Plan B – When God’s Promises Don’t Work Out

planB_black

The morning started out like most of them do for me.  I paced my livingroom and kitchen with a cup of coffee in my hand, and tried to focus on the reality of the presence of God. A tough sell, some mornings.

And for some reason, an old unanswered question was rolling through my head again. What went wrong?  Why didn’t it turn out the way I envisioned, the way I felt God had promised me?

I was referring to my failed “marriage” of 15 years. Sure, failed marriages aren’t that unusual. And most people (I imagine) get through them without having to re-examine their whole theological and spiritual framework.  But, ya know, I’m weird that way.  When we first got together, X and I (I’ll just refer to him as “X” here, since I’m not trying to drag his name through the mud) — when we first got together, there were all kinds of divine indicators that we were on the right path, that we had a bright and purposeful future ahead of us.  There was every indication that we had the divine seal of approval, the go-ahead, a mission, and the blessing.  (Okay, if you’re not of a particular charismatic bent where you believe God speaks in sometimes very powerful and mystical ways, then don’t freak out. Just skip over that last part, and read on.)  But those things didn’t pan out.  The visions didn’t materialize, the promise of that loving and purposeful future evaporated, and instead of becoming more focused, we grew more and more estranged from each other. And then we ended it.

No major drama. That’s not the story here. We both knew we failed. We both recognized that we hadn’t lived up to our own expectations and obligations. We knew we had vast differences  that we’d stopped trying to reconcile; it was just too much work and too tiring to continue. Somewhere along the way, at different points for each of us, we’d just given up.  Nothing extraordinary about it — it was/is a completely human story.  I understood that part of it.

But what I still couldn’t make sense of
was how all that spiritual stuff fit in.

Hadn’t God told me that he was “the One”?  Didn’t God tell us …?  Weren’t there specific promises, clear descriptions of what would happen?  And even if we blew it, what did that say about the divine side of it all? How do “alternate endings” — ends of the story that deviate from the original plan — fit with in the divine scheme of things, especially when “God has spoken”?

So, sipping my dark French roast, trying to wake up and clear my head for the day, that question rolled in again out of nowhere.

Okay, whatever; I thought.  Let’s move on. Got lots to do today.  And I cracked open my Bible (cuz, you know, it’s always a good idea to start your day out that way, right? And if you’ve got unanswered questions rolling through your head, ya never know what might jump out at ya from the pages and make things clearer.)

And there it was. Simple. Seemingly inconsequential. And it hit me like a ton of bricks.

And the LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, seeing I have rejected him from reigning over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I’m sending you to Bethlehem, to Jesse, for I have chosen one of his sons to be king …”  (1 Sam 16:1)

Not getting it?  That’s probably because you hadn’t just read the few preceding chapters in 1 Samuel the day before.  Ancient Israel had been ruled for generations by a series of Judges, inspired leaders, who lived normal lives and then did extraordinary things when the nation was in danger.  But they wanted a king, like all the other nations.  God wasn’t crazy about the idea, knowing the particular weakness humans have when it comes to power, and seeing it as a rejection of Him as their true King.  But, like an indulgent father, he gave in to his whiney children and let Samuel anoint Saul as the first king of Israel. And as confirmation, when Saul was anointed, he became a changed person. His heart changed, he prophesied, and he did some amazing things. And he was promised a lasting dynasty and a blessed future. (Seeing the connection now?) But Saul ignored some basic commands from Samuel — instructions his kingship rested upon.  His position was dependent on God’s empowerment, and it was conditional upon his particular obedience. And he blew it. Twice. And finally God had enough.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done a foolish thing. You have not kept the command the LORD your God gave you. If you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time.  But now your kingdom will not endure; the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him to be ruler of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.” (1Sa 13:13-14)

It was over. And God sent Samuel to go anoint David, Jesse’s son, as the next king.  And that “kingdom established forever” promise now went to David.

God can be pretty tolerant. He puts up with a lot of stuff from us, his kids. But when it comes to important stuff — usually involving other people he cares about, things he’s made you responsible for — he can reach a point, draw a line in the sand, and say “that’s it. You’ve had your chance. I still love you, of course, but I’m giving this job to someone else.”

Plan B-whiteboardPlan B. Alternate ending.  And nevermind about all those blessings and that glorious future he promised.  His love is unconditional and eternal. But promises, it seems, are another story. Promises that go with a particular job, role or function, depend on the performance of that function.

