Jun 27, 2018

Losing Everything, Losing Nothing

By Katy Cloninger


The evening my husband came home and told me he was leaving me, my whole world crashed down around me. It seemed that in less than an hour, everything was stripped away from me—the man I loved; my marriage; stability for our new son and the additional children I had prayed would follow; my dream of staying home and homeschooling our children. . . . Now all my hopes for the future were ripped out from under me like a rug. But the biggest thing that was wrenched from me that night, and again and again during the long, painful process of divorce, was my pride, my self-righteousness.

Marriage and family are gifts from God. In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther lists “a devout husband or wife” and “devout children” in defining what is meant by daily bread, which we ask God to give us every day in the Lord’s Prayer. We are right to give marriage the highest possible honor, for it is the bedrock of a stable society, and even more importantly, it was instituted by God Himself in the yet-unfallen Garden of Eden. Marriage is where God performs the miracle of bringing forth children as the two become one flesh, and those children flourish best in a household shared by their married biological parents. As St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5, marriage is an icon of Christ and the Church, His holy Bride. Through marriage, Christian husbands and wives grow in their sanctification, learning to live together in harmony, giving of themselves, forgiving one another when they sin, and sacrificing for each other and for any children their union produces.

Yet marriage and family can become idols when we regard them as a measure of our godliness or as feathers in our caps, or simply as evidence that we are not as bad as our neighbors. Those who have an intact and fruitful marriage can be tempted to look down on others, even fellow Christians, whose family structures are not so ideal—whether through divorce, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, barrenness, or some other consequence of the fall. We can grow complacent in our outwardly ordered family structure, often failing to see our own need to work on our marriage alongside our husbands. Even if we see some signs of trouble, we may not be doing all we can to address them, because we are sure that everything is going to work out and that the unthinkable could never happen to us and our family. Pride goeth before a fall, and it’s just when we start to think we are doing pretty well that we are most at risk of losing it all. At least, that was the case for me.

The night my husband left me, I felt I had lost everything—but I hadn’t. I still had a roof over my head, parents who loved me and helped me out, eventually even letting me move back home, and a precious baby boy to take care of. My relationship with my brother grew stronger as we began to talk more, and I started reaching out and opening up to friends and neighbors whom I’d kept at arm’s length during my marriage. My pastor and other members of my congregation showed me love and support in ways I never would have expected. And on the many days I woke up not knowing how I was going to feed myself and my son, God somehow continued to provide for us our daily bread.

But even if I had lost all of those things, there is one thing no one could have taken away from me: Jesus. In my baptism, I was made a child of God and a fellow heir with Christ. The vows God made to me in my baptism are not subject to human whim, for Christ Jesus is the heavenly Bridegroom who will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). St. Paul assures us that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38–39). And Jesus Himself gives us His emphatic promise that we irrevocably belong to Him and His Father: “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand” (John 10:28–29). Week after week, day after day, as I hear and read the Word of God, I know that the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is always with me, protecting me, providing for me, and assuring me that even when life itself fails me, I will have eternal life with Him.

When divorce humbled me and stripped me of my pride, I gained something much better: the trust of a helpless child toward her heavenly Father. True, as a broken sinner and a daughter of Eve, I still struggle at times with pride and self-righteousness (though I’m often too proud to admit it!), and this struggle will likely continue to the day I die. But by taking away the outward appearance that I was doing everything right, God taught me, and continues to teach me, to look to Him for everything, from my daily bread, to approval, to my justification before God. Every day I realize more and more that apart from Christ, I can do nothing (John 15:5).

When God disciplines us, allowing us to suffer for our sins and even the sins of others, He does it for our good and because He loves us and has already accepted us (Hebrews 12:5–11). When God takes our idols away from us, He gives us much more than He has taken away: He gives us Himself, the one true God, whose blood shed on the cross removes every sin from us—even our idolatry, even our pride and self-righteousness, even our failure to live as the perfect spouse God’s Law requires us to be. As the perfect Husband, our Lord gives us everything, even His forgiveness, even His own righteousness, even eternal life with Him, and He makes us perfect and complete in Him. No one can take Jesus away from us—and He is all we need.


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Katy is a sister, daughter, and mother, as well as a freelance copyeditor and a member of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church (LCMS) in Columbia, SC. She has a BA in English from Newberry College, loves studying theology and teaching it to her son, and is currently enrolled in the school of hard knocks.

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