We Can Be Heroes, Just For One Day

Brick at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center Davidson Center. Purchased while we were married; we were divorced before it was put on display.

And the license said you had to stick around until I was dead
But if you’re tired of looking at my face, I guess I already am
But you’ve never been a waste of my time
It’s never been a drag
So take a deep breath and count back from ten
And maybe you’ll be alright

— Liz Phair, “Divorce Song

I was going to write this post anyway, but I’m posting it today because of Anne Jackson.

I wrote a post published Saturday about her book, “Permission To Speak Freely,” and my reaction to it and to learning after finishing the book that she and her husband were divorcing.  She was kind enough to not only read my post this weekend but to actually respond to it, and her response caused the gradual back-burner mulling that was still going on in the dark recesses of my mind to demand more immediate attention.

I may have been a little glib in my review, but the truth is I didn’t realize how much the book was still challenging me.

I stand by my original main thought — the book wasn’t what I was expecting it to be. I reiterate that for two reasons. First, to say that, should she read this post as well, I would be the first to read a book by Anne Jackson closer to my original expectations — dealing more with the things people feel they can’t say in the church, why the church creates that culture, and how the church can begin the work of changing that. The things she wrote about that subject in “Permission” were quite interesting; I would love for her to expound on it.

And I’ll admit again that my review was colored by the fact that those things are very much a pet subject for me; I’m passionate about those issues, and perhaps gave the rest of the book shorter shrift than it deserves for that reason.

I do agree, passionately, with the point she makes in the book — that the reason people feel like they can’t say things is that nobody says those things. Whatever you’re dealing with, you’re not the only one who has experienced brokenness, and there are others who can empathize with where you are and what you’re dealing with because of their own brokenness. But, unfortunately, since no one feels like they can talk about their brokenness, no one talks about their brokenness, and because no one talks about their brokenness, no one feels like they can talk about their brokenness.

She’s right, and she’s also right that the only thing that changes that is when people stop caring if others are transparent, and start being transparent themselves. When someone starts, they give permission for others to follow suit. They create a place where it’s safe to share. I believe this passionately also, and have strived to do this myself, and have encouraged others to do so.

Her book may not have handed me exactly what it wanted, but she’s done something more valuable — she challenged me. And I hope she can appreciate that I offer that as high praise for an author.

Which leaves the other issue; the one Anne talked about in her blog post, the one I eluded to in my review, the one I’ve been mulling ever since.

I wished I hadn’t read about her divorce until after I wrote about the book. It was impossible for me to not be colored by that. I did wait until after writing the review to read her post about her divorce, which may or may not have been good to do.

In my review, I alluded to the fact that the book, to some extent, held her marriage up as evidence of the merits of her arguments. In her reply, Jackson wrote:

Yep. My marriage failed. And it sucks. And the “progress” made in my book is now printed tens of thousands of times to remind me.

Yet have I failed? Am I less loved? Am I less learning?

Hell no.

I’ve much to learn, much to grow, and never…ever…ever…ever…have the answers.

(As stated in the final chapter) 🙂

And here’s the thing — I’ve been there.

You read Anne’s post and you read her book, and together you get this picture: A marriage of about seven and a half years. Struggles because of her sexual abuse in the past. Struggles because of her addiction issues. Perseverance. Love. Victories over those struggles. A marriage that shows that those things can be overcome. And then, one day, it’s over.

I’ve been there. I lived that picture, exactly. Exactly.

The worst days came about two years after we married. I got a call on Valentine’s Day that my wife had done things I assumed couldn’t be true. They were. Less than two weeks later, we celebrated our second anniversary in a mental health facility.

Those were not good days. Nor were the ones that followed them.

But we persevered. We endured. We struggled and we survived. And things got better.

And because we persevered, because we endured, because we struggled and survived. We thought we had won. We declared victory over the demons that plagued us. We encouraged others. We counted ourselves as a success story. When a cousin’s marriage was falling apart, we held ourselves up as an example of the fact that if we could endure what we endured, their problems were certainly no reason for divorce.

And those demons laughed, and waited.

Yes, the worst was behind us. Yes, things had gotten better. But, eventually, even the better version of those problems, over time, wore us down.

And one day we stopped persevering. One day we stopped enduring. One day we stopped struggling and surviving.

And it ended.

We stopped being a shining example, and became another statistic.

Her post does a good job of capturing some of the emotion of being in that situation. If you’ve been there, if you know anyone who has, if you fear being there, read it.

My most glib and regrettable comment in my review was this: “one’s answers to life’s problems are valuable only if they’re efficacious, and Jackson fails to fully make that case using her life as example.” One, it’s unkind to rub salt in such a fresh wound. Writing online provides a certain illusion of disconnect, but the truth is its a network that allows anyone to connect with anyone. My words were placed where they could find their way to their subject, and as such were inconsiderate.

Second, they’re not really true. Like I said, I agree with what she wrote. I agree with the value of transparency. Nothing in her story belies that.

So why would I write that? Because of the third issue — those words weren’t really about her. They were about me. Substitute “Jackson” for “Hitt” (and change the pronoun, of course) and it’s a truer statement. Who am I to ever act like I know anything?

Unlike Anne Jackson, I don’t have a book recounting those victories and perseverance, my successes and the lessons I shared from them.

All I have is a brick.

A brick we bought during a fundraiser for a major project here in town. We assumed we would be together forever. We had divorced by the time the brick was placed. There’s an irony there about being “written in stone.”

The brick is still there.

I could probably have it removed. But I don’t. Because, as I’ve said many times since, “those things happened.” That’s part of my past. That’s part of my story. It’s a testament to my brokenness. There are lessons there and truths, too valuable to be erased for the convenience of creating a prettier picture.