And me and X, well, we’d given up on that function, particularly where it came to dealing with each other.  Sure, we had a mission and a purpose in our joint venture of a life beyond the love and mutual care-giving of a committed relationship.  I’m not sure if the two were dependent on each other (the mission and the love), but the mission definitely wasn’t happening when the love part got neglected.  And, like Saul’s kingship, our reign ended with a whimper instead of a bang.

But the good news is, the story doesn’t end just because the ending changes.

That’s Plan B. It’s a message of hope. A promise (this one unattached to performance) that God will work things out for our good, even if the characters and the plot of our story get changed.

“How long will you keep mourning?
Now get up, … I have provided a replacement for you …”

That’s what hit me like a ton of bricks.  My story isn’t over (not that I ever doubted that it was; eh hem!)  Those divine visions and promises for the future for X and me were performance-based.  We failed.  We didn’t hold up to our side of the promise.  And yes, we’re forgiven.  Yes, we’re still loved.  But that story line is ended.  And I don’t need to worry about it, don’t need to fret — don’t need to mourn it any longer.  A new ending is being written — an alternate ending.  And that “established kingdom” — how ever that figuratively translates into my own personal life — is being established through another.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying all marriages are mission-based, but they all may very well be performance-based. If you don’t fulfill your marital duties to each other, you can’t really expect that marriage to last, divine promises or no.  But our God is a God of second chances, of alternate endings. Of Plan B.  Hopefully, we’ll do better this time around.

I’ll send you an invitation to the wedding …

 

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
[/box]

BYOB – Gay and Single (Again) After 40

[dropcap style=”font-size: 60px; color: #e10069;”]I'[/dropcap]ll just call him X.  Since he is no longer part of my daily life, and this really isn’t about him anyway,  there’s no need to drag his name into this.

We split last year. Now I’m a gay man, well-past the 40-year mark, adjusting to living alone, taking care of myself, and being a single-dad to two wonderful dogs. I’ve still got the house — and I guess that’s something. No, that’s not fair. It’s huge.  At least I don’t have to start all over again in that area.  Of course the mortgage is all mine too. And the utilities. And the maintenance.  Things like mowing the lawn, trimming the hedges, dusting, vacuuming, and remembering to take the trash out on collection day, all the simple things you probably spent most of your adolescent years dreaming of sharing with Mr Right, and now I’ve got to do them all myself.

I’ll leave the emotional venting to some other time. Break-ups are hard. And that’s how it should be. You don’t spend years intertwining your lives, then bring the giant meat cleaver down on that, and not have it mess up your head and your heart for a while. I’ve had it relatively easy in this department. Our break-up was a long time in the making, so there was plenty of time for emotional preparedness. Sure, I started leaving the radio on at night just so the house wouldn’t seem so empty when I went to bed. But hey, I’m a Christian guy, and I played Christian music, so I thought it had some added spiritual benefit to the house atmosphere anyway.

And I did what you gotta do when staying in a familiar environment without your familiar companion: I recreated it in my own image. I painted the bedroom, I rearranged the furniture, I threw out things he liked and had left behind, things I never really liked anyway. I cleaned out closets and cupboards. I emptied the fridge and freezer of foods that he mostly preferred. And I bought some new clothes. Okay, not too many. I’ve never been what you’d call a “stylish gay.” I tend more toward Levi jeans, simple long-sleeved shirts, and shoes all my friends say should belong to a lesbian.  But I discovered the wonders of discount clothing stores (Ross, Marshall’s, etc). Who knew?  The things you learn when you’re rebuilding your life, remaking your world. Alone. And after 40.

And what I discovered in the process is that none of these was a bad thing. They were unexpected opportunities for personal growth, for expanding my life-skill sets, for learning new things, trying new things.  It was even exciting. Few people get the chance to reinvent themselves, and I decided I was going to take advantage of it.

BYOB – Be Your Own Boyfriend

Romance yourself
One of my first decisions was that I was going to treat myself right. “BYOB.” Be Your Own Boyfriend.  The way I wanted to be treated by that special someone, is how I was determined to treat myself.  And hey, isn’t that a Christian attitude too? Just a spin on “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

I decided I would take care of myself — that I needed to take care of myself — in a few focused areas.

I would eat better.  With a grocery budget now available for just one, I had more freedom to buy better quality food.  Good-bye prepackaged stovetop side-kicks. Hello, organic produce, whole-grain breads, free-range, hormone-free chicken, and even higher quality junk food (I love me some Pepperidge Farms Brussels cookies).  And ya know? I can probably justify some decent coffee, too.  Although cooking was usually X’s department, I used to be pretty handy in the kitchen, and  I still find chopping vegetables and stirring a pot of something fresh on the stove to be almost therapeutic on lazy Saturday afternoons.  Like the pot of beef stew with sweet potatoes I’ve got simmering right now.  All those hours in front of the Food Network gotta be good for something.  Even my dogs are eating better — I dumped their Pedigree for a better quality, grain-free food.

