Don’t Hold Out for the Disney Ending By Karolyn Dekker
My son and I enjoy an ongoing debate. He prefers a movie with a dark side that concludes in an unexpected way, avoiding an unrealistic wrap-up with a happy ending. His rationale? That’s life! Those movies are a better reflection of our reality here on earth. I don’t argue, but if I’m going to spend money for entertainment, I want the Disney ending. Where else am I going to experience it?
While we laugh about our different views, I believe there’s a danger in the Christian life when we feel entitled to a Disney ending, though ironically, what we have coming is much better – heaven awaits us. If we truly believed this, our illusions of earthly happy endings might dissolve.
A Purpose for the Pain
For now, stuck this side of heaven, we have to learn what is meant by the abundant life without relying on happy endings. We don’t have to avoid them purposely, but I’ve learned they can’t be my ultimate goal. We’re created to glorify God no matter what. That is our true purpose. God calls me to live a life that brings Him praise, in spite of the circumstances.
When I’m honest with myself, I admit that a less-than-Disney-ending draws me closer to Jesus. It’s the shattering of my dreams, even my heart, which thrusts me into His arms. I can see how God uses pain to grow me, deepen my faith, and teach me to lean into Him, relying less on outside circumstances. Those are hard lessons, but I wouldn’t trade them for anything. However, not everyone embraces that idea.
An Infected World View
After suffering for decades in an abusive marriage, I finally separated from my husband. God demonstrated His guidance and leadership during those difficult times and I never lacked His peace, even amidst pain. As I educated myself on abuse, I realized my marriage wasn’t the only institution marked by abusive behaviors. The problem of abuse in the church is more rampant than anyone wants to believe and leaders are sometimes quick to sweep it under the rug. I’ve witnessed abuse in a pastor’s family, but since no one wants to acknowledge it, the elephant stays in the middle of the sanctuary.
Disney 1; Truth 0
While my husband attended Bible school, I attended a wives’ support group that offered fellowship to the students’ spouses. Invited speakers shared on various topics, but no one ever mentioned abuse. In retrospect, I couldn’t help but wonder if learning about abuse earlier might’ve helped to identify it sooner in my marriage. A friend, who also attended the same group, failed to recognize abuse in her co-worker’s life. Our ignorance is killing marriages, and slowly killing the victims from the inside out, while abuse thrives.
Years later, I visited the new leaders of the group and told my story, sharing how I wanted these women – wives of future pastors and missionaries – to be aware of the insidious nature of emotional abuse. The leaders politely listened and asked a variety of questions. Then, after an awkward pause, one of them inquired, “Is there any chance you’re able to finish the story by telling us how you’ve reconciled and now you’re back together?”
That’s when I knew they wanted the storybook ending. It ultimately came down to this: if I had a Disney ending, they would’ve allowed me to share my story. Due to my continued estrangement, they weren’t interested.
How sad for them, I thought. God doesn’t only show up in our earthly victories. He is victorious even in our failures! I had learned what it meant to rely on God as my husband. I finally got to a point where I was satisfied with knowing God, and no longer worried about my reputation. I could truly say, God is enough, even when my marriage failed. How sad they didn’t want that message to be propagated.
No Happily Ever After
Fast forward. Now it’s been seven years since my separation. Multiple attempts at reconciliation showed my spouse wasn’t interested in getting the help he needed. Between the counsel of others and extenuating circumstances, I moved forward with a divorce. Our next wedding anniversary would be our 30th. That should be a celebrated milestone, but it would only be another reminder of our failure. I didn’t want to live through another anniversary, and especially not that one. I sensed God’s peace to move forward, and He even provided a way to do it without a lawyer.
Imagine my surprise when 45 days after the divorce I received a call with the news that my former spouse was dead. I was stunned. In fact, in spite of my abusive marriage, the pain of that paled in comparison, knowing I would have to deliver the news of his demise to each of our four children. It was gut wrenching. They had already suffered because of their father’s neglect; this final blow was killing all chances of developing a meaningful relationship with their dad. No one saw it coming and it hit hard. Very hard.
My not-so-happy ending of divorce had evolved into an even sadder ending. Where is Disney when you need him?
Coming to Peace with my Past
One of the questions in my heart was, “If God knew my husband was going to die, why give me peace to move forward with the divorce?” A reasonable explanation alluded me. I didn’t want or need a painful divorce. I never actually shook my fist at God, but questions were smoldering within me.
I decided to spend extended time with God in order to listen. Surely, He had something to say, but I sensed God was asking me the questions. “Karolyn, why do you want to erase the divorce from your past? Why is skipping that step so important to you that you would question Me as to why I gave you peace to proceed?“
One of my closest friends also challenged me. “Karolyn, your divorce validates your experience. You want to work with women who either are already divorced or may be on their way there. You know the struggle. You know what they’re feeling. Having gone through it yourself makes you better equipped to minister to hurting women.”
I knew she was right.
I realized that pride played the biggest role in my push back. I would appear more spiritual as a grieving widow, rather than a divorcee. I didn’t want my scarlet “D” on display. However, I knew God is always more concerned with truth rather than creating a facade, and the truth was we had a terrible, failed marriage because of emotional abuse.
This is a reality within many Christian marriages today and too many people are trying to cover it up. God put it on my heart to share my story with others over the years, and when I did, I saw fruit. In addition, while initiating a support group for abused women, I realized I needed to accept my past and talk about it openly with others. My former husband’s death was not a call to cover up our marital failure. It would give others assurance that they would receive no judgement from me if their story also ended in divorce.
I still like my Disney movies, and I admit I enjoy a sigh of relief when life’s real dramas end well. However, I’ve learned that the goal is not to achieve a particular end state, but rather to live my life moment-to-moment in His presence, in spite of the ending. After all, we know what the ultimate ending will be, and it’s much better than anything Disney could dream up!