By Nena Ndioma
I know what it’s like to be blindsided. Not by a car or by a motorcycle – but by my own life. Having the events of your own life surprise you is a particularly disorienting experience. When you’re disoriented and dizzy, it makes sense to just sit down for a while. But not forever.
I was married for a total of 14 years. I married a Christian like myself. I assumed this was the magic bullet. Before marriage, my whole life, practically, seemed to be an obstacle course whose main objective was avoiding (or at least, trying my darndest to avoid) the ‘unequal yoke.’ When I got married to a fellow believer, I literally heaved a sigh of relief. I had taken care of the basics and could now embark on a happy marital journey. I didn’t expect to be blindsided along the way. I thought I had an air-tight plan.
The marriage would not last. I got married on February 15th, and 14 years later, got divorced on the very same day: February 15th. Much as I wanted it and spent my earlier years dreaming about it, I no longer had my white picket fence. I could relate viscerally to the words of Jeremiah: “My tent is destroyed; all its ropes are snapped… No one is left now to pitch my tent or to set up my shelter” (Jeremiah 10:20, NIV).
There is a time for everything, including self-pity. It is natural to mourn the death of a marriage. However, self-pity as a lifestyle is not healthy. One day, my attention was drawn to John 5:8 during a personal time of Bible-reading, and I was riveted by its command. It says, quite simply: “Pick up your mat and walk.”
Jesus gave this command to an invalid of thirty-eight years: “When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’”
This question from Jesus never fails to rattle me, no matter how many times I read this story. To be fair to this man, he had been in this condition – in this state of inertia – “for a long time.” My first inclination, personally, would have been to express sympathy. And so it startles me how Jesus cuts straight to the chase and gets to the core of the issue: “Do you want to get well?”
An important question as appearances can be deceptive. Everything is not always as it seems. What do I want from now on – and how badly do I want it? What sort of effort do I need to invest to get it? How prepared am I to invest the level of effort required? Do I really want what I want, or is that just rhetoric?
“‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’”
Another thing that never ceases to amaze me is how this man totally avoids answering the simple question. And yet, I can relate. It’s hard to dig down into yourself, bring up the truth, and stare it in the eye.
Even healing can be scary.
Everyone else around assumes that ‘invalids’ should want to be healed … but do they really? We assume that we want to be healed of the hurts and devastation that being on this earth can sometimes bring … but do we really?
Healing is about change, after all – and change can be scary. Success can be scary. Accepting the fact that your miracle is obtainable can be scary. Achieving your dreams can be scary. Letting go of hurts that we have become so accustomed to embracing can be scary. Knowing that we can actually do it, that we can actually get what we want, can sometimes be the most frightening thing on earth. If we really took the time to analyse our fears, we would be shocked by what we’re really afraid of.
Do I really want to move on? Of course, is my automatic, knee-jerk reply.
But what does ‘moving on’ mean as a divorced person?
A list of clichés: Starting from scratch. Learning new rules. (Caring that new rules might even exist.) Putting myself out there. Stepping into the unknown.
It’s easier to just stay where I am. To just get by. To not dream again. To allow my day-to-day life’s momentum to just carry me wherever, with no vision for where I actually want to end up.
Do I want to get well?
‘Pick up your mat and walk.’
I wondered as I read this: What is this ‘mat’ about? Wouldn’t it have been enough if the invalid just got up? That was the actual miracle after all … right?
And then it hit me.
My ‘mat’ is my crutch. It’s the crutch that lets me ‘rest’ and feel comfortable. It represents all my excuses for not getting up and moving forward. In picking up my mat, I do two things: I leave myself with nowhere to ‘lie’ around anymore, and I show myself that I am bigger than that which I thought I needed support from. In a word, unless you validate yourself, you will remain an invalid.
So, no excuses – no matter how compelling they sound. No more crutches.
Pick up your mat … and walk.
Nena Ndioma is the author of Strange Women and Other Strangleholds: An African, Christian Memoir of Marriage, Divorce, and Survival, available on amazon.com. She blogs occasionally at remembering-my-journey.blogspot.com.