired. But, there really is no guarantee that the outcome would have been any different.
Lately, I’ve been praying for God to bring me a helpmate who is truly comparable to me (and this in response to a sudden psychological and emotional shift that has taken place within me, a desire, a conviction for a wife, with emotional upheavals occurring within my mind and my soul that indicate he is preparing me for a wife in the future – things that would be absolutely unnecessary if I were to remain single the rest of my life instead). But, despite this prayer, I am skeptical. Do I even really want a wife? Realistically? Practically? I struggle with this, not that my conviction is lessening, or that I’m reconsidering. But because the cold, hard realities of marriage are very different than the romanticized notions we often conflate with it.
What Is the Alternative?
I remember as I was going through the process of my divorce (I actually paid the $1500 for an attorney because they would take much of that process – going to the court house, serving papers, etc – out of my hands; it was well worth it) coming to the realization that my mistake was not really in who I chose to marry. It wasn’t even in the length of time that we took to get to know each other before we got married. It was actually in choosing to venture into the arena at all, because, in the end, there is really no upside to marriage. Yes, sex can be great. Really great. But, unless you win the proverbial lottery and happen to marry someone who has the same sexual appetite as you and is not riddled with insecurities, the great sexual experiences are few and far between. I can count on one hand the really great times my wife and I had in the sack, and I bet you if she tallied them up they were be even fewer (and probably not the same incidences). I sit here now and try to think of actually really good times that we had as a family or a couple and cannot remember any at all. There were some okay memories that were clouded by the stress in our lives – from work, from exes, from mounting legal fees, from family pressures.
So, what does this all mean?
Dr. Peterson makes the comment that, “So what are men supposed to do? Never get married again? If you do that then you are trapped by common marriage law. So, then what? Never have a long term relationship again in your life? Some are saying that, but what kind of life is that?”
Despite his rejection of it, I honestly think this is the alternative. Especially for the Christian – or to make clear – the biblical Christian. In fact, these are the only two options provided to us by Jesus in Matthew 19. Except for adultery, divorce was not an option. To that, the disciples quickly jumped to the most logical conclusion, “If this is the way it is between a man and his wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus’ answer, “Not everyone can accept this, but only those to whom it has been given.” This means 1. You can either marry and accept all the inherent realities and risks of married life, or 2. You can remain single and celibate the rest of your life. That’s it. No in between. No common law marriages. No living together and we’ll see. I would argue that this means there isn’t even room in God’s plan for dating. I would say if a single Christian is dating the way the world dates, they are in error. But, the world does not accept this. The world doesn’t even accept monogamy anymore. You’re not hip or cool unless you’re in some kind of throuple or you’re dating a married couple or you’re part of the local sex party club or your dating multiple random people on the internet.
Really, the only options are risk-filled marriage or singleness (and celibacy) for life. Regardless of Dr. Peterson’s apprehension, these are really the only option beside living your life mired in perpetual sin.
Given the Age in Which We Live
Paul addressed this for all of us in 1 Corinthians 7. His conclusion, “It is better than a man does not touch a woman.” But, he knew the realities of that life personally. He knew the struggle in his day and age, the promiscuity, the blatant fornication. It’s not much different today. So many pastors and church leaders are entangled in some kind of sexual sin. So many of the congregation. So many just regular, ordinary people are plagued with these willful, selfish desires to gratify the flesh. I’ve noticed that there is also an undercurrent that seems to run through most people, this idea that there is this compulsion, this need to not be alone. Anything but be alone. Whenever I hear this justification for being in a terrible or unfulfilling relationship I think back to what Jesus said, “Not all can accept this but only those to whom it has been given.”
For the last 13 years of my life I have been completely unburdened by this desperate necessity to “be with someone.” To be with anyone, just so long as I’m not alone. Instead, I was given contentment, peace, fulfillment. I was not half of a whole, I was content with my own company. I could go a week without actually talking to another person. I actually was not at all interested it what was being offered. To be honest, I’m still not at all interested. My latest attempt at online dating saw me talk to a total of 3 women before I bailed completely and deleted my profile.
Paul argued for celibacy as the first state of life for a Christian. He concluded that this was not only the best option for men, but also for women, young, old, those who had been previously married but found themselves unattached enter because their spouse had died, or they had been abandoned, or because of adultery (1 Cor 7 – Just read the whole thing). He argued this because it was the very best way to serve Christ, undivided, not torn between the things of God and the things of earth (vs 32-33). But, he offered a caveat, an alternative for those who could not endure a life without marriage. And this inability to endure had everything to do with “sexual immorality” (vs 2), because, as Jesus stated in Matthew 19, “Not everyone can accept this, but only those to whom it has been given.” There was in Paul’s time a “present distress” (vs 26) that convinced him that some people (maybe even most people) should at least consider marriage since it would be nearly (or completely) impossible for them to live a godly life without compromising to gratify the flesh.
