When Glennon Doyle Melton first announced the release of her memoir, Love Warrior, I was sickly jealous. I read her book description and cringed. This was my story, only what she wrestled with and what she overcame with her husband seemed ten times bigger than my narrative arc. I half-joked with friends that I had written an almost-compelling story. “In this story, Sarah Wells almost becomes an alcoholic…but then she doesn’t, and Sarah Wells almost gives in to temptation…but then she doesn’t, and Sarah Wells and her husband almost separate…but then they don’t. Watch Sarah Wells almost do a lot of things but then manage to keep it together in this unflinching story of love almost lost, longing almost resolved.”
Still simmering with envy over Glennon’s heavily endorsed memoir of love-conquers-all, I wrote to my agent with teeth gritted and said, “I think this book will end up belonging in my book’s family tree,” which was code for why couldn’t mine have been published first?!
Can we just hashtag this entire post “first-world writer problems”?
Shortly before her book launch this fall, Glennon announced publicly that she and her husband were separating.
Wait. What do you mean, you are separating? You are publishing a memoir about love winning, about staying together, about overcoming all the odds and all the awful, about surviving. My immediate thought was, why are you announcing this now?
My second thought was darker: This could happen to me. What if my love-conquers-all memoir gets published and then my happily-ever-after cracks open?
From the safe distance of I-don’t-even-know-her-story, I judged. This is what we tend to do as Christians. We are the proud owners of jump-to-conclusions mats; we hear of someone’s crisis, someone’s leaving or loss or abandonment or abortion or divorce and assume we know. We assume we could do better, assume we would have behaved better or made the “right” decision. We pull out our diagnostics for someone else’s marriage and determine what is necessary to fix it without ever taking a second to drive it, lift the hood, or check the brakes.
So before I read Love Warrior, I decided that Glennon should’ve stuck it out with her husband.
That’s the right thing to do. Stick it out.
I am ashamed of this assessment. After all, my own book-length manuscript is about conquering the “I’m okay, we’re fine, I’m fine, it’s fine” demons, breaking the rules and facing the fear of rejection, stepping into love and standing in warrior pose, unafraid. My own ongoing writing is about finding my true self, being honest and vulnerable and real, pricking open the bubble of the shallow exterior to find truth. And yet I skipped over the lap of mercy and jumped straight into the waiting arms of judgment, warm and safe in the untouchable space of strangers.
It is so easy to fall into this trap of judging the private life made public. I think I know the world and its major and minor celebrities because I have seen them in blog posts, read them in articles, watched them in movies, heard them in songs. Oh, I knew they were going to break up, I think to myself. I saw that coming in the lyrics on her last album. Somehow this makes me feel good, predicting demise. Somehow it makes me feel better, as though I’m above this person I don’t even know.
I share all this now by way of confession, because I believe that to move forward into healing any hurt both small and large is accomplished by dragging the truth into the light, and Love Warrior does that. Love Warrior is one woman’s story of the power of truth and love to overcome. It is a beautiful narrative of a journey from the false self toward the true self. It is not a how-to guide to get better but an honest account of another person’s path, and when you’re traveling your own path there’s nothing out there to inspire like someone else who’s already been there, and survived.
Women are especially good at silencing each other’s stories. We are afraid. We are afraid of abandonment. We are afraid we might be found out for who we really are, as if we even know ourselves. We are afraid of being found unworthy. But when you have found the source of your worth in Love, when you have discovered you are worthy because you are a body and a mind and a spirit created by a God who created you to love and to be loved, you discover a power that strips away that fear. Standing on this foundation of love and worthiness, you no longer have to fear. That identity and that grace cannot be taken from you, it can’t be judged away or extinguished by someone else’s critical eye or unloving actions.
But it can be shaken. Insecurity and doubt are the love warrior injured. When these creep in, I have to be reminded of who I am and where my strength comes from, or else I fall into the trap of criticism, judgment, and envy. If the way of the warrior is fearless, honest, true, and born of love, then I need to find the path again, and the best way to do that is to find a fellow warrior, in friendship, in marriage, in family, in church, and in books, stories that remind me who I am and where my strength comes from.
To be authentic followers of Christ, we have to abandon the jump-to-conclusions mats. It was a holy group of religious people who brought the woman caught in adultery before the Lord and asked him to condemn her, and it was the same holy group of religious people who all slowly turned away when asked who among them was without sin. When called on the carpet, they abandoned their jump-to-conclusions mats.
As Desmond Tutu says in The Book of Forgiving, “Although we might say, ‘I would never…’ genuine humility will answer, ‘Never say never.’ Rather say, ‘I hope that, given the same set of circumstances, I would not…’ But can we ever really know?”
I thought I knew. Given the same set of circumstances, I have no idea whether my “almost” would have taken the same turn as Glennon’s. All I know are my circumstances and the grace I have ridden on to be where I am…and now that I have read Glennon’s memoir, I have a glimpse of the same grace she has ridden on to be where she is. There is grace abundant enough for both narratives. For all narratives. And when I see the grace in her narrative, I’m reminded of the grace in my own.
If you are looking for a story of bravery to help you remember who you are and pursue that person wholeheartedly, you will find such a story in Love Warrior.
If you are looking for a reminder not to covet your neighbor’s property or encouragement to throw out your jump-to-conclusions mat, maybe read this post over again.