Things happen sometimes that suck.

Anne, you wrote a good book. I hope your current life situation doesn’t diminish that for you at all. Whatever is happening now, whatever happens in the future, those things happened. Your book is truth. And truth is an absolute good. Be proud of it.

For me, the lesson is this.

Until we die, the story isn’t over. Our lives aren’t fairy tales. We can’t declare “happily ever after” until the story is completely told.

Victory doesn’t come with major battles that ensure lasting success. It comes one day at a time.

When we declare victory, we’re setting ourselves up for defeat.

To have any chance, the only way — the only way — is to fight each day as if that’s the day that matters. And be glad for that day, and not think winning today somehow wins tomorrow.

We do indeed have “much to learn, much to grow, and never…ever…ever…ever…have the answers.”

I’ll also add that you can get an autographed copy of the book for $10 or a really cool t-shirt via the official PTSF website.

Just Like A Prayer

This is the latest in my series of blog entries taking a fresh look at a variety of topics over the year. I’ve set up a page on the blog explaining the project and linking to my entries. This post’s topic is “Prayer.”

I’m behind on writing these, and I’ve been pondering this one for a while before finally finding time to write it, so it’s been through several mental iterations before I typed the first letter.

I’ve been working through my thoughts lately on corporate prayer, and had planned to write about that. Should we pray differently in groups than we do alone? Should we close our eyes when we pray in groups? Things like that. (I’m leaning towards “no” to both, for what it’s worth.)

But even though that’s where I am with my current rethinking of the topic of prayer, for some reason, I really felt like I should go back a bit in writing this post, and tell the story of a pivotal time in my prayer life. So I will.

"Praying Hands" (study for an Apostl...

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I never stopped praying after the divorce. Not really. Not completely.

Oh, I came very close. Basically, I did everything but stop praying then.

My faith in God wasn’t shaken. But my faith in my relationship with Him was.

What was the point in praying? If He really cared about me, if He really listened, I wouldn’t be in this situation to be debating this issue.

I had prayed. Really I had.

I’d prayed for Him to fix my marriage. I’d prayed for Him to give Nicole a willingness to work things out. I’d prayed that He make me a better husband.

My mom told me a story not long afterward about when I was a child, and when I broke a toy, I would take it to my father, and say, “Fix it, Daddy.” Back then, I lacked the understanding to actually put it that eloquently in my prayers, but that was pretty much the sentiment. My marriage was broken. “Fix it, Daddy.”

But He didn’t.

Or, at least, my marriage ended.

So what’s the point of praying? I had shared with Him my heart, and He had shown how much He cared.

I kept praying. But my prayer was almost bitter, like the bit from the old Five Man Electical Band song, Signs — “Thank you, Lord, for thinkin’ ’bout me. I’m alive and doin’ fine.” I told God what was going on in my life, how I was feeling, what my issues were, and so forth.

But I asked for nothing.

No requests, no intercession. I didn’t pray for others out of a feeling that I would be hurting them more than helping them.

I’m not sure how long this went no. Weeks? Months?

I do know what changed it. It was the smallest of things. Something that normally a person probably wouldn’t notice or pay attention to. But something that made a huge difference for me.

My sister-in-law said she was praying for me.

It helps in telling this story if you know Erin. She’s kinda amazing. Jonathan did well. She’s pretty and she’s smart, but most relevant to this story, she’s incredibly sweet and has a beautiful heart. She’s also the mother of two of the greatest kids on the planet.

In my hurt, in my despair, in my confusion, I could believe that God didn’t care about my prayers. That He didn’t care about what I wanted.

But even in my hurt and despair and confusion, I couldn’t believe for a moment that He didn’t care about Erin’s prayers. Not for a second.

And, using the transitive property, if God cares about Erin’s prayers, and Erin is praying for me, then God has to care about me.

I couldn’t escape it.

Regardless of how I felt, I had to bow to the superior power of logic.

I went to the track near my house where I do serious prayer, and had a heart-to-heart with God about it. I wish I could say that it brought about a sea change in my prayer life, but it didn’t. And, really, that was probably better. I didn’t get the answers. But I got a whole lot of questions, that I’m still trying to answer.

There was a phase when I prayed, but only that God do things that could be accomplished through me. Don’t change the world, change my heart. No “poofing,” no prayer for anything that required the supernatural. This related to the “We pray to love” phase, when intercession focused on wanting God to soften my heart toward people so that I would want to stand in the gap for them.

This was followed by the “remake the world” phase, praying boldly to ask God to do things so huge they could only be Him. And during this time I learned that, during the current age at least, God can remake the world, but it’s still fallen. He can do anything, but man can still ruin it.

I assumed that one or the other of these approaches had to be better, but since then, I’ve been working to find some balance, to let them be different instruments playing together in harmony. And still seeking another better route.

I guess, if anything, I’ve learned it doesn’t really matter. If I’m in a relationship with someone, I’m not going to sit around debating what sort of strategy I should use for talking to them. I’m just going to talk to them.

Same with prayer. Really, it should be about saying to God what we feel like saying to God. Treating Him not like a bureaucrat to whom we have to submit requests in the proper format, but like a caring Father, albeit an omnipotent one, who wants what’s best for us.

But the other lesson in all of this is that we don’t always know what our prayer accomplishes. In a very real way, Erin’s prayer for me was fulfilled, but almost certainly not in a way that she imagined. But her prayer for me, and her incidental comment that she was praying for me, made a huge difference.

Really, I should pray like I believe my prayers will do for others what hers did for me.

Father, help me to do so.