After the husband-and-wife duo Everything But The Girl, best known for its hit song “Missing,” which led them to be tagged as a one-hit wonder in the United States , went on haitus so that the two could raise a family, Tracey Thorn released a series of sophisticated and not very-popular solo albums. Her third such solo album was called “Love And Its Opposite,” and I happened to see some sort of special on television about the making of the album on a show like 60 Minutes. The song that was played for that special was the first song (and first single) of that album as a middle aged woman looking at the wreckage of love in her generation, appropriately called “Oh, The Divorces!” Although her own marriage appears to be strong (she is a remarkably private person and although she likes her writings and music to be popular and accessible to the general public, she is not particularly keen on exposing herself or her family to the harsh celebrity culture of our time, something I wholeheartedly concur with), she writes and sings of how her own optimism has been sapped by the continual failures of her friends and associates around her. Like her striking mixture of openness and intense privacy, it is another sentiment of hers that I can deeply identify with.
This morning I received a request from one of my coworkers to do one of the reports she normally handles after having been told that she would have a break and be able to do it. I found out it needed to be done when it was already over an hour late, which is something I found a bit frustrating. In order to mollify me, my coworker noted that her week had been crazy because she and her partner were in the process of breaking up, her wife being in the process of leaving her, which will almost certainly lead to a nasty squabble over money and legal separation. Being a particularly discreet person about my own private life (not that there is much to tell), I let her know that I happened to know quite a lot of people involved in the process of getting a divorce, and this is true. As a child of divorce, something I continually lament , I deeply grieve for the pain that results from separation, pain that extends outward from the original marriage partners themselves to their friends and family and especially their children. I grieve most for the children, for no blindness nor susceptibility to charm or deception nor desperation put them in their sad position, but rather instead it was the malicious accident of birth in a dysfunctional and broken family, a matter in which they had no say, only the resulting burden of brokenness to bear, however poorly or well.
Marriage is an act of faith. It is an act which shows faith in the character of a husband and a wife, where each has confidence in their own ability to handle the responsibilities they have and also confidence in the character and decency of the person whom they marry. It is undertaken, usually with a lot of optimism, with confidence in the benefits that will result to both people in terms of love and intimacy as a result of being together rather than apart. It is an attempt to find a secure relationship that can endure the shifting tides and winds of life, of wealth and poverty, sickness and health, better and worse. It is an institution which we blame unfairly for the faults of the people who are in it, and which we place unrealistic demands of provision of love and money and healing from the deep psychic burdens we carry in our lives. If done well, a marriage can provide a husband and wife with best friends for life, partners in efforts to achieve greatness in realms such as family, business, church, community, and society, providing a model for others and a loving and nourishing environment to raise up godly and strong children. Done poorly, it can cripple people with deep scars of all kinds, from the deep scars and wounds of abuse to the harsh experiences of cruel poverty to a lifetime of crippling doubts and anxieties in the loyalty and faithfulness of others and in one’s ability to navigate a cruel world alone and in one’s safety and security in such an uncertain and unstable world.
Despite the many sad statistics that we see about the rate of divorces, and despite the suffering we endure and that we see others endure as a result of broken bonds, we are an optimistic lot. We want to believe that despite the wreckage of broken families in our own history and in our communities and churches around us, that we will somehow be different. Not being a particularly optimistic person by nature, I wonder instead what can be done to have the best chance at success in an endeavor which I deeply desire but also have deep fears and anxieties about. To be sure, nothing we do can eliminate the chances of an unhappy fate, if it be our lot. Despite our best efforts and intentions, and conscientiousness, we may find ourselves in intolerable and unacceptable situations for which the only possible and reasonable recourse is to escape as completely as possible. This is a real and omnipresent risk in relationships that cannot be avoided, but to choose certain misery in loneliness because of a fear of uncertain unhappiness in relationships is a poor choice. The question we face is two-fold: how do we reduce the risk of unhappiness because of the behavior of others by seeking the best situation possible for ourselves, and how do we best work on our own behavior to contribute best to the happiness and well-being of a future spouse or children, to say nothing of our coworkers or brethren or neighbors whose lives are impacted as well by any brokenness in our own lives. This is a considerably more difficult task, one that forces upon us deep reflection on those areas of our own life that could potentially cause problems for those we care for, and those areas where we are most vulnerable to deep hurts from the follies and vices of others.
Ultimately, despite the breakup of marriages that is an epidemic of our time, people remain optimistic in the future because in order to go on and keep living, we must believe that the future can be better than what we have known. No matter how difficult our own circumstances, no matter how rough our own backgrounds, no matter the scars and wounds we struggle to rise above, our longings continually drive us into the company of others and into situations that encourage us to have faith in a beneficent divine providence. It is these longings that drive us into the company of others, to engage in witty and flirtatious banter, to indulge in sweet hopes of a future together with a worthwhile partner, to strive to become better people and to make our world a better place. These are worthy deeds, but they are deeds done because of hope and longing inside of us, hopes that can easily lead us to become foolish and reckless if our hearts are not wise. Given that we have these longings, and given the shoals and dangers of our world, and our own damaged state and that of those we care about, how can we best act so that our hopes have the best chance of being rewarded with success for ourselves and others. That is the essential question, one for which I have long sought an answer in vain. When I find out, I will speak it aloud, but for now I wait and work on myself and my own circumstances as best as I can. Hopefully that is good enough.
 See, for example: