photo © 2009 Bert Kaufmann | more info (via: Wylio)
In pretty much every church I have ever gone to, I have always started off those first few years in a honeymoon phase: you look around and everybody looks so together, so Christian, so loving. Then, bit by bit, you hear whispers. So and so had an affair and the marriage is reeling. So and so moved out, but they don't want anyone to know yet. So and so has an alcohol problem.
In most of these cases, the vast majority of people don't know. It's all happening below the surface, below the smiling faces and the giggling but slightly dazed children and the pageants and the dresses.
And it makes me so sad, because it's hard to help people who don't want to ask for help. When you know a couple is struggling, and you want to help, how do you approach them when they haven't actually told you that they're struggling? That's impolite. Once we had a couple over for dinner that we know were having problems. They weren't admitting it, though, so we just started sharing about all of our problems. We told them how we had struggled when we had first married, hoping it might get a response, or a "oh, we do that, too". Nothing. We told them how lonely we felt in the marriage. Nothing. All we got was a "thanks for a great dinner," and a thank you card afterwards. They divorced a year later.
At the marriage conference Keith and I spoke at last month in Banff, one thing I urged all the couples to do was to find a mentor couple: a couple that was at least a few years older, with a solid marriage, with whom they could occasionally bounce things off of and talk things through and ask for prayer. They should look for a couple who knew how to keep things silent, and who were there just to help. Many couples said they were a little reluctant, because people might feel it was a burden. And here's what I told them:
Any mature couple in your church would be THRILLED to have someone ask them to mentor them; to have someone ask them to actually talk about real issues. Do you know how much we long to help with real issues, but those who obviously need help don't ask for it? I watch couples I know are struggling, and I pray for them, and I ask in an around-about way how things are going, or if they want to talk, and they smile and tell me no. I know that's not true. So if someone actually came to me and said, "We love each other, but we're really struggling with something. Could we confidentially just come over and talk to you and your husband?", I would jump up and down for joy!
And I would! But I find that the vast majority of people who are having problems won't ask for help.
Now, in many Christian circles I've heard this turned into a blame game. "Well, they can't ask for help because then people would judge them, because churches are so judgmental." That may have a kernel of truth, but I can tell you that in every church I've ever belonged to, there would be a lot more respect for a couple who asked for help than for one who one day just up and divorced with no warning. And most people, I think, are like me. They desperately want to help, not because they think they know everything, but because they know how hard marriage and parenting can be, and they don't want others to hit brick walls. They want to see families thrive.
So I think the whole "people are judgmental so I can't share anything" is a cop out. I'm talking about finding ONE couple, who is older than you, that you can talk to. Surely in every church, even a judgmental one, there is ONE couple. And if there isn't, you need to find another church!
Most people don't ask for help for one of several reasons. First, they believe they genuinely don't need it. They are completely in the right, and so they don't need anyone's advice. Often one half of a couple feels this way, and the other doesn't. If you're married to someone who feels this way, you still need a mentor! Find a woman you can talk to and pray with, even if your husband won't.
The second reason is because they've talked to others before, and those people have told them that they are in the wrong or they need to compromise. I'm thinking of one particular woman I know who broke up her family recently. She was sure she was right; when she started talking to people in the church, though, they didn't take her side. So she stopped talking and did what she wanted to anyway.
And that brings me to number three: often people don't ask for help because they've already made up their minds about what they are going to do. They're going to leave their spouse and split up their family, and they've convinced themselves they're in the right. But they know deep down that perhaps they're not, and so they don't ask for help in case they're convicted.
I don't know where you are today. I don't know if you're having marriage issues or parenting issues or anything. But I do know that so many people do desperately want to help. My husband, a pediatrician, once participated in a community parenting course. It had tons of advertising from the Children's Aid Society, other physicians, and more. Doctors were telling their patients with problem kids to go. It was on the radio. And three families showed up.
I have another friend who is a nutritionist. A few years ago her office put on a seminar called "2 can dine for $1.99" to teach lower income people how to cook well on a limited budget. The only people who showed up was the entire homeschooling group from her community, who thought it was a great educational opportunity. All the people at the welfare office, and at Children's Aid, who were told about it, did not go.
Why do I tell you this? It's because I firmly believe that help is there if you want it. People want to share their knowledge and their experience. But the vast majority of people don't ask for help and don't take it until it is too late.
Every couple, everybody, should have a mentor that they can talk to when things get difficult. I have a mentor, and I am somebody's mentor. My husband has a mentor, and he is also somebody's mentor. This is so important especially for couples in the ministry, where it's hard to talk about your personal issues. But that makes it all the more crucial to have a safe place to go for help. So don't wait. Just ask for help. If more people did that, I think we'd see fewer families splitting up.
Labels: church, divorce, marriage, parenting, resolving conflict