Eleven and a half years — that’s how long it lasted. Eleven and half years of marriage and then gone. It ended in death, though nobody died. Just the marriage. I say just, but it is a death as much as any person. When she told me she was finished it was like a knock at the door from the police chaplain — utter shock, not real, numbness, anger, fear. Lots of fear. Or was it grief? C.S. Lewis wrote about how grief felt so much like fear, so maybe it was that.
By the time it ended and the signed order from the judge came through it wasn’t shock anymore. It was the final breath of one dying from a wasting disease, a rattling soft whiff that passed with so little fanfare it felt almost illegal given the celebration that started its life and the effort that had gone into keeping it alive. It’s strange how a marriage begins with a party attended by everyone you love (and a few you’re obliged to invite) and ends with naught but a signed document passed from judge to clerk to postman.
The grief was softer too, though no less strong. It was not a raucous, raging thing but rather the constant ache of something missing. I’ve read of soldiers having had limbs amputated yet still being able to feel the limb that is gone. They feel pain where there is no appendage to hurt. This is that pain, or is it grief? It’s hard to tell, and maybe it is both.
2016 was a year of losses. Celebrities, heroes, icons, and American hope and decency all seemed to pass away. For me, it was the year I lost my marriage. Actually, that’s not true. It was the year the loss of my marriage was completed. It had been dying for a long time despite every effort to resuscitate and recuperate it. It just did not want to live any longer because, unlike kidneys, one cannot make up for the loss of the other and do the work of two.
I write. I write to process and to share. I write because I communicate better and more deeply this way than any other way and because it is the taproot of my emotions and beliefs. This means to write well I must be honest, to put forth words that reflect what is real in me, my heart, my life, my faith. Honesty doesn’t mean utter transparency — life can (should) still be private. It should be shared with real people in real moments of real life, not just in print. But the best writing, the kind that means anything, is honest writing.
It must not pose as something it is not or come from a place that does not exist. It ought not give the reader an impression things are one way when they are quite another. And if writing must not do these things it means the writer must not, since without the latter there is no former. So I write this now, reader, so you will know the place from which I write. It is not a confession. It is not a memoir or an exposé. Neither is it an argument for or against anything. It is simply a writer revealing his context a bit so that his readers, if they care, can know from whom they hear.
Barnabas Piper: My Place
While these last years have been ferociously difficult for me they have been the proving ground for God to me. Never have I been lower and never has He been closer or greater. I do not say this in a Bible-band aid way. No band-aid has stopped the bleeding yet — yet. But God has given me life as I bleed — through His word and His people. I feel as if I am dying daily and yet I am as alive in faith as I have ever been. The tattoo adorning my right forearm — I believe, help my unbelief — has been inked on my heart as well.
And strangely I believe more in marriage now than I ever have. I believe it is worth fighting for and investing in. I believe it is worth pain and tears and patience and forgiveness and then doing all of that again and again. I believe it is a gift, a gift that God gives and gives and gives each day. It only ends when one or both stop accepting the gift any longer. I see marriage as a miracle, designed by God and utterly dependent on Him.
And I believe life is lived offline, with people who are in my life — friends and loved ones and counselors. There are those who write stories of their ups and downs and life’s ebbs and flows — relational trials, work crises, personal struggles — and it works for them and their readers. I am not one nor will I ever be. My life is still private and my own, not to hide anything but for my own sanity and health (and yours too). But from life writing flows, so life must, in some manner and to some extent, be shared. So I share.
Why write this?
I question my own motives in writing this. Is it sordid? Is it to gain sympathy? Is it to avoid criticism or worse, to benefit from the publicity criticism brings? Lord, I hope not.
I want to be forthright and honest. People feel deceived when they sense a thing is hidden or when it is confirmed it was. I want to be able to write freely without feeling as if a portion, a defining portion, of my life must be concealed for no reason other than privacy. I want to be able to write about faith and life in all the ways I have before without tap dancing around the land mines of marriage and love and pain. So I write this to diffuse the explosives, or maybe explode them in a controlled environment.
My hope is that readers will trust me as much or more after reading this. Or maybe they are disappointed or offended; if so I understand. I do not offer an explanation or any details — those are for those close and invested to know. But I offer this piece as a show of respect, for the relationship (if that is the word) I have with readers through the written word and the common pursuit of truth. I want to be trusted and not just trusted — trustworthy.
And I write this for reality, to reflect what is in the world where we live. Life is brutal and hurts so much there are not words. Yet we live it. I write in the midst of it. We read looking for something because of it. And God is good in the midst of it and hope shines through the darkness of it. These do not make pain dissipate nor do they take us away from it. We still live this life, and write it. So we must plod ahead, in hope, together.