In our hometown, there is a popular hiking trail known to locals as the Incline. The incline is the remains of an old railway up the side of a mountain and gains over 2,000 feet of elevation in less than one mile. It may not look challenging from the bottom, but the halfway point tells a different story. As you near the end of the Incline, preparing to take your last step, you are faced with the unexpected. Laying before you are 300 more railroad ties to the real summit. The false summit is the point where many hikers swear, curse the hiking gods, and look upon their final resting place just 300 steps away from their destination. My last post felt a little like a false summit in our marriage.
I usually have Chris read my posts before or directly after I post them. I’ll usually get his feedback as I’m writing, and I’ll send him a link immediately after I publish. This is our story, and I want him to have a say in how it’s told. I recognize that he has a perspective about marriage that I don’t, and I value that. As I was writing The Line, I kept telling the story from Chris’s perspective. His affair had been with a long-time friend, but the more I told his story, the more bitterness and resentment I felt welling up inside me. Even though I knew it was a message that needed to be told, it wasn’t coming out right.
After leaving the post in my drafts for months, I realized that the message would be just as effective if I told my story…but it wouldn’t necessarily be easier. Chris and I had not talked about Nate much in the past. When I came home that evening and told Chris about what had been going on with me and Nate, Chris didn’t react the way I thought he would at all. He was a little indifferent to it all. Later I learned he was having an affair when I had told him about Nate. I didn’t know that at the time.
By the time Chris finally tried to talk to me about Nate, he had already passed me a trump card that I could use to win any argument for the rest of our lives, and I played it regularly. As a result, we never really talked about what happened with me and Nate. Writing about it wasn’t going to be easy for me. I knew it would bring up a lot of old feelings of neglect, shame, and embarrassment, but I also knew it would probably be just as hard for Chris to read about.
When I got home I warned him that my new post wasn’t going to be easy to read, and I handed him the computer. As I watched him silently scroll through the post, I sat nervously waiting for his feedback. When he was finished reading I could tell he was thinking about my words. There was still some lingering hurt in his eyes, and I wanted to tread lightly.
He didn’t look at me as he said, “Well, it wasn’t my favorite. But it’s part of our story, and we can’t tell our story and skip over the parts we don’t like.”
Later that night I gave him the opportunity to talk to me, to process that part of our story. The part where I hurt him, both through my own unfaithfulness and my inability to let him be hurt by it. He told me that he was hurt by what I had done, but he felt like he didn’t have a right to say anything when he knew he was doing something worse. He said that reading my story took him back to that time in our life and that he was ashamed of how he had treated me. He said he was sorry that he put me in that situation. And that was all he had to say.
The rest of our weekend felt awkward. But why? We weren’t in that place anymore. He wasn’t the same man. I didn’t feel neglected in our marriage. We were good. In fact, part of the reason I started writing about our story was because I felt confident in our ability to never be in that place again. So why was there tension and awkwardness between us?
We have come so far in our marriage, and we both feel at peace with our past and our journey to get to where we are now. But that doesn’t mean that we’ve figured it all out yet. We’ve breezed past the easy parts where the steps are small and our feet are light, we’ve scaled the rough terrain where the air is thin and our muscles are burning with exhaustion, and we’ve reached the false summit.
Now we have two choices. We can feel defeated, looking ahead at how far we still have to go, or we can take a breath, turn around, and look at how far we have come. Yes, we still have some lingering issues that we need to work through. Yes, there is some scar tissue that causes some pain when the weather turns cold. Yes, we’re still trying to figure out how to be the best spouse we can be to each other. But now there is a view: the view of our our struggles, our perseverance, and our accomplishments. That view is worth the pause in our journey to stop and reflect.
There was deep hurt that came out of our unfaithfulness, and there will be times when we’ll experience some residual consequences to those sins no matter how much we grow or how many days separate us from that period in our life. It’s alright to be reminded of that pain as long as we don’t allow it to cause bitterness, resentment, or guilt. That’s where we still have some work to do, but I’m confident that God will give us the strength we need to complete this journey hand in hand, together.
To date, no one has died on the Incline from giving up. They take a break, regain their strength, and forge ahead. And the view from the top, at the real summit, is breathtaking. Looking past the other hikers that are traveling your same path, over the trail that caused so much stress on your body, and upon the journey that the trail took you on, you breathe it in…and there is gratitude. When we reach the end of our lives, I hope I stop and look back with fondness for the journey and the beautiful rhythm of brokenness, pain, restoration, and triumph in our marriage. What a sight that will be.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
– Hebrews 12:1-2
*Photo taken at the top of the Manitou Incline with a cloud cover over the city.