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Beauty for Ashes

Beauty for Ashes

My marriage had largely ceased at this point. My wife had sat me down and declared she was done. She wanted a divorce. There was no convincing her otherwise. Our marriage was in decay for years, struck low by the death of our daughter, and all vestiges dissolute in our cold love. We were Christians in name and culture, but the faith of our youth had long been forgotten. We attended church irregularly, for songs of praise were ash in our mouths when we did. With God, all things are possible. In this moment, I did not have God by my side. I no longer had the energy or the presence of mind to fight for a relationship long dead. I began looking for an apartment so we could separate.

While I did not have God’s strength to pursue the continuance of my marriage, it seems that God was not content to leave me weeping and gnashing my teeth. In this dark time, I realized I could no longer attend my church. It was my wife’s home church and the thought of seeing her friends’ faces, of explaining my predicament to them, was beyond me to bear. I asked a coworker in my machine shop if I could attend his church for the time. Despite my spiritual ennui, I could not give up church all together. Church was as much a part of me as walking and working. My parents raised me well in the way I should go, and even in the dark night, I could not depart from it.

I don’t remember what the service was about. All I remember was an old couple coming up to me after the final song and asking me how I was doing. I knew the correct response to such a question: one should lie. “I’m fine.” I did not lie, however. I explained to them that I was not well, that my wife and I were separated, that things did not look good for our marriage. I knew, even as I said these words, the correct response to such excessive information: “That’s terrible. I hope things get better.” But God did not see it fit to let this couple meet my uncommon concerns with a common response. The older gentleman began to speak of his previous marriage, how his wife left him, how he felt hopeless and alone in that situation. They did not promise to pray for me. They prayed with me then and there. Whether more than two were gathered, I can’t say. But I can say that God was in our midst.

God was present there in community. He did not speak in a soft voice, earthquake, or fire. He spoke in my honest cry and an honest comfort. I had been a Christian for over 29 years. I attended many churches, a properly Reformed private college, and even a seminary. I knew in my mind the expansive truths of theology, soteriology, and eschatology. I could delineate the ancient heresies of Arius, Eutyches, and Nestorius and explicate the orthodox line that winds between them. But until that day, I had not met God in community. Yet there He stood, present and life-giving, the great Shield and Rock of Ages, in two age-touched faces and their clasped hands.

God did not give me the desires of my heart that day or in the days to follow. Our divorce proceeded. I was left with an unenviable scar on my history, a bleak reality that I need to explain to whatever church I might someday lead. But make no mistake: God’s power remains perfect in my weakness. In this clay vessel, there is a treasure worth sharing. Indeed, by these trials, God has made me more able to serve. Like the elder who opened his heart to me, someday I might stand in solemnity over the grave of some other brother’s marriage.

I would have preferred a softer road to this place of service, but that was not God’s way. He calls and we follow. Some come lowly and meek by green pastures. Some come chastened and burnt, reaping hell and hurricane. All will come, though. By His grace and strength, may I dare to take up my cross and share His excellence in community as He gave Himself on the cross for me. May my wounds be healing in the Body of Christ as another man’s wounds healed me that day. ∞

Written by Anonymous as part of the Anonymous Issue (November-December 2017).