I recently posted a meme on my social media accounts that garnered a lot of attention from respondents. One particular reader comment caught my attention. The response was very articulate, thoughtful and direct but it was obvious that the message I’d written had struck a chord and pressed on a wound this woman had either long attempted to bury or had not yet fully healed. I know this woman to be a beautiful soul, a devout Catholic and a warrior for the pro-life movement. But while most Catholics already believe in the Church’s position on life and are against abortion in every instance, her response shows that when it comes to marriage and divorce even “devout” Catholics and Christians (those who would even die for the Lord) still struggle with God’s Truth about marriage. After reading, you will understand.
When your spouse leaves you, your first inclination is usually to seek information as to what they are doing, what they are saying and who they are with. This is natural. This is your one flesh spouse and you are desperate to do whatever it takes to heal your relationship and bring them home.
Don't do it!
The social media posts of your prodigal will NEVER bring you peace. They are based on the lifestyle they are currently living, the lies they are telling themselves and the culture's influence on their decisions. Often those decisions are absolutely counter to the life they were once leading, everything they used to preach they believed and, sadly, counter to the faith in Christ they used to practice. You will almost NEVER find information that brings you peace but rather only heartache and pain.
I can't begin to tell you just how many times I went searching for information that I thought would "help" me understand what my prodigal was doing so that I could better be equipped to "fight it." At least that's what I told myself. I really just wanted something, anything that could make me feel anything but powerless and lacking in control of the situation. I'd convince myself that if I could figure out who my prodigal was with or where my prodigal was hanging out that I could somehow do something about it and even feel better. I never did. I felt worse. The phone records, the social media posts, the rumors about where my prodigal slept last night...all of it only made me feel as if I had received another gut kick. It would knock me down, make me sick, anxious and upset and it would consume my thoughts for the next hours, days or even weeks. I never did me any good.
In time, I realized that I always felt best when I had little idea of what was going on while my prodigal was in the metaphorical pigpen and I felt sick when I knew too much. What is too much, you ask? Too much is when I know information God did not intend me to know. Too much is having information that God first said "Um, Christine, I've got this. You don't need this piece of information to help you in your stand. This piece of information in the long run is meaningless because it's transient. It has nothing to do with the final outcome." Too much information is acquired when I try to play God (because He really does need me to help Him out. Right?!). Too much information and snooping is not trusting God.
That being said, God will in fact fill you in on the details He needs you to know in order to aid you in your stand. He has an amazing and uncanny way (well, He is God after all) of getting you just the right piece of information at the very moment it was needed or could benefit your stand. You find a receipt your prodigal meant to hide, you receive a text that wasn't meant for you, you have a friend who knows nothing about your current status say "Hey, I saw your spouse yesterday at..." Oh, rest assured, God will get you whatever information He needs you to have and on those moments when He does, he expects you to do something about it: pray, fast, make a call, etc. He'll let you know. He loves guiding you. he's teaching you how to listen to His still small voice and He'll also show you how to respond. After all, God wants you reconciled even more than you do...but in His time and in His way.
Let God be your Google! He is using this for you to grow in trust of Him and so he wants to trust he'll get you what you need when you need it. Let God help prevent you from getting information that will only bring you pain. What's the solution?
The solution is the same solution He presented to Peter when he got out of the boat and walked on water: Keep your eyes fixed ONLY on Christ! Don't look left. Don't look right. Don't look down or up. Just look straight at Him. If your eyes are fixed on Jesus and His promises then you cannot possibly see the "mess" that surrounds you or the pigpen your prodigal is in.
Peace will follow. Trust me. Trust Him.
Defensiveness is deadly. As a matter of fact, according to marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman it is one of the four "Deadly Horsemen of the Apocalypse" to any marriage. (I'll talk about the other three in a future post).
It's in our nature to defend ourselves. Doing so when we are in the right seems more, well, defensible (hah). But many of us also defend ourselves though we may be wrong. The problem is that none of us THINKS we're wrong or we wouldn't be defending. Regardless of which side you're on, defending oneself is almost never productive. If we're wrong we look like an idiot. If we're right the other now has you wasting your breath and has helped the relationship turn into a battle that will divide and not unite.
