Between now and Valentine's Day, Ann Voskamp has encouraged her readers to share stories related to the practice of marriage. This is the first time I have responded to one of her invitations, but--as it turns out--my friend Jen confided in me, recently, a wonderful story from her marriage. I feel in my spirit that it might be of help to someone else, and it is with Jen's blessing that I write and share the following:
When Jen and her husband Mike got together, she had been close friends with Bill for about six years. Due to a unique set of cirumstances, Jen's and Bill's relationship had been built mostly through an exchange of written words. Perhaps due to the same unique set of circumstances (as opposed to any real righteousness or restraint on Jen's, or Bill's, part), Jen and Bill had never been physically intimate; however, they had experienced and expressed romantic feelings at different points in their six-year friendship. They were not at one of those points when Jen and Mike got together, and Jen did not feel as though her friendship with Bill were a threat to her and Mike's relationship. But Mike was uncomfortable with Jen's continuing it. Mike tried to compromise for about a year, and--at one point--he wrote down the strict guidelines under which he gave permission for Jen's and Bill's friendship to continue. Although both Jen and Bill adhered carefully to the guidelines, their friendship continued to be a point of contention in Jen's and Mike's marriage, and it became increasingly clear to both Jen and Mike that Mike would be satisfied with nothing less than Jen's having no contact with Bill, ever, under any circumstances.
This knowledge was devastating to Jen for many reasons. She didn't want to lose her friend, and she really cared to know what the future held for him. She believed Bill needed her support. She had promised Bill for years that she would never forsake him and detested the idea of going back on her word, and even more, the idea of hurting him. She was angry that she and Bill had adhered to Mike's guidelines, but Mike required more; it seemed so unfair! She was troubled because she felt like Mike didn't trust her. She was afraid that--if she did what Mike wanted--he would lean on her to give up other things about which (or people about whom) she cared deeply. Finally, after the painful ending of a different friendship (in which Jen had been wearing Bill's shoes) decades before, Jen had promised herself that she would never let anyone force her to give up a friendship. So the prospect of doing what Mike wanted felt like betraying herself.
Jen grieved deeply, which only made things worse; the more central to her happiness that Mike perceived her friendship with Bill to be, the more Mike wanted Jen to end it. Jen cried, argued with Mike both in person and in her mind, and prayed. She remains thankful that she went to the Lord in prayer because, one day, she believes He spoke to her. And this is what He said:
Jen. You are spending too much energy fighting with Mike about who is right and who is wrong. I know that you have followed Mike's guidelines; that you are being asked to give up something important to you; and that your intentions in your friendship with Bill are pure. But you are still wrong. You are wrong because you are hurting Mike, and you have the choice not to hurt him. Whether you're right or wrong doesn't matter if you're choosing to hurt your husband. Because that means, automatically, that YOU ARE WRONG.
It was a lightbulb moment for Jen.
Jen gave up her friendship with Bill. Instantly, the quality of her marriage improved as greater trust was established. Tension evaporated. Jen calls Mike good and fair and reports that he has not asked her to give up anything or anyone (male or female) since that time. I asked if she misses Bill. She answered: "I can promise you that there is no void. God has blessed me with several new--and very strong--Christ-centered friendships. When Bill crosses my mind, which happens very infrequently, I offer up a prayer for him and move on with my thoughts, and my day. And I have peace."
Jen's story compels me to ask myself: to what am I clinging, "on principle?" Are those things and people more valuable to me than the peace (both inside and outside of my marriage) I could attain in giving them up?