Let’s face it, the Bible is rife with accounts of people outside of marriage getting it on. Judah is a perfect example of this (Ge 38:6ff). Have you ever noticed when reading that story the issue of him frequenting a prostitute and the fact that it seems to everyone around him that its just common place, it really never comes up at all. Yes, he had treated Tamar poorly by not offering her his next son. But what about the fact that he was pulling a Jim Baker (or practically any other televangelist or popular pastor today)? Balaam also so easily led the Israelites astray with what? The enticements of the women of Edom. Same for Solomon. The man entrusted to build God a house for his name, how many wives did he have? How quickly did they lead him to abandon the God of his fathers and worship demons and idols? I also wonder if Paul, too, wrestled with sexual sin or temptation in his life, given the argument he described in Romans 7:15-25. Yes, the evangelical church tends to sanitize this, stating that Paul had trouble with his eyesight or that he wrestled with pride. Of course, Paul doesn’t specify what his “thorn in the flesh” actually is (2 Co 12:7). But he seems pretty emphatic, “O wretched man that I am!” Why would he say this about poor eyesight?
Marriage is considered in the Bible to be a solution to the problem of fornication. Though, Paul does admit, “each one has his own gift from God” he does preface this with, “I wish that all men were even as I myself” because the startling reality is, “if you marry you do not sin. But you will have trouble in the flesh, and I would spare you” (vs 28).
In the end, it is this world that is fallen and confused and misguided and prone to sin. Unfortunately, the modern church (and maybe all of the church throughout its history) tends to follow after the things of the world rather than the things of God.
Personally, it has taken me awhile to come to grips with the reality that there are no compromises when it comes to this decision between married life and a celibate one. You must be either all in or all out, no matter what you choose. There is no option for, “well, we’re just getting to know each other” or “I don’t really believe in institutions like marriage.” Over the last several years a coworker has given me several “signs” (though I could be reading that WAY wrong, who knows) that she would be open to and interested in a physical relationship with me. The first few years I just was not interested. Don’t get me wrong, it had nothing to do with her. She’s quite attractive, and we get along quite well together. She is a little older than I am, but she is well established in life, she has only grown children, wants no other children, is independent, is well paid for her work, is stable, owns real estate…I mean the list goes on and on. She likes to garden, she likes the woods, she has hinted around at going with me out to the Eden property several times, and I think it would take just a single sign of interest on my part and we would be immediately “together.”
But, I’ve come to realize that, regardless of how attractive a relationship with her might be, it is not a biblical relationship. Paul’s pretty clear, “you have liberty to be married to whomever you wish, but only in the Lord” (vs 39). If I were to elicit a relationship with her, I would not want to remarry. I would not want to cohabitate. I would not want to mingle our finances. I would not want to take on all the responsibilities of what it means to be a biblical husband and I’m pretty sure she would not want to likewise take on the responsibilities of being a biblical wife. So, why not just have fun, right? Why couldn’t we just make our own version of a relationship? Just date (for one thing I’m a habitual monogamist). So maybe we don’t “date” but we come to an arrangement that suits both of us. We spend our free time together (we already work together). We travel together. We go out and enjoy the Eden property together, hike together, go for walks on the beach together. And then 2 days or so out of each week we separate and spend time apart so as not to wear each other out. Personally, I see no difference in this than I do in a marriage. In fact, I would wager that we would most likely be happier and more satisfied than most married couples are. It’s not even the institution of marriage that trips me up, since the reality is, marriage as we know it today has nothing at all to do with the Bible. The legal portion of marriage can be skipped altogether with all its inherent biases against men and its previous biases against women. The fact that we would maintain our own residences would mean we were not trapped in common law hell either. We also wouldn’t be trapped in the ridiculous medical bill snare that catches many married couples unaware when after their spouse dies they get a hefty bill from the hospital that conveniently follows them because of their legally married status.
Honestly, it would almost seem as if this would be a practical marriage, avoiding all the pitfalls, yet retaining all the benefits. The unfortunate catch that I’ve come to recognize, though, is it’s not real. There is a reason why Paul says, “but only in the Lord.” There is a reason why he also says, “do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Co 6:14).
The fact is, submitting to such a relationship might be truly great. It might be quite exhilarating, and it might be one of life’s great loves. But, never would I be able to study the Bible with her. Never would we be able to lay in bed and just talk about our God that we share together, never be on the same page when it comes to the purpose of life, or what would happen if by chance she gets pregnant (no matter how much neither of us might try to prevent it).
