Follow the Leader
Reassessing a dead-end marriage.
by Diane Stark
On a Tuesday, my husband of ten years told me (over the phone, mind you) that he no longer loved me and that he wanted out of our marriage — a marriage that had produced two children, just three and six at the time.
On that Wednesday, I watched silently as he told our children that he would be moving out, that he would not be living with us anymore. He promised them that things would be different from then on, but still great.
After my husband left the house to go to work, I held my children as they cried. I cried, too.
On Thursday I took the children to McDonald’s for lunch while my husband packed his clothes and other belongings. I managed to choke down seven French fries before running to the restroom to be sick. I also explained to my six-year-old son why Daddy’s side of the closet was now empty.
On Friday I called my husband at the co-worker’s house where he’d told me he would be staying. The co-worker knew nothing of our break-up and hadn’t seen my husband outside of the office all week. He even commented that my husband had seemed rather chipper that week, and wasn’t that odd given the circumstances.
On Saturday I attended my son’s hockey game, cheering in the stands as though my entire life hadn’t fallen apart four days ago. My husband arrived late to the game and sat with me in the bleachers — you know, to keep up appearances to the other parents.
After the game, my husband, children, and I walked toward the parking lot. Jordan’s team had won the game, and our son was in high spirits. “Dad, we’re going to go for pancakes now, right? Just like we always do?” The hopeful look on his face broke my heart.
My husband glanced my way and said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Don’t you think it would be . . . awkward?”
“We were married ten years, and we’ve been separated four days. I think we can handle eating breakfast together,” I said.
He looked down at Jordan and patted his head. “I’m sorry, buddy, but I can’t this time. I really need to get home.”
Home. Wherever that was for him these days.
“But you have to go,” Jordan insisted. “We always go out for pancakes if my team wins. It’s a family tradition.”
Then light dawned in his eyes. Of course his father wouldn’t go with us for pancakes. That was a family tradition, and he no longer wanted to be part of our family.
“Sorry, bud,” my husband repeated before walking off toward his truck. Jordan began to follow him.
“Jordan, honey, our car is this way,” I called, pointing in the opposite direction.
He turned around and gave me a what-was-I-thinking look. “Sorry, Mom. I’m just so used to following Dad.”
Change in direction
The words hit me like a sucker punch in the gut. I’m so used to following Dad. I realized that I was, too. I had been following this man around for more than a decade, since I’d been a teenager. I’d been working so hard to please him, to make him happy, to do whatever he said was the right thing.
I’d been doing that for so long that I no longer trusted my own instincts. And why should I, when I’d been so terribly wrong about the person I’d chosen to follow? And even more important, what on earth was I supposed to do now?
I looked at Jordan and whispered, “I know how you feel, baby. I really do.”
I buckled both children into their car seats started the engine, and turned the radio up loud. I didn’t want the kids to hear me crying. Again.
As the tears came, Jordan’s words came back to me. I’m so used to following Dad. I had been following another human being when I should have been following God. And look where it had gotten me.
I was raised in a Christian home, and my father was a deacon in our church. I read my Bible and spent time in prayer every day. I was even chosen to be on the leadership team of the youth group. I listened only to Christian music. I thought I was a strong Christian.
But that all changed when I went away to college. There I enjoyed a newfound freedom, one that included sleeping in on Sunday mornings rather than attending church and studying my textbooks rather than reading my Bible. Things got even worse when I began dating. In high school, all the boys I’d dated were from our church. They had the same values I did, and my parents knew their parents. We didn’t dare do anything we shouldn’t.
But in college, I met all kinds of people. I began dating the man I would eventually marry. He seemed so cool and free from hang-ups about drinking and premarital sex. I wanted him to think I was cool, too. And that meant hiding my faith.
At first, I felt I wasn’t being myself. But it didn’t take long for me to forget about God, church, and the strong values my parents had instilled in me. I became a different person, someone I no longer knew. If I had taken the time to think about it, I would have realized that I didn’t even like this new person. I was so wrapped up in my new relationship that I didn’t bother to consider those things.
I had always thought I would marry someone who shared my beliefs, but when my boyfriend proposed, I said yes. I promised myself we would find a church after we were married. But we never did.
For the next ten years, I more or less ignored God. I prayed occasionally when I was in trouble, but only then. I attended church a handful of times, and I didn’t read my Bible at all. I worried more about what my husband thought of me than what God might be thinking.
Reality and regrets
But when my husband left me, I knew that God never would leave me; He never had. Even though I had ignored Him all those years, sinning in ways I never thought I would, God remained by my side. He simply waited patiently for me to understand that I needed Him.
And my son’s words that day made me see how much I did need God. I had turned my back on my faith and paid a high price for it. I bowed my head and prayed, right there in the car. I told God how sorry I was for ignoring Him all those years, for choosing a man over my faith, and that I would change. I knew Whom I needed to follow, and I vowed to teach my kids to follow Him as well.
I began attending church again, got back into reading the Bible, and made some Christian friends. I was amazed at how good God was to me, though I had been so terrible to Him. Although my husband didn’t return home, God stood by my side and comforted me through my divorce proceedings. And years later, He even brought a wonderful Christian man into my life. We got married, and he became a father to my children.
While I’m now in a marriage blessed by God, I remember that my husband is not the one I am called to follow. I learned the hard way to always keep my eyes on God.