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And they lived disappointedly ever after

December 8, 2020 by Eric Stillman 0 comments

Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring. So guard yourself in your spirit, and do not break faith with the wife of your youth. (Malachi 2:15)

In 2001, Judith Wallerstein, Julia Lewis, and Sandra Blakeslee wrote a New York Times bestselling book called The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study. Their study was groundbreaking in that it studied the children of divorce over a 25-year span, describing how a couple’s decision to divorce affects their children not just when they are young, but more conspicuously as they grow up and enter romantic relationships of their own. I read the book about five years ago and found it fascinating. One of the lines that has always stuck with me is this one:

“If parenting has been good, children stand to lose enormously from divorce. Clearly they are better off if the unhappy parents stay married and learn to accept their mutual disappointment.”

And they lived disappointedly ever after…

This past Sunday, we looked at Malachi 2, which includes these stark words from God: “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16). God hates the pain that divorce brings into the lives of the people He loves, as well as the brokenness that divorce brings to the families that He has brought together. Please hear that rebuke clearly: God does not say that He hates divorced people (although He has very strong words in this passage for men who have been trading in their spouses for women who worship foreign gods). What I am writing is not meant to condemn anyone. I know that those who have gone through divorce often deal with their own discouraging blend of self-condemnation and “ex”-condemnation. Instead, please consider this a word of exhortation for those who find themselves in difficult marriages.

I find both God’s words in Malachi 2 and the words of Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee to be a strong challenge to our cultural mandate of “the pursuit of happiness,” which has translated into marriages where husbands and wives prioritize their own satisfaction and seek a divorce or an extramarital affair if their needs are not getting met. The more that belief in God is removed from our culture, the less incentive there is to remain in a difficult marriage; after all, if this life is all there is, then why consign yourself to a life of misery when you could find someone else who could make you happier? But if life is not primarily about our own worldly happiness, but about God’s glory and our holiness, then there are many compelling reasons to persevere and commit to working on a difficult relationship. And if children are involved, then both God’s Word and Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee’s research strongly encourage marital faithfulness and perseverance for the benefit of the generations who will come after us.

The exhortation to “stay married and learn to accept [your] mutual disappointment” is almost comical in how contradictory it is to the fairy tale ending, “and they lived happily ever after.” While the researchers are not writing from a Christian perspective, their words align with the reality that our hearts were created for a relationship with God, and that no earthly partnership, no matter how satisfying, can ever truly fulfill the deepest longings of our heart. Somewhere along the line, the expectations we had on our spouse are frustrated, our hopes for who they would be are dashed, and our rose-colored glasses get permanently tarnished by reality. And when that happens, we have a choice: kick our spouse to the curb and keep searching for that elusive perfect match, or, as Wallerstein, Lewis & Blakeslee so bluntly put it, “learn to accept disappointment.” Let go of the  fairy tale, look to God for the love and fulfillment that your heart desires, and commit to loving the person to whom you are actually married.

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