I received a Christmas letter about two weeks after the holiday. I knew the writer immediately. She and I had been friends for almost forty years. She’d raised four sons and every Christmas her greeting would arrive late. Her news would always giggle off the page, her letters filled with stories of the antics of her boys as they grew. Now with the guys grown, her letters glowed with their marriages, their jobs, and the grandchildren they gave her. I savored opening the letter, knowing what I would find inside.
This letter, though, didn’t read like the others. The first line revealed three deaths in her family—her mother, a great grandmother and her oldest son’s marriage. She’d handwritten me a note on the edge of the copy that said she’d almost decided not to send her letter this year, but she knew I would want to know all the letter contained. I swallowed hard. Maybe not.
Her pain bled off the page as she recounted the funeral for her mother with her grandson in tow. At four, she said he understood that Grandma had gone to be with Jesus and they would see her again. What he didn’t understand was why his family was also dying. Why his dad now lived in a duplex. Why his mommy no longer loved his father.
I ached for her loss. She had raised her family with the principles God ordained for the family. She and her husband had celebrated forty years of faithfulness. Now the enemy of divorce had claimed one of her children. Her heart lay bleeding, the knife of despair having carved it from her.
I struggled to understand, careful not to lay blame. Anyone who has been married knows it takes two to tangle. Every marriage has its ups and downs, its struggles and its triumphs, the pain of hurts and the healing of forgiveness. What had happened to this young couple? Both of them had the teaching from God’s word. What part did they not understand?
I thought of the witnesses at their wedding. Though I didn’t attend the ceremony, I knew that the guest list read like a Who’s Who from the main church in town. Where were those people before whom this couple vowed to love, honor and cherish each other? A friend once reminded me that the responsibility of a witness to a marriage goes beyond eating the cake and sucking the butter mints. They are there to hold the couple accountable to their promises. As married elders who have lived before the bride and groom, the witnesses attest to the fact that marriage is an institution ordained by God between a man and a woman for as long as they both shall live.
I grieved for the children. A boy not quite five and a girl just turned two, these little darlings have forever had their world twisted for them. Their ability to trust has been violated, their security has been shattered, and the way they will approach the world will be forever damaged in the wake of their parents’ divorce. Statistics show that children often carry the blame for the breakup on themselves. They become the punching bags between two adults who should know better. And they have learned, at a too early age, that when the going gets tough, the best answer is to split. Staying the course will never be real to them. Many of them will grow up to view divorce as a viable option, vows of fidelity will mean nothing.
And so, today, I grieve for my friend. The funeral she will now attend for this death of her son’s family will go on for years. She will watch helplessly as her grandchildren grope for some sense of security in a turbulent world. She will feel the pain of her grown son as he struggles with the collapse of his relationship with his wife.
And I will pray. I know that God takes everything in our lives and uses it for good to make us better people for Him. I can only wonder how He will turn this tragedy into something beautiful. But I know from experience that He is still the same loving creator He has always been. That reality will sustain me. And for all the players in this particular theater of life, He will have the last say. To God be the glory.
And to my friend, I’m so sorry.