There are two women sitting to my right, and I’ve been trying – unsuccessfully – not to overhear them for the past half hour, sitting and working in a coffee shop.
They’ve been chatting therapy and personal growth and dating after divorce and escaping abusive marriages and widowhood and loss and…life. As we share the common space in this coffee shop, I’m failing to totally tune out the ebb and flow of their conversation, because we’re inches apart and I forgot my earbuds.
Somewhere between the story of one of their young sons’ walking upstairs and encountering daddy watching hardcore pornography on the 50-inch during his custody weekend and recognizing the “12 characteristics of an abuser,” it became suddenly and sickeningly clear to my interloping ear: they’re talking about the same man.
The divorcee and the new girlfriend are sitting at a table to my right, discussing the man they mutually loved, at different times, and the children she fled the marriage with, which the new girlfriend wonders why she never sees.
The new girlfriend is despondent because she lost her own husband to cancer at a young age and has only dated one man since – the abusive ex-husband, it turns out, of the battered former wife sharing a cappuccino with her.
This is why Amoris Laetitia is relevant, I suppose. These are the irregular situations in which people find themselves in this brave new world, unable to walk away from the mess of tangled relationships and responsibilities and brokenness.
It’s the saddest conversation I’ve ever been party to. And I’m so sorry to be hearing it. But I’m also oddly thankful to be allowed this opportunity.
The insanely composed ex-wife is walking the new girlfriend through the signs of neurotic narcissism, pointing out things to recognize when considering whether the guy in question is attempting to take control of her in an inappropriate way.
And I marvel at the courage it must require of her, of them both, really, to have this conversation, to have agreed to this meeting in the first place.
I can’t know their whole story, but the snapshot I’ve gathered in this coffee shop tells a redemption story of one woman trying to help another, and not out of malice for her abusive ex. (And I could be wrong. She could be operating out of pure vengeance, hoping to prevent him from a second – third, actually, turns out – shot at happiness. But it doesn’t strike me as the case.)
This is the strange and broken world we’ve inherited, east of Eden and post sexual revolution. Death. Divorce. Abuse. Pornography. Broken families. Broken bones. Broken hearts.
Is there any hope for any of us, truly? Can we honestly propose Christ as the tidy answer to problems which are this messy, to situations this heartbreaking?
Yes and no.
Yes, Christ is the answer. Today, yesterday, and forever.
But no, it doesn’t tidy up the tangled ends. It doesn’t wave a magic wand over the pain and the regret and unravel the snarled threads of lives converged in pain and brokenness and sin.
That’s the damnedest thing about sin, isn’t it? He forgives and makes new, but He does not undo what choices our free will have wrought.
Redeems them, yes. But He doesn’t grant amnesia to the victims of violence, doesn’t repair the shattered window with a divine wand wave, doesn’t refill the bank account depleted by deceit.
Those pieces He leaves to us, allowing us to participate as His hands and His feet. And not so much allowing as demanding, because if not us, who? If not now, when?
I’m overhearing a corporal work of mercy in action. And I’m weeping silently and stoically on the inside at the pain both women are wrapped up in.
God, this world is a mess. And You’ve left it to us – to me and to you – to tend it.
I have no trite answer, no tidy conclusion. Just an awareness of how deep our brokenness is, and how desperately we still need a Savior, even now, in the West, with our astonishing wealth and technology.
We still need Jesus.
We can’t save ourselves.