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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Divorce: Is it really a failure?

Launched to Fail

Did you see that movie, “Failure to Launch”?  Where the parents have a son who refuses to grow up enough to move out and live a responsible life?  Well, had a conversation with a friend the other day that perhaps reverses that thought just a bit.  We were talking about divorce, and the sense of failure that is part of the process.  So, is failure the key word, do you think?  And in what ways? 
I’d say there is an assumption that first must acknowledged before you can define divorce as a failure.  That assumption is that marriage is to be a lifelong commitment.  Without that, it isn't necessarily a failure.  I remember running across information that some people like Margaret Meade actually thought in life individuals ought to have three marital partners for the different stages of life.  One spouse for the time of life when physical pleasure is primary, another for the child rearing phase of life, and another for companionship in the latter years.  Obviously, a different image than marriage “till death do you part.”  In the Christian tradition, the intention clearly IS “till death do you part.”  And so, the notion of moving from one marriage partner to the next cannot be defined as fulfilling the purpose and ideal of marriage.  Therefore, fail is a word that applies, at least in some senses.  Let’s explore it a bit, might find interesting emerges.

If you believe, as I do, that the intent of marriage is for life, then when you experience divorce, as I have, then, indeed, you have come out of a “failed” marriage.  What marriage was intended to be, what you have vowed and committed yourself to did not materialize…..it failed to fulfill the goal.  But does something failing equate to being a failure?  And if something failed, does that mean the participants failed, or were failures?  Maybe, but maybe not.  At least, in some senses.  My friend felt clearly that failure was an appropriate term.  I have some other thoughts.  And maybe everything isn’t on a pass/fail grading scale…..at least in some sense.   I better explain.
If a baseball player gives his very best all season long, maybe even breaking some records along the way, but his team does not win the championship, is he a failure?  Or for that matter, is the team a failure?  While acknowledging that the ultimate goal is to win the championship games, I think most of us would not impute failure to one member of the team, when we are aware it takes more than one person to make that team succeed.  And, we are also aware that sometimes coaches and managers with all honesty will admit that a season wasn't about winning and losing, but experience and growing.  So while it failed to reach the ultimate goal, the season may not have been a complete failure. 

In that analogy, I would suggest that “failed” can be used to describe a marriage ending in divorce, but the term failure probably ought not to be applied wholesale to the individuals involved, nor to the marriage as a whole.  Just as it takes two people to make a marriage work, it also takes two people for it to fail.  Perhaps one is more at fault than another, but neither one should accept the entire blame and responsibility for the divorce.  In addition, the vows failed to come to full goal, but there were certainly things of value that came from the marriage----children, experience, wisdom, growth---things that would mitigate usage of the word “failure” to the marriage as a whole. 

Another place one could use the word, “failed” might be that one failed to select a spouse with whom to be able to spend an entire lifetime.  Although, I still struggle with over using the word fail in these things.  I truly believe that those of us who are divorced think if we knew then what we know now, we might have chosen differently, but we didn’t know it then, and for many of us, we did make the best choice we knew how to make at the time, and did so with prayerful seeking of God’s guidance.  Would you be willing to say that God failed to guide us effectively?  A quick answer many would give is that we simply didn’t listen or discern well enough.  But, could it also not be possible that we did follow appropriately, and that things changed over time, or subsequent choices created an environment in which one or both well intentioned partners no longer was willing to follow through.  That does NOT negate the fact that God originally led you to that person, does it?  I think not.  And maybe God led you to that person for more reasons than just “till death do you part,” (although I still think it is the proper goal and commitment).  So what could be those reasons?

I would suggest that God often uses thing that seem like failure to accomplish his purposes.  Think particularly of Joseph dragged to prison in Egypt, which eventually produced the deliverance of his family from starvation.  Or think of a Messiah killed on a cross in the prime of life and at the height of His ministry.  Apparent failures, but “failures” that were entwined in the plans of God to accomplish God’s great purposes.  Jonas Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, had done hundreds and hundreds of experiments that did NOT produce a polio vaccine prior to the precious discovery.  I have heard that he was once asked how he felt about all those failed experiments, and his response was that not one was a failure, but that each had taught him something and prepared him for the steps that eventually led to the discovery of the vaccine.  Could it not be that, in the midst of a failed marriage, God managed to teach you things that can make a profound difference, even something that can be turned into phenomenal success?  Don’t we always hear how important it is to learn from our mistakes, to learn from our experiences in life? 

Anyway, you can decide whatever you want about the whole failure/failed verbiage in regard to divorce.  I know that it certainly feels like failure in many, many ways.  But I also know, that God can uses failures to accomplish great things, and my hope is that you and I will allow God to do so in and through our lives. 

TL:dr  Describing divorce as failure misses opportunities for insight

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