Saying, “This is as good as it gets”
December 8, 2022
by Robert E. Cranston, MD, MA (Ethics)
I have a dear Christian friend of whom I have finally had to say, “This is as good as it gets,” and leave him in the Lord’s hands.
Marlin* and I have known each other since we were both young boys. At times, we were very close and did lots of things together. We visited in each other’s homes, exercised together, went on dinner dates, shared holidays and called frequently. When Marlin went through a divorce, I was a listener, receiving his phone calls weekly for months, as he worked through his pain. Then he found love again, and he and Agatha,* who also claimed to be a Christian, married.
At first, I was thrilled he had another chance to be happy. Unfortunately, I soon began noticing some disturbing trends. Agatha reportedly had escaped from an emotionally abusive marriage a few years earlier. Perhaps that was why she now showed a marked tendency to attempt to control as many variables in life as she could; perhaps she was always a controller. In Marlin’s case, this included his contacts with other people, how he spent money and later his access to a telephone. Marlin’s biological children essentially cut off contact with Marlin and Agatha, and Agatha blamed this on them and Marlin’s ex-wife. Since I was close to Marlin, they never shared their reasoning with me, but I often wondered how much of this was true or how much was due to Agatha’s behavior.
A few years later, Agatha started cutting my wife and me out of their lives. It began by not answering our phone calls. (She had already taken his phone away.) I would call and leave messages four or five times over several weeks before Agatha would finally respond, and when she did, she never apologized for not returning calls. Instead, she blamed it on their busy lives. Then she allowed her voicemail box to become full, effectively preventing us from leaving messages. She still must have seen the missed calls, however, so we knew she was aware we were attempting to connect. Next, she began refusing to answer texts. We would text multiple times over several weeks, and might finally receive a short answer, “Busy, busy, busy….”
I next sent him a letter with a self-addressed, stamped envelope, and I