“I pray God uses you to break new ground and make an eternal difference. However, when He does, you must brace yourself for more criticism and pain than you might imagine.” -Craig Groeschel, Dare to Drop the Pose
Facebook is a strange world, and I have met many people who describe themselves as having a love/hate relationship with the online community driven app. It’s partially perplexing, because it’s rules are unestablished. What is acceptable to one “friend” may cross a line for another “friend”. One truth most users will agree on is this: Facebook is not real.
I can jump on my computer at 6 AM and see pictures of a young couple going to their High School Prom. In naivety, I could assume they are either very late or very early for the dance–since no one leaves for the Prom at sunrise. In judgement, I could assume the happy couple are still at the Prom and have chosen to ignore all recommendations of what would be a sensible curfew for 16-year-olds. Or, in relative wisdom, I could look at the time stamp and see that the picture is 12 hours old. In this obvious scenario, Facebook users recognize it would be foolish for me to make one of the first two assumptions.
In keeping with the Prom theme, it would be equally foolish for me to assume that what I see in the picture tells the whole story. Upon further investigation, perhaps I would learn that this was a bad date all around. If the girl were to confide in me, perhaps she would share that she wished she had chosen more comfortable shoes, that her date spent the whole night pressuring her with sexual advances, or that her closest friends left early and went to a party where they got drunk. Perhaps she would admit that she had huge disappointments for how her Prom night had turned out.
And yet, the pretty picture would still sit nicely on her timeline. Still collecting “Likes”.
Several months ago, when my affair was made public to the women’s group at our church, I began receiving Facebook messages from women who attend the same church as myself. Most of them wanting to encourage me to cling to God. Some of them wanted to reach out to me because they themselves had felt the sting of this particular sin. Reading these emails made me realize there might be women who were looking for a way to understand their own journey. Once I began blogging, the enormity of the emails only increased, and they became more geographically widespread. Some of the women who have contacted me failed in their own vows, and some of them have husbands who have been unfaithful. Their stories are all different, but the common theme is a desire to connect and express the feelings they are having about their own journey.
Soon the blog stats showed that the posts were being read by people not just in the United States but around the globe. I was dumbfounded to imagine anyone in Tunisia would want to read what I wrote, let alone nine people in the Netherlands. (side note: where the heck is Tunisia?) However, I was able to recognize this: it had very little to with my writing, and more to do with what God might be doing.
This week I received my first piece of HATE mail, and the private message was downright mean. The writer indicated that my documentation of my journey was an assault to her. She went on to explain that while she was married to her previous husband, who had also been a pastor, she had an affair. She shared that she did not make her affair public. She doesn’t like the message I am sending for many reasons, but the saddest of all is because she doesn’t believe it is possible for a marriage to ever recover from infidelity. Her message to me had many accusations, but the first concept was simply this: Stop being happy on Facebook.
The writer bluntly stated, “How can you possibly pretend to have this perfect life on FB and go on knowing things will actually never be the same.” I was saddened when I read her words, because as she went on to share her story it was evident that her infidelity had led to the end of her marriage. I was also sad, because after she emailed me, she blocked me so I couldn’t respond to her. There were things I would want to give to her, not in an attempt to defend my life–but in an attempt to help her find hope in her own life.
I began to ponder what she had said. I asked myself if I was “pretending to have a perfect life on FB.” I thought about the pictures I have posted of myself–mostly pictures of my granddaughter or my husband and myself.
- Did I take my granddaughter swimming this week? Yes.
- Did my granddaughter cry when I took her out of the pool and made her take a nap. Yes…but I didn’t photograph that.
- Did I dine with my husband at our favorite coffee shop on Monday morning? Yes.
- Did we go to that coffee shop after an emotionally draining morning dealing regret and disappointment? Yes…but I didn’t mention it in a status update.
That made me think about the Prom scenario–the picture of the couple is taken and that reflects a part of the story, but not the story in its entirety. Even the painful things the teenager encountered may have silver linings. Perhaps she took off her shoes and danced barefoot for the first time. Perhaps the behavior of her date and her friends solidified truths that her parents or church youth leaders had been pouring into her. This night of crisis had exposed what she herself believed about peer pressure and purity, and perhaps–for her–this was an evening of victory. Not documenting every single detail of the Prom date on Facebook does not mean the teenage girl was pretending to have gone to the Prom any more than I am pretending to have a perfect life.
I think of the rest of the accusation: “How can you possibly pretend to have this perfect life on FB and go on knowing things will actually never be the same”
Going on knowing things will never be the same is not a fear, it is a hope.
I don’t want the marriage I had, and my husband doesn’t want that marriage either. We have been working to embrace every aspect of this trial to allow it to transform us. Following any failure, there is a window of opportunity for transformation. Transformation is not a guarantee with failure–it is a choice. We either mask and hide when our failure is revealed, or we walk through it. Just because a person fails does not mean they will be transformed by the failure. Living in and experiencing the natural consequences–not covering them up is the road that must be traveled to find transformation. The natural consequences of sin are purely emotional and spiritual, and are not the same as man’s judgement of sin. But, most people don’t like to deal with emotions that are raw and painful. One of the most difficult aspects to embrace is the grief. With infidelity there is grief, and no person in their right mind likes grief.
Grief visited our home two decades ago when our 19-month-old daughter died. The difference this time is we are also dealing with shame and blame. The other difference is that this time, while we are both experiencing grief–it is from opposite sides of a two sided fence. The challenge early on was to try to get on the same side of the fence, but we couldn’t. We needed a third side on our two sided fence. For a third side of a fence to present itself, we needed a miracle.
With each of us clinging to the long, strong arm of God, He pulled us each up and over our opposite sides of the fence so that we would be in a new pasture–we moved to His side of the fence. As long as we remain in this new pasture, things won’t be the same.
The truth of our past reminds me of this: when we faced grief with the death of our daughter, we still took our other three children to the park to feed the ducks, we still taught them how to ride their bicycles, and we still cheered for them at swim meets. We grieved deeply for what we had lost, but we still enjoyed the beauty in the life we had. Granted there was no Facebook to document the life we were pretending to have, so perhaps it never happened at all.