Relationships: A Beautiful Mess

Relationship. This simple word can evoke so many emotions. For some, it may denote warm and fuzzy feelings, celebration, connection, joy, but for others it may bubble up pain, loneliness, trauma, loss.

Relationships can be wonderful, providing a richness and depth to our life journey like nothing else. We are created for relationships, but honestly, relationships can be downright messy. Some of us may struggle to even have one healthy relationship. The reality is just as easily as a relationship blossoms, it can wither, leaving us despairing, wondering, is it all worth it? Marriage is no exception.

Relationships are necessary for us to thrive. Early in the creation of the world, God put relationship as a priority.

God said it wasn’t good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18) so he created Eve to be his wife, the first marriage. But we also encounter in Eden the beginnings of messy and broken relationships. With their sin, they became separated from God and their relationship suffered. We see blame and shame and division become rooted in their interactions. Part of our messy relationship inheritance is the ill advised choices Adam and Eve made in Eden and their consequences for all mankind. But as we know even in their mess, God showed them hope in the foreshadowing of Jesus to redeem them back into relationship with God (Genesis 3:15). Relationship is essential and as evidenced by Adam and Eve, just because we are created for them doesn’t mean they are uncomplicated.

Picture this. You are at a party, a friendly get together, a work event. Just hanging out, enjoying the social moment when WHAM, the barrage of relationship questions begin. ‘Are you married?’ ‘How long have you been married?’ Pretty typical and innocent questions, right? But for those of us who have been divorced, separated, or are in a marriage that is barely hanging on, these questions can be emotional TNT. These simple questions used to shake me to my core. I experienced it all— marriage struggles, followed by separation, divorce. My relationship with my then ex-husband was a mess and I was struggling to define my new status, no longer bounded by marriage after thirteen years. The guilt and shame were like a gag, strangling my voice, creating long awkward pauses in the conversation. I would anxiously search for the ‘right’ answer to keep up appearances, to avoid having to explain the mess of my broken relationship.

Our relationships may be going off the rails or just listing along, slightly scarred. What do we do when we find ourselves in messy relationships and there seems no hope going forward? Well, I can tell you that there is hope. Oh, my is there hope! In my personal journey, I have experienced a messy, fractured, lifeless relationship restored. I was in a hopeless place. A broken place. A messy place. But what appeared to be an end, a new beginning arose. My story testifies of that hope that something new can come out of the mess.

I have learned that there is beauty in the mess. My marriage had been a mess, a disaster. Three kids, shared values, good families, regular church, close friends, and still we failed at marriage. A path filled with good intentions (but not actions) that truly led me to hell. I bailed out of the marriage. When a relationship is a mess, run. Right? Get out of there. Escape the pain. It was a choice and I could not go back but I definitely moved forward. Small step, by small step. Steps that were often agonizing sometimes joyful, but always hope filled, even if it was just a glimmer. What was ugly and discarded, was slowly evolving into something new and pleasing.

As I write this blog, I sit across from my husband of 5 and/or 25 years in a hotel room in Orlando waiting expectantly for hurricane Dorian to make its landfall. That’s right, husband. Same guy, two different marriages. I could be filled with fear and anxiety, as hurricanes are no joke (especially a Category 4!). But I feel a peace as gratitude washes over me. If you had asked me 10 years ago where I would be today, the expectation of being in the same room with my then ex-husband let alone a hotel room would have been anathema. Ridiculous even to think about. But now, being on the other side, I can see that which was made for evil, God took and made it beautiful.

As time has passed and I have found my foundation again in God, those relationship questions are easier to answer, my response comes quickly and transparently. I have shed the guilt and shame and embraced my identity as defined by God and not my relationship status. I am thankful God’s mercies are new EVERY day. It has brought healing not just to myself but to many as I have shared my beautiful mess of a story. My response is usually — ‘What a great question! You want the short version or the long version . . . ‘

But there is more to this story than just me. This is about you. Your relationships. Your redemption. It’s hard to see to the other side when you are in the trenches. When the mud has been slung, the damage done, and the battle has worn you out. The end looks tragic and inevitable . . .

But I want to encourage you: there is hope. It doesn’t have to end in broken relationships. It can be a new beginning. And it starts with YOU. This great adventure has taught me many things, but I can tell you unequivocally it started with me.

So, I hope you will walk this journey with me over the next couple of weeks and we can explore some simple steps you can take to apply to your relationship struggles. My hope is that together we can plow a path to healing, forgiveness, and yes, maybe even restoration.

I invite you to take one small step. Ask one simple, but hard, question. ‘God, where can I begin to take responsibility for my contribution to my messy relationship?’ This is humility. Yes, easier said than done. But . . . with humility comes wisdom. Proverbs 11:2. What seems a Herculean step, can reap benefits beyond your imagination. Relationships that are presumed dead can bloom once again and the beauty can be magnificent!

God, let your grace abound. Let healing begin. Let us trust you for you alone are able!