Want a more productive means of building your relationship, one that puts you on the offense?
Silence is one of the most POWERFUL tools you have at your aid. As a matter of fact, in her Diary, St. Faustina wrote:
"Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. A talkative soul will never attain sanctity. A silent soul is strong; no adversaries will harm it if it perseveres in silence."
When at odds with your loved one your words, good or bad, give the other something to cling to (to divert, to attack, to twist, etc.). However, when they expect a response yet all they receive is silence, they have no idea what to do next. THEY become powerless.
When your prodigal lobs an attack at you over phone, text, email or even face-to-face (though significantly harder to remain silent when in person), and they receive no response in return it befuddles them. They intended to rile you up and sit poised and ready to pounce at your first response. When, over time, they receive nothing it does several things:
1. It calms the situation as cortisol drops.
2. They begin to wonder what you're thinking, if they were able to "stick it to you" and then whether or not you even received the message.
3. You have time to think, pray and regroup.
4. You gain the upper hand.
I have learned the power of silence and would love to teach it to you as well. Silence takes strength. You are stronger than you think.
No one wants to see you hurt. Everyone wants you happy. So when your spouse leaves and you tell them you are standing for your marriage they think "Oh, that's really nice but you need to be realistic: He/she is never coming back so you need to move on."
If your "ex" sends you a mean-spirited text they tell you "Oh you'd better not let him talk to you that way! Let him have it!!" Twenty separate people will give you twenty separate responses as to how to handle your situation.
Of course it is always good to seek wise counsel but most people are not giving you a response based on wisdom but rather on what the culture would approve of, accept and have you do.
While most people are well-intentioned, few will be guiding you in the way of the Lord. His is the only advice that you should truly seek. Yes, He speaks through others but you must understand the Word in order to know if the advice they are giving you lines up with the Lord's teaching.
"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles in opposition to the teaching you learned: avoid them." Rom 16:17.
When people tell you to cut and run from your marriage they are creating dissension and obstacles to the reconciliation of your marriage which is what God desires (and we can know this through studying His Word). AVOID THEM!
So when you need to respond to your prodigal spouse or child or any other, go to the Word and seek God's response. "Lord, how would YOU have me respond to this call, text or email?" He will answer. He will guide you.
Ahh...prodigal spouse, prodigal child...any prodigal in our lives means they've turned away from you, have likely rejected you and have done their best to make your life hell. They have in some ways made themselves your enemy.
And who wants to pray for their enemy?
Well, as we all know, Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies. Ugh. I know. Right? Ok, so when we do our prayers are usually something akin to "Dear Jesus, please help them to see how sinful they are and make them wake up, come home and stop being so ugly to me!"
While we do want them to stop walking in the darkness of a sinful or prodigal lifestyle, those prayers are still a bit more selfish and less compassionate than they need to be.
When we are called to pray for our enemies, we are to pray out of love for them and to want nothing but God's best for them but it is just so hard to pray like that.
Do it anyway.
Pray out of deep love for not only your prodigal but for your Lord:
"Jesus, not only is my heart breaking while my prodigal spouse, child, brother, etc. is in the Far Country living a life of sin, but YOUR heart, O God, is broken as well. Soften my heart, dear Lord, and allow my prayers to bring nothing but the greatest blessings upon my prodigal so that they first return to YOU and only then to me."
Pray without ceasing as those prayers are much more influential than you may believe.
Second, not only do your prayers work to soften your prodigal's heart, but they work to soften yours. Eventually, you'll see your prodigal with the same loving eyes as does Jesus. And this is when you will be transformed. Only then can your prodigal come home.
Dr. Christine Bacon is a communication and relationships expert whose articles seek to encourage, inspire and teach others to become the best versions of themselves possible. Here, she offers valuable insights and advice on matters of personal, couples, family and workplace relationships.