At the edge of grace

“God’s grace will not take you where it cannot keep you.” Edmond Sanganyado

***** Disclaimer: I am not a theologian or a bible scholar, so I am going to tread lightly here as there are very strong and clear teachings on the biblical grounds for divorce and what is considered acceptable. The point of this post is not to dissect the ins and outs of what the bible says about divorce. Although that is important, it’s not my role in this post. Know that I have done that for myself and you are free to do it for yourself as well.

If we spend our days trying to avoid the landmines of stepping out of God’s will, then we will be afraid to take any risks for his kingdom. But when you know there is a net of grace, when you know that God will catch you and set you back on his path when you fall, then you’ll feel the freedom to pursue the adventure that kingdom living is all about. Will Davis Jr.

Grace. God’s unmerited favor. An overflow of mercy. One of the most defining concepts and beautiful gifts of Christianity. A gift of unconditional love from God to His unworthy people. We didn’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, we can’t do anything to lose or keep it; it simply is.

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:20-24

Grace is there for all of us, not because we deserve it but because God loves us. When we least knew Him or deserved His love, He loved us the most. And He still does. All of us. Even the ones of us who don’t choose Him. Even those of us who struggle. Even the people who can’t accept the gift of grace, and the ones who refuse to give it. Even those who have hurt us. Even gay people, homeless people, addicts, mentally ill people, and divorced people. Even those people. Even you. Even me.

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

Here’s a secret… we are all those people. Yet so often many religious people of the world confuse God’s love and grace with their own interpretation of the rules and regulations of the Bible, deciding that grace is only sufficient for certain types of people. The good ones. The ones who follow all the rules. The ones who did everything “right.”

So then what happens to those of us who did everything wrong? What becomes of those of us who love God desperately but still have failed miserably at following all the rules and stepping on all the right steps?

Is God’s grace still there?

What about those of us who repeatedly fall into patterns of sin and haven’t figured out how to allow God’s love to be enough to pull us up? What about the people who tried, who keep trying, and keep falling? How about the people who know God, understand his grace and love, and still faulter?

Do we lose His grace?

Do those people who have lived their life stretching the limits of grace eventually go too far, finding the edges of mercy and falling outside of them?

“And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16

Although I’ve been a Christian my whole life, I’ve struggled with the religious part of my faith. The side of my Baptist roots that send a message of “Follow all the rules and guidelines, keep the laws and God will accept you.” I was taught truth, but my interpretation of that truth lead me to a place of spiritual instability, believing that unless I was good…behaved good, performed good, did good, thought good, looked good, acted good…God wouldn’t love me. I knew that I was saved but doubted God’s full acceptance of me. I feared his rejection of my heart and that I’d never really be good enough to be in his presence.

Because I never felt good enough within myself, and because I stumbled continuously in my life, I certainly never believed God would deem me good enough. It stopped me from even praying at times because I just knew He wouldn’t want to hear from a disgusting little thing like me.

I had it all backwards.

As I grew in my spiritual walk and deepened my relationship with God, I began to see the lie in this type of thinking. I began to understand God’s love, mercy and grace; and that it was there for me. That He loved me unconditionally, was for me, and not against me. That I am always good enough just as I am; in spite of my circumstances, my failures, my mistakes, my poor choices, and my struggles.

All the Christian songs sing this truth. All the modern preachers teach this fact. The new testament claims this principle and demonstrates this freedom.

Yet, I have encountered people who still view it differently.

Divorce is a delicate subject in the faith world. Its a delicate subject in the world period. It is not an easily accepted decision, no matter what the circumstances of that decision may have been. What many people seem to miss, particularly religious people, is that it’s not an easy decision to accept for the ones who have made that choice either. No one starts out thinking their marriage will fail; and for someone like me, rooted in Christian beliefs and a committed spirit, the resolution was not reached flippantly and I certainly wasn’t going to surrender without a fight.