If I’m honest, I can’t say it’s not tempting. Aside from the risk of ruining our working relationship (which would be horrible if it didn’t work out – there’s no question I would lose my job if we ever broke up – I would have to quit), it sounds kind of great. Just enough intimacy, physical gratification, mutual comfort, and sharing to stave off loneliness and fulfill those deep seated needs, while keeping at bay all the troubles that so often shipwreck a marriage.
But, if I’m still be honestly, I really see this as settling, as great as it could be. I don’t want to give up those things that I would have to give up. I actually want any future marriage to be build solidly on the Bible, on mutual faith in God that has been grounded in each of us over years and years of private, tearful prayers, and faithful, convicted study of God’s word. I want nothing less than a wife who is fully and completely committed to our marriage, to the covenant of marriage and for that covenant, that promise, those vows, to be more important than how she might feel about me today, or this week, or even this year. I want both of us to see how keeping our marriage vows to God, dying to ourselves for the sake of the other is honoring to God, is the purpose of marriage as the institution, as the union established by God in the beginning with Adam and Eve. There is a reason why God said it was not good for man to be alone, and I want a wife who sees this reason and embraces her role for why she was created. I don’t want someone who is convenient. Because if I settle for convenience, or I settle for a pseudo-marriage, then I am essentially forsaking whatever it is God had originally and intentionally predestined for me before the foundation of the world.
Does God truly have a future wife for me out there somewhere? Someone who not only meets all of my wants and needs and desires but actually surpasses them in ways that I cannot even comprehend?
I don’t know.
To be completely honest, I’m not even sure I would accept a wife at this point, if one were even brought to me. The pseudo-wife was presented and boy was she tempting. She was interested and so was I. In fact, I found her quite captivating. But, in the end, I did not lose myself to poor impulse control. I did not throw caution to the wind and indulge.
Now, I wonder if God is not doing something else entirely within in me, that has really nothing at all to do with a woman or a possible wife. I wonder if marriage is even really something I want for myself anymore. After all, it is a choice I can make (sort of). I think the last 13 years have proven that celibacy and solitude and isolation is truly something God has given me. It has truly been a gift from God. How do I know this season of discontent is not just his way of gently easing me the last few steps out of the flesh and into an even greater spirit-led life? How do I know he’s not preparing me for greater internal battles to come as I inch ever closer to the being that I will one day become, at the revealing of the Sons of God, when the curse is finally lifted from all of creation and we are able to step into our inheritance?
Of course, I’m operating from a much different worldview and framework than Dr. Peterson or even his guest. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for Ellis to go through what he went through, especially if the accusations were utterly untrue. To have lost his family, his sons, and even his marriage (or the marriage he at least thought he had), all because he trusted another human being, it speaks volumes about the day and age we live in, and the turbidity in which we engage in as we pair off and try to venture through the gauntlet this is life and relationships.
I, personally, at least at this point, can go either way. If God decided that it would be better for me to have a wife, if he brought someone into my life that met many of my criteria and who actually wanted to make a life with me, I would have to consider it. Then again, I really wonder if, after all the consideration, the prayer, the advice from a multitude of witnesses and counselors, if I did not ultimately choose a different path entirely, step out in faith, and decide that life alone with my God in preparation for eternity is more than enough to sustain me.
Is that what this has all been about? This shift, this eddy current that has abruptly arisen within my soul, drawing me out, purifying my life, healing old wounds, bringing me so often kicking and screaming toward forgiveness of others, toward forgiveness of myself? Is it not ultimately so that I can become more Christlike? That I might be able to draw ever nearer to him, my King, my creator, my Lord? What if one day in my solitude and my celibacy and my undivided devotion, God pulls back the curtain that stands between this world and the next, and, like he did for John, or Paul, he shows me and I am able to experience firsthand that presence of God, the real and tangible presence of his love for me, his utter devotion toward me, the inescapable, incorruptible, unbetraying love and sacrifice – how could I compare this with an earthy marriage that is here and gone tomorrow, that will be plagued with hardship and pain and ultimately loss even if we work tediously toward unified goals and aspirations and dreams?
I’m excited to see what God truly does have in store for me for the rest of my days on this earth. God knows I have no earthly aspirations of my own any longer. Whether it be a future marriage and the woman of my dreams or a life filled with silent moments devoted to God, of simple pleasures, of living closely with and in nature, the beauty of silent sunrises and sunsets, the freedom to wander in the woods, or the unlocking of the hidden mysteries of his Word – regardless of how he goes about it, the purpose of this life, in the end, is to draw closer to Him.
Until my next post….
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Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
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But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!