(Authors note: This article was originally published in September 2012 at StartMarriageRight.com)
I had someone tell me the other day, “Samuel, I’ve dealt with it. I’m done and have moved on. There’s no changing the fact that my husband just won’t love and care for me the way I need him to. I don’t feel anything about it anymore, I’m apathetic. Numb.”
I engaged with some questions to hear more about her apathy, and found the opposite to be true. She was locked in the battle of such intense conflict, she was doing everything in her power to shut down and numb her life.
I’m not sure about you, but when I’m truly apathetic about something, I don’t talk or think about it anymore. Not caring about something creates silence, or a lack of attention. Silence is the only true evidence of an apathetic spirit. The problem with apathy is that until we’re six-feet under, it’s impossible to be completely apathetic. We humans have too much hope, passion, and desire to be alive and fully numb at the same time. It’s just not possible.
Just last week I ran across this website, which highlights 20 or so young women who have taken some sort of movement towards addressing an issue in the world. They have all started with an idea and have built it up to become, in some instances, a thriving social justice platform. Each of these women have embodied the spirit of hope that resides within all of us. I don’t personally know any of these women, but I’ve met many like them and I can promise you they have suffered greatly for their passion.
They have chosen to bleed, sweat, and cry instead of giving in to the ease of anesthesia by way of food, sex, tv, or isolation.
The woman above who claimed to be apathetic is actually caught in a struggle very familiar to all of us. It’s the struggle of choosing to face or dim the pain. Seneca, a Roman philosopher, exclaimed that the bravest sight known to man is to see someone struggling with adversity. Bravery isn’t contingent upon victory, it’s about showing up and facing the difficulties of life. Just as hope is the enemy of apathy, so bravery is to failure.
Whether you want to face it or not, there is adversity in your life. It might feel as distant as your divorced parents, or as numb as your sexuality because of the abuse. The truth is, adversity has often been seen as your unwanted companion in life. This adversity might not show it’s true challenge until later in life, when some trigger summons it’s memory. In choosing marriage, one is inviting these distant adversaries to take residence in your home.
Some of the adversaries are specific stories, such as the time when your cousin inappropriately touched you, the times your father was violent, or when your best friend committed suicide. Each of these deserve your suffering and attention.
Though it may be paradoxical, knowing your adversary is a blessing.
These are the stories representing a cornerstone in your life. Some aren’t so fortunate to know what foundational moments to point to in their life.
It may be that there are no such traumatic stories in your life, which in and of itself in a different way may be traumatic. Sometimes the lack of suffering in life produces intense internal conflict, “why am I so unhappy, I have everything I’ve ever wanted,” or “there is no reason for me to be sad, but I am sad.” I often hear people asking questions about their own sufferings in comparison to those in worse situations. Usually though, comparison only leads to minimizing. The reality? If my hand and your finger are both severed in an accident, it doesn’t make the pain of a severed finger go away by comparing it to my severed hand.
If Psalm 73 is true, all of us experience some level of peace and orientation in life. This season at some point deteriorates and a period or season of disorientation sets in. This is followed by a period of reorientation or a new orientation. It’s the equation for maturation and growth. We start off in one direction, get thrown off that path (by our own choosing, or someone else’s), and then redirected onto a new path.
Perhaps your path today is taking you to something you’re incredibly hopeful about, like marriage. Let me be the first to congratulate you and cheer you on. Marriage is an exciting and wonderful adventure. It’s a hopeful union. Be confident and courageous in your new journey together.
Be on the lookout for emotionally numbing, apathetic responses towards your spouse and life, or unrealistic expectations of the other person.
When adversity happens, take time to consider the source and get help working through that with your spouse. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is in the kingdom of Heaven.” Your suffering or adversity is your ally: Will you allow it to be?