I wrestled with my decision for months and even years. Truth be told, I wrestled with my decision to get married in the first place, but ultimately landed on, “It’s the right thing to do.” Trying to backwards loop my way to redemptive grace in my own strength, I continued to make decisions based on my understanding of “the right thing.” Knowing I was stretching the limits of grace as I understood it, I hoped my obedience to “the right thing” would be enough to keep me on the correct side of its edges. I didn’t understand that all I had to do to live within God’s grace filled arms was to love Him and accept His love of me.

When it started to become clear that my bigger mistake was getting married to begin with, I struggled with what to do next. I believe strongly in God’s ability to perform miracles and change any heart. He is more than able. But the amazing thing about God is that He gives us the grace to choose Him. In order for Him to change a heart, that heart has to be submitted to Him and willing to be changed.

I cannot will a heart to change, though I so wish I could. I can pray and plant seeds, and that is the extent of my power. When I finally understood that truth and that I simply cannot change someone by loving them and hoping they’ll become something else, nor is changing them my role, I was able to loosen my grip on the illusion of control. I still held onto the hope of a miracle, but I knew I had to get out of the way in order for that to happen.

It took me a long time to figure out how to do that and to know how out of the way I’d have to be. I prayed without ceasing. I went to counseling, I begged him to come to counseling, I sought help through my pastor and our church, I met with a mentor couple and begged him to join me, I went to Alanon 3 to 4 times a week, I was at church every time the doors were opened, I talked to family, sought Christian counsel, read the Bible, and had a team of people praying for me and my husband. I loved, I held on, I believed, I strived, I struggled, I let go, I controlled, I released, I pretended, I hoped, I committed and persevered. I ignored all advice and input from others that said, “Get out,” both Christian and otherwise. I know the bible verse that says, “God hates divorce.” I’d done it once before and vowed that’d be the last time no matter how bad things got. I’d stood by this man for so long and was certainly not going to give up just before the miracle I’d prayed so hard for. I went into the marriage knowing many of the problems I would face, but delusionally believing they’d miraculously fade away as time went on and my love endured.

As time went on, even with some of the miracles I prayed for happening, the struggles didn’t decrease. There were highs and lows as there are in any roller coaster, but the momentary highs simply could not outweigh the lows. The problem was not that I couldn’t bare the lows. They were painful and overwhelming but I went into this marriage knowing they would come, as they would in any marriage. I was not a stranger to the fact that marriage takes hard work and that it’s not always fun. I understood love is a choice, not just a feeling. I believed that I was to stay committed to this man and this suffering marriage no matter what because I had chosen to be in it and God is bigger than the suffering. Ultimately I wanted to be a part of the miracle I’d prayed for since the earliest days of our relationship.

Eventually it became clear the lows were the norm, not the exception. After a lot of counseling, spiritual guidance and wrestling, I found myself closer to the edge. I grappled back and forth with the knowledge that while God is in the business of miracles and marriage, there are also situations where He releases His child from the grips of hell.

I believe there are situations that actively cause more harm than good by staying. I was in such a situation.

As I continued to pour myself into this man and this broken marriage, clinging tightly to God’s promises and my faith in His ability to redeem and restore, I fought against everything that lined up as an answer to my prayers. I wasn’t getting the answers I wanted. I struggled to believe God could be giving me the go ahead to end my marriage. To give up. I contended with the evidence and created my own reality, all the while knowing the truth in my spirit, holding onto hope for dear life.

“This can’t be it God. This can’t be you telling me Its okay to let go. I need you to speak loud and clear to me. I need you to make it blatantly obvious what you are calling me to do. Let my desires fade out so I can hear you without question.”

He answered me.

Every avenue I took in an attempt to save my marriage and my husband lead me to the same place. A place I had run away from since the beginning. A place that confirmed my inability to be the savior and my failed endeavor to create the life I wanted for us. A place that confirmed I in fact would be forever trying to shove a square peg into a round hole. I argued with God, defended my marriage and my reasons for staying, still believing I was doing “the right thing.”

But who was I doing the right thing for? Who’s version of right was I living by? Was I following God’s truth or religious people?