I would maintain my body better. I’ve never been a gym-addict, and even regular exercise was always a struggle (as my neglected treadmill will testify), so I have no illusions about joining a fitness club. But I did buy a subscription to Men’s Health, and that counts for something, right?  And I am slowly learning the benefit of just doing something physical every day, a little at a time.  I read that you’d be surprised at the changes in your body by just doing 100 pushups a day (spread out throughout the day), and since I figured my butt could stand a little improvement, I added in 100 squats a day for good measure.  A set or two in the morning, some squeezed in during lunch, a few when I get home from work or on commercials during my tv time, and maybe even a few before bed.   Easy.  (Well, in theory, anyway ….)

That covers food and fitness. A good friend, my pastor, also warned me not to withdraw into my shell, not to become a recluse.  That way leads to a certain downward spiral into depression.  So I committed to maintaining — hell, if I’m gonna be honest, to starta healthy social life. X was never big on having friends around too much, and we had few friends in common. So this was gonna be breaking fallow ground for me.  I made up my mind to spend time with friends on a regular basis.  Just hanging out. Or going to lunch or dinner.  Or spending a little more time just chatting with people after church (still working on this one).  The key is this: a person’s sense of happiness is often directly tied to the quality of their social interactions. Friendships.  “Life is with people,” as the Jewish perspective goes. So if I am going to stay sane and healthy, this area is gonna require special effort.

And hey, maybe in the process, too, I can rediscover myself. I can rediscover some of my early passions that got squeezed out by the daily demands of a long-term relationship.  I’d always loved music — and by “music” I mean quality stuff, classical, orchestrated, even modern, anything good as long as it had “layers,” a depth of sound, and was fully emotive. Not some insipid Top 40 drivel that gets the most commercial air time (including some of that aforementioned Christian music crap). But X wasn’t a music-lover. And it wasn’t by any deliberate decision, but over time, I’d stopped listening. The multi-component stereo system I had when we met had devolved into a simple boom-box. That was gonna change — is changing.  I bought some new Sony equipment, excavated some of my old CD favorites, and my life already feels just a bit richer.  Music is gonna be welcomed back into my life.

Art, music, literature, theater, travel.  The staples of a gay man’s life (supposedly).  I hadn’t been to an art opening, a museum, or a concert in over a decade.  The pages of my latest passport are glaringly blank. The things I used to refer to in college as “quality of life” had gradually fallen to the wayside. I can’t blame X for this. Some of this is the natural consequence of growing up — of changing focus from a life of self-gratification and enjoyment to one where paying the mortgage, the medical insurance, and joint living expenses takes precedence.  Fine. I can’t be a carefree, irresponsible youth anymore. I don’t even want to.  But I do miss a good musical.

And that dating thing. Phew!  The world has changed radically since my former dating days.  The internet hadn’t progressed much beyond AOL chat rooms over a 24K modem when I was last actively in the market. Now the internet is buzzing with social networking sites, from match.com, CompatiblePartners (eHarmony doesn’t do gay, so they invented this sister site) and okCupid, to wild phone apps like Grindr and Growlr where you can connect for random hook-ups. (So I hear … eh hem.)   I’m checking the safe ones out, to be sure – ya never know where you might find true love.

Do I even want get back into a life-time, monogamous relationship?  Doesn’t everyone?  Lord knows, it’s not about the sex — well, not just about sex, especially when you’re closer to mid-life than puberty.  “It is not good for man to be alone” — God said that, so who am I to argue?  X may be gone, but I’m still here.  Life doesn’t end when a relationship does, and I still have a good 30 or 40 years ahead of me.   I’m not the only “divorced” guy out there trying to rebuild his life after-40.  Maybe I’ll run into one of them on this new leg of my journey. (“Call me.”)

I’m confident, with God’s help, I’ll someday be married again — even if it’s not recognized by my state.  But it’s gonna be a lot tougher on the new guy.  Once I get used to treating myself really well, to being my own boyfriend, he’s got a hard act to follow. The bar will be set a lot higher than it was when I was in my 20s and 30s.

 

 

 

[box type=”bio”]
STEVE SCHMIDT serves on the pastoral staff of Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. He blogs at CafeInspirado.com, and you can always find him skulking on Facebook.
[/box]