A friend of mine said something very interesting recently when we were talking about life in general and the stresses that come with it, especially as it relates to marriage at the stage of life that we are currently in (mid-life crisis, whatever that means). He said that the way he relates to how his life is going right now is… he is just trying to “get to the next chapter.” He went on to say that it’s like a good book that you might be reading – even if the chapter you are currently in is slow or disinteresting – you will keep reading it. You’ll just keep plugging away at it, even if you don’t like it. Why? You’re just trying to get to the next chapter. You know, or you at least you hope, based on previous chapters, that the next chapter is going to be better and you want to see how this book ends.
There inevitably will be times, even in, or maybe even especially in marriage, where you are just trying to “get to the next chapter.” Life – and when I say life, I generally mean the devil in all his entrapments – has a way of consuming us and making us question why we are even still reading the book that we picked up, why we are living the life that has happened to us, or that we are currently in. Relating it back to marriage – the devil causes us to continually question whether or not we should throw away the book we are reading or plug away at this difficult chapter as we work towards getting to the next.
Is This the Chapter You Had Planned on Reading?
I think we all get to a point in our lives, good or bad, where we ask the question… is this the life I had planned? It’s probably a question we ask at many different stages in life. I think if the majority of us were honest about our present situations, we would say that our lives probably don’t look much like what we had planned or envisioned back when we were setting off on our own and making plans for our future. When I was 18 and I knew it all and had the rest of my life planned out – it didn’t look much like the life I am currently living. I didn’t expect to live in the part of the country I do now. I didn’t know how many kids I would have, or exactly who I would be married to (even though I hoped it would be my current wife). I didn’t have a clue that I would be working in the kind of job I am working now. I had no idea who my current friends would be or why they would be important to me at this stage in my life. I never would have expected that my mother, father, sister, and brother would all have gone through divorces and remarriage. Life’s journey takes many unexpected twists and turns along the way.
Of course for most of us, our expectations were probably slightly off kilter a little bit, too. Generally we set our expectations much higher than what reality might ever grant us – much to our detriment many times, too. I am not opposed to dreaming, I’m a big dreamer myself, but we need to be careful that our dreams have some element of reality in them. This chapter of my life is not exactly what I had envisioned it would be, but I don’t know that my expectations have always been as realistic as they should have been either.
Can I Keep Reading This Chapter?
A more difficult question, at least for me to answer is… can I continue to “read this chapter” for the next X number of years? Is this a life I can continue to live for the next 40 years? That’s a tough question to even ask. It’s a scary question to ask, because of all the implications that come with some of the possible answers to it. You really almost feel guilty thinking about a question like that. But, can you continue to keep living the same life you are living right now, for another 5 years? What about 10 years, or 20, or 30, or 40? You get the gist.
Can you keep reading, trudging through this particular chapter to get to the next? Whether the next chapter is just a few weeks down the road, a few years, or maybe the next chapter, when things finally get better for you, is not even in this life – maybe it’s 40 years down the road, and the next chapter worth reading is in Heaven.
Just Keep Reading
Here’s the thing – even if our lives are pretty good and somewhat how we had envisioned them – there are going to come times in our marriages when we need to “just keep reading.” The easy choice is to just skip to the next chapter or even drop that book and pick up another one. As it relates to marriage, sometimes the “easy choice” means withdrawing from our spouse and seeking a relationship with a more “interesting chapter” or maybe it even means hitting the reset button on our lives and choosing divorce (another book altogether).
In a lot of life situations, easy generally isn’t the best answer. I personally don’t think skipping to the next chapter is the answer. I don’t think starting a new book is the right answer. You can hear Dorri singing at this point, can’t you? “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” Well, listen to me, “Just keep reading, just keep reading…”
Sometimes we just have to keep reading through this “boring or difficult chapter” of our lives. Sometimes we just have to hold ourselves accountable and live out the decisions that we made, even if we made them without really having a clue what we were doing when we made those life-altering decisions. Did you really know what you were doing when you decided what to major in at college? Did you really understand the implications of the job you took or the religion you decided to adhere to initially? Did you really know what you were doing when you got married or what that commitment really meant 5, 10, 15 years down the road? Did you have any clue what each chapter was going to look like or how this story would end when you picked the book up? Probably not.
I urge you to just keep reading. We must continue to live the life we have committed to – we cannot give up.
The Book’s Not Finished Yet – Rewrite the Next Chapter
I don’t want this to all sound negative – there is a positive side in all of this. So, if the answer isn’t to skip to the next chapter or start a new book – what is it? Sometimes the answer is to just keep reading – you’ve got to and can make it through this chapter. But, the next chapter doesn’t have to look like the current one. You can change what the next chapter looks like. You are in control! You control your future. We feel like we are stuck sometimes, but we aren’t. You are in control!
You are the author of your story. As it relates to marriage – you are the co-author. If things aren’t as ideal as you might have imagined them, then you and your spouse need to rewrite the next chapter together. Communication is key. Your spouse may not even have a clue that you aren’t enjoying this chapter. Talk to your spouse and start the rewrite together. Pick up the pen and start writing. The next chapter isn’t going to magically be better without your input. You are in control – don’t allow your book to be written for you while you passively sit on the sidelines and complain or make yourself miserable. This chapter may stink. This chapter probably isn’t what you had envisioned. So, make the next one better – start the re-write and choose to make it what you want it to be. Make the next chapter a better one. Participate – write – win! This book can still turn out to be a good one – maybe even better than what you had expected!