Setbacks

Setbacks

Because of the many financial pressures coming to many good willed couples during this recession, I reflected on the comment that some make that money problems are the cause of divorce. I have never agreed with that comment. Money is a symptom of a deeper issue. Money is not the cause of the divorce.

Let me back up and share with you why I think this way.

Do you remember when you dated and how the relationship progressed positively until your first big fight? At that moment you experienced a setback --a temporary change from better to worse. Or, during the birth of your children you experienced joy immeasurable but as the children grew and entered their teens they treated you like you were from another planet. You experienced a setback -- a temporary change from better to worse. Or, during the first several years of employment your salary and bonuses exceeded expectations, enabling many wonderful purchases, but when the economy entered a recession you hit a financial brick wall. You experienced a setback -- a temporary change from better to worse.

During those disappointing times, as you reflect, how would you rate your emotional maturity, your response to your spouse, and your faith in God?

Often I hear couples say, "if we didn't have these financial problems, we would have a great marriage." Or, "if we didn't struggle sexually, we would have a wonderful relationship." Or, "if we didn't have all these teenage children, our marriage would be thriving."

But I want to challenge that thinking. I don't think that's necessarily true. I remember the comedian who said, "I have been poor and I have been rich. Rich is better." Indeed, we are happier when life is easier. But if we take a dogmatic position that says -- and I'm applying this to marriage -- external circumstances determine my marital happiness then we are destined to unhappiness in our marriage when we encounter serious setbacks. We buy into a lie that says "because I have financial, sexual, and child-rearing problems, my marriage is going to be unhappy."

We may be less happy but we don't have to be unhappy in the marriage. Truth is, we can have a meaningful marriage during the setbacks if we make a choice to trust God, love/respect a spouse, and respond in emotionally mature ways. No one says this choice will be easy but we can make this choice, and when we make this choice each of these areas(trust, love/respect, controlled anger/fear) serves as a track to run on.

I believe we have internal freedom to make the right internal choice. We can experience a measure of happiness in marriage apart from happy happenings. Maybe we won't click our heels with glee but we don't have to pop pills to go to bed and pop pills to get up from bed.

Do we really have this freedom of choice? Look at Job and Job's wife. Both experienced the same events that inflicted suffering upon them. Talk about setbacks! No one envies what they went through. They lost property, servants, children... nearly everything. But notice the difference between Job and his wife. Job made the internal choice during this setback to bless God, refusing to sin with his lips. Notice that he trusted God, did not show hostility toward his wife, and maturely responded (not controlled by anger or fear).

Job 1:20 Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped.
Job 1:21 He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD."
Job 1:22 Through all this Job did not sin nor did he blame God.

On the other hand, Job's wife wanted Job to curse God, which suggests she was cursing God. She made the internal choice to shake her fist at heaven, show contempt toward Job, and react foolishly(probably out of anger and fear).

Job 2:9 Then his wife said to him, "Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die!"
Job 2:10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

We see clearly with Job and Job's wife that setbacks do not CAUSE our sinful reactions but REVEAL our sinful reactions. For instance, circumstances did not CAUSE Jesus to be the Son of God but REVEALED him to be the Son of God. Let me illustrate it this way. A speck of sand in the human eye first "causes" irritation, then infection, and if not cared for loss of vision. That same speck of sand in an oyster first "causes" irritation, then concretion, and then produces a beautiful pearl. Technically the sand did not CAUSE the loss of vision or produce a pearl. The sand REVEALED the inner properties of the human eye and oyster. If that is not so, the next time sand enters your eye be careful because a pearl may pop out.

In life, these setbacks are irritants which ultimately reveal our faith in God, our willingness to choose love or respect in marriage, and the level of our emotional maturity in response.

Bottom line, my response is my responsibility. For instance, in my marriage to Sarah she does not cause me to react unlovingly but she reveals my unloving reactions. I don't cause her to react disrespectfully but I reveal her disrespectful reactions.

I remember at military school, when I was age 16, I scuffed my spit-shined shoe. I exploded in anger. Just then I felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice saying, "calm down Mr. Eggerichs, calm down." It was the commandant. At that moment, I realized I needed to face myself. It was a serious moment of self-discovery. I didn't get angry because I scuffed my shoe. The scuffing of the shoe revealed my angry way of dealing with setbacks. The scuffing of the shoe surfaced my immaturity.

Sarah recounts in our early marriage coming at me loudly and me responding, "Sarah, you can be right in what you're saying but wrong at the top of your voice." She testifies how that profoundly affected her. She realized the conflict with me was revealing things to her about herself. She chose to respond more respectfully, and gained a great deal of power to influence my heart.

When Sarah had breast cancer and I had melanoma, we had to face off with potential death. For a period of time, we didn't know exactly what the future held. If you were watching from the outside would you expect us to shake a fist at God, shake a fist at each other, and then throw temper tantrums? Why not? Don't bad circumstances cause us to react the way we react? No, I assume you would tell us, if you really cared about us, that such reactions are not being caused by this setback but are revealed by the setback.

What are you going through right now? Are you feeling overwhelmed by a setback like unexpected unemployment, the shocking affair, second deployment, etc.? How will you cope? Will you react like Job or Job's wife? Because you've read this far, I believe you will lean toward the side of Job. My role is to encourage you. I believe in you. Temporarily things are going from better to worse. Don't lose heart. You know how to trust God. You know how to put on love or respect. And, you know how to respond maturely without excessive anger or fear.

Stay the course. Though you will falter like Sarah and I falter, these setbacks will not CAUSE your marriage to go under. Don't buy into the lie that these setbacks destine your marriage to end in a divorce court.