The shaggy-haired Belfast man pointed his marker at the camera: “You’re not just what you have, you’re also what you’d like to have.”1
In his Northern Irish lilt, philosopher Peter Rollins continued his online lecture discussing the absurdity of the Cross and its acknowledgment of the fundamental “lack” haunting the depths of each human soul. He discussed the difference between the “object” and “object-cause” of our desires, stating that the things we want (the object) may be the spouse, the house, the two-and-a-half-kids and a dog, but the part where the life is found is rather in the pursuit (object-cause) of those things.
One of Rollins’ oft-repeated lines is that he hopes all people get everything they ever wanted . . . that way they can know just how miserable life is without lack. “When you get everything you want,” Rollins says, “you become miserable. The name for this is melancholia.”
Now, I’m never one to back down from sadness (you who know me will call that the understatement of the year!) and I resonate with defining “melancholy” as the happiness of being sad. I have ever been aware of my deep, unassuageable emptiness, of being “soaked with a sense of exile.”
Yet this – this melancholia – was different. It was like going to sleep in the midst of a beautiful grove of trees at the height of summer, yet waking to the grey barrenness of deep winter. Not a natural part of my personality but rather the resulting emptiness caused by my de facto belief in the ability of people and things to fulfill me.
And the name of what had happened to me.
Of course, as my marriage was falling apart and I found myself drifting toward another woman, I would never have admitted that my actions were, at least in part, motivated by this aching sense of betrayal, but unfortunately it’s all too clear in hindsight.
I had done everything right.
I had been the preacher’s kid who didn’t get in trouble. I hadgraduated from Bible college and found a full-time ministry. I had worn the True Love Waits ring and married a fellow virgin (the editor preferred “gorgeous woman”). And now we even had the dog, the kid, and the house. What else could be missing? Apparently something, because by twenty-four I’d achieved everything I was ever promised and it tasted like ash in my mouth.
Now, that’s not to say I didn’t love my family or my ministry – I did. I knew I’d found a woman whose purity and simplicity were merely the first level of a many-tiered castle, with whole wings I (and she) had yet to explore. Thankfully this was true, because the road we were about to walk would test her love and commitment to me as they never yet had in our short time together. We would both come out on the other side: burned, bruised, and battered, but with a much deeper understanding of how suffering can cause transformation and uncover streams of Grace hidden under the surface of life.
But at this moment, all I could think of was how utterly betrayed I felt. I looked at my house and saw a cage, hating every square foot. I looked at my wife and instead of a complex being with joys and pains, saw my jailer: stubborn and blunt, the proud owner of a “simple faith” – utterly lacking the sophistication I so obviously deserved in a mate. At this point, the only thing bringing me unmitigated joy was my son. But it just wasn’t enough.
And the melancholia set in.
So, when a young woman to whom I’d been secretly attracted showed the slightest signs of interest, I leapt into pursuit. At first, I tried to act like the wise adult, calling her aside and explaining how I felt and that I needed to put distance between us. But the truth I wasn’t willing to admit was that I just wanted confirmation of her feelings. I had always felt a kindred spirit when I spoke with her: we expressed ourselves similarly and were familiar with that beautiful ache all aesthetes intuitively feel. We both even felt drawn to the same contemplative spirituality, having grown up in evangelical contexts and finding them wanting.
It’s not difficult to see how this mutual identification and self-revelation quickly developed into a relationship. And it’s not difficult to see how I found opportunity: she was involved in almost everything we did, from my worship ministry to leadership to all the random events. And I always had excuses to be away from home. As I gradually drifted away from Mikala and into this new, exciting relationship, she, undoubtedly out of self-preservation, drifted into the life of our very young child. And so it went until the pain of literally watching her husband fall in love with someone else became unbearable (and way too obvious to both her and our dear friend Bonnie) – and she called me out.
I came clean. She decided, perhaps against all logic, to stay. The excruciatingly slow next part of the process was to be expected: nights on the guest bed, months of desperate questions, of angry conversations, tears, and counseling. And then we seemed to turn a corner.
Until, almost exactly a year later, someone told the senior pastor.
But that’s a post for another time.
1. When Atheism Isn’t Atheistic Enough. Perf. Peter Rollins. N.p., 27 Nov. 2016. Web. 21 Mar. 2017.↩