Separation. Divorce. Failure. That's how it goes, right? At least that's how it did for me. Marriage was for life, for better or for worse, and people who got divorced just weren't trying hard enough. They were failures. Second rate. Oh, I never would have thought of it like that, let alone articulate it, but somewhere in my subconscious that is what I believed. I judged people and I was wrong.
But that was before the shed.
When you come from an inflexible, dualistic, rules-based system of beliefs it is difficult to see other possible worlds. Everything is either black or white. Wrong or right. You're in or you're out. You belong or you don't. There's no room for the grey, messy, unpredictable beauty of life. I was married. I was in the club. And then suddenly, yet not, I wasn't.
For the first time in my life, without any fanfare, I found myself living alone in a tin shed in the middle of nowhere. A dark space that was sparsely furnished with borrowed items and a few meagre possessions. No television, no internet, and intermittent phone coverage. I was alone with my thoughts. “I have failed. I am a failure. I AM FAILURE.”
Love found me
It is a disconcerting thing to be cut adrift from familiar havens into the uncertain waters of a new beginning. Of course I hadn't perceived it as a new beginning, only as failure, loss and uncertainty. Dualism doesn't like uncertainty. It likes things that can be measured, counted, compared, relied upon. It likes rules. And according to the rules, I had failed.
Something unusual happened in that shed, however. Something unexpected and altogether other-worldly. At the point of my perceived greatest failure I experienced unconditional love. God's love. I don't know how else to explain it. And not just as a fleeting feeling, but a continual overwhelming flow that caressed every part of my being. Every day, in a myriad of ways, I was absolutely wrecked by the divine flow.
It would be impossible to even begin to recount the supernatural goings-on from those sixteen months. They are too many. Too sacred. My protests that I was an unworthy, undeserving recipient were only met with greater love, greater peace and greater joy. “But I've failed! I've broken the rules! You can't possibly love me!” It was useless. I was held and I was loved back to life with countless whispered affirmations. “Are you kidding? I love you more than ever!”
The divine unravelling
Once you've tasted real love everything else pales in comparison. The old legalistic rules-based system now tasted like gravel and I could no longer stomach organised religion. I needed a new framework for what I was experiencing. A seismic paradigm shift was taking place within the divine unravelling of so many futile, redundant beliefs I had held about myself, others, the world, everything. Even God. Especially God. He was irrevocably for me.
It is one thing to theoretically believe in “grace” – that unearned, undeserved, unmerited favour of God – but it is another thing entirely to experience it. I discovered that genuine belief – that is, what God believes to be true about me – has absolutely nothing to do with my own efforts at self-improvement. Do we really think God is impressed with our rule-keeping? Jesus offers a better way of love, grace and the opportunity simply to be with him and enjoy his company.
The divine wooing can be so easily missed, however, as we busy ourselves with new sets of rules of our own making. Must go to church meetings. Must pray. Must read the bible. Must be the perfect spouse. Must whatever. So rather than resting in the finished work of Jesus and his great love for us we burn ourselves out trying to please a God who is already very pleased with each one of us.
Resting in completeness
Unconditional love, peace, joy, rest, acceptance and inclusion aren't determined by how well we perform, but by who we are. God views every one of us with absolute delight. No exceptions. In this regard, it has been interesting to observe the reactions of others to my experience of separation and divorce.
Thankfully, most of my friends and family have been very kind and supportive; just willing to be with me in the moment. Rules-based religion won't allow for that, however. Upon baring my broken heart to one particular friend, the immediate response was, “Of course, you won't be able to remarry!” No compassion. No love. No grace. Just an overtly expressed, fearful concern about keeping the rules. Religious dualism allows for no other possible response. How sad.
There's no doubt that reaction might once have rattled me to the core, but not any more. I was someone who had discovered a secret – something precious – and I wasn't about to let it go. I knew who I was. I was wonderful. I was loved. And I had discovered grace. Grace in a tin shed.
Mark Darling has a background in psychology and applied neuroscience. He is currently exploring the high country of grace and finding many delightful places of rest for the soul. Mark enjoys surfing, bush walking, making music, good food and laughter in the company of friends. He resides on Queensland's Sunshine Coast and has two grown children.
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