I recently had a conversation with a woman who, had I not been an established Christian, planted firmly in grace, could have really thrown me in a bad direction. Instead it simply made me think. Her questions were not inherently bad and her intentions were good, yet it was the very type of conversation of twisted faith and law-based doctrine that I’d struggled with in the past, and even within myself. She peppered me with every pointed question you can think of. Every question I’d asked myself prior to separating from my husband. Every question that kept me hanging on, dying a slow death because I was too afraid to let go.

What if a miracle occurs and your husband’s heart changes?

Do you really think you can ever get remarried again after this?

Do you believe you have biblical grounds for divorce?

Have you done everything?

You, as a believing spouse, can sanctify your husband to Christ, and if you leave him, he will be unprotected. (As though my husband can somehow ride the coattails of my faith and I can save him through my relationship with God.)

So you married him knowing he was an alcoholic?

What about your boys? You’re going to raise 3 boys with no father?

I can’t count the number of times these questions and many others have run circles around my brain. I stayed believing I was to be Jesus to my husband, showing him the love of Christ no matter what he showed me. Turning the other cheek, being the Proverbs 31 wife, and all the other religious things that get twisted and used against people if placed in the wrong hands. Even my husband used these things against me in his manipulative efforts to guilt me into staying while he did nothing to change himself or reciprocate the effort.

The problem with all of this is not that it isn’t a relevant line of questioning and even an accurate depiction of my role as a wife. I took that role very seriously, and while I was far from perfect, I believe I gave the best I could given the situation I was in. The conversation simply reminded me of how faith and religion often get spun in a negative light because of the legalistic views many Christians hold onto.

The issue I have is that it sets people up to stay in situations they shouldn’t be in because they feel as though they have to be Jesus with skin on. While we are in fact called to that great of a purpose on this earth in many ways, I simply am not Jesus. I am human. I have made a lot of mistakes and I will have to pay the consequences of those mistakes for the rest of my life; but even Jesus had boundaries and requirements for how we treat each other.

While the bible is clear about God’s hatred of divorce, it is also clear that there are exceptions. The bible is also very clear about God’s hatred of his children being mistreated. Its very clear about our role in extending grace and love to people while also maintaining healthy boundaries in relationships. 

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” 1 Corinthians 15:10

While I am called to love, forgive, show compassion, nurture, and extend grace to those around me, I am not called to be Jesus.  I am called to point people to Jesus. I can plant seeds all day long, but until the soil is ready to receive them, my efforts will be futile. Tilling the soil is God’s job. Not mine.

God’s grace is most easily seen in broken lives. His grace abounds in the deepest, darkest, ugliest places. My life has been evidence of this truth. His grace is experienced and observed most in the lives of the broken who realize the only way to redemption and wholeness is through Him. 

“For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Romans 6:14

I think as Christians it is crucial that we demonstrate the truth of who God is, not just the laws of religion. It’s a dangerous spiritual approach to profess Jesus while only claiming the pieces of the Bible that fit our purposes, whether good or bad. While it’s important to hold each other accountable and question controversial issues and decisions, it’s important to do so in the spirit of grace and love.

“But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.” 2 Corinthians 8:7

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9

There is no edge of grace. Although I’ve often feared there was and that I’d fallen off of it one too many times, true grace shows me that no matter what, God is still here. No matter what the details of my life may be; regardless of how ugly, how messy, and how almost irreverent many seasons of my life have been, all I have to do is look around and the grace of God is there.

God is everywhere. His love permeates everything. His grace is endless. It’s there when I’m good, it’s there when I fail, it’s there in my striving, it’s there when I surrender. In this life, I will never be anything more than human. That means I will make way too many mistakes, every single day. God knew that and He’s good with it. Although I will always try to be the best I can be, I’ll never be perfect, nor can I perfect all the broken pieces of my life. They’re there and God is using them all to create something beautiful that glorifies Him.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

To live within God’s grace, I don’t even have to look up. I just have to cry out.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9

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