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I was reading through some old journals the other day; it’s one of my favorite pastimes.
I love how journals can capture the state of my heart and mind at a particular place and time. They reveal things that photographs will never be able to capture. Often, what happens when I am journaling is I eventually start writing out a prayer. Sitting on my bed with an old journal open on my lap, I realized I was reading a prayer for my ex-partner. One of many prayers, blessings, pleas, for him and for us.
Reading my words made me realize how many of those journal entries I had written over the years. Pleading with God to help him, to help us, to save our relationship. Years of prayers. Years of reading relationship books. Years of asking God to intervene—and God never saved us.
All the time, from Christian communities, I hear that God is the God of the impossible. That nothing is too small for him to conquer. He can move mountains, so why couldn’t he move my husband’s heart? Why couldn’t he breathe peace and healing into our relationship? I don’t have the answer to that. But something was revealed to me at that moment. I realised the danger that comes from teaching women that it is their job to pray for their husbands. We get taught about the sacredness of marriage and how God always wants to save his lost sheep.
“God is the God of the impossible, so never stop praying,” we are told.
On the one hand, yes, that is true. The God who holds the universe, created the universe, rules the universe is bigger than our human minds and problems. I have felt that to be true. But on the other hand, if I would have relied solely on what the Christian community was telling me to do, I would have spent not just years but decades pouring over journals asking God to intervene. I would have devoted my life to praying for my husband. I would have done this at the cost of living my own life. My world would have been so focused on him and saving our marriage that my dreams and desires would become faint whispers in my heart, barely audible anymore. I would have ceased to exist or take up the space I was created to fill.
So, how do you know when to stop praying for your marriage? How do you know when to walk away? In my experience, I have found that Christian communities talk too much about putting all of our trust in God. What about our trust in ourselves? There was a quote from Rumi you’ve probably have heard that says, “I went looking for God and found only myself. I went looking for myself and found only God.”
When we listen to God, when we hear that deep knowing place within, is that us, or is that God? What is the difference? I don’t think there is one. But in all of my time attending church, being part of small groups, attending bible studies, I have never (in a Christian setting) experienced a group meditation. There is lots of worship. There is lots of talking. There is lots of preaching. There is a lot of looking to the front of the room to the person who has all the answers. But never has there been direction to go within to feel our own hearts and uncover the mysteries there. We get taught that God is an external God. But we never get taught how to be still long enough, consistently enough to hear God within our own hearts.
I was praying my little heart out for my marriage for so long. Then I came to a place where I knew that the relationship was done. Words were said that struck a chord in me, and I realised things were never going to change.
I believe that was an answer to the years of journal entry prayers I had written. God knew I needed an answer. God knew I was begging for clarity, direction, guidance. But it didn’t come as happily ever after in my marriage. It came as a wake-up call, a permission slip from heaven to listen to my own knowledge. It was a permission slip to trust my gut and walk away. I felt that because I had spent years getting quiet. I had cultivated within myself an awareness of what that deep knowing sounds like; what it feels like. If I hadn’t, if I had relied solely on the teachings of the Christian community, I would not have trusted it. Obviously, divorce is a sin, right? The “Christian God” is not someone who answers prayers by leading you into sin. I would have known, but the knowing was going against what I was being told. I would have kept praying. I would have continued asking God to save my marriage. All the while, God was telling me to save myself.
This is a call to anyone who has been in an unhealthy, abusive, or toxic relationship and told from someone in a religious community that they need to continue to pray for their partner. Yes, pray. Come before God. Open your heart and lay everything down. But don’t stay there at the expense of what you know you need. Spend time being alone with yourself. Spend time getting quiet and listening to the sound of your own heart and mind. Spend time cultivating trust with your inner knowing. This is where God lives. You can meet with God in places of worship, you can hear about God from pastors and teachers, but they do not own the truth of God. Only you can feel that within your own heart. No middle man required.
Authors note: A key point here is the word “Christian community.” I want to state that I believe that is different and perhaps a watered-down version from what the bible teaches. The bible is beautiful and filled with truth, if not fact. However, as humans, we are impacted by our communities. We are influenced by the messages that are both said and not said. My experience comes predominantly from being influenced by the community. I am sure I could find bible verses and passages that would encourage me to pause, go within, understand my internal world and workings, but I have never had that taught to me. This is solely from my experience and not a blanket statement for all religious communities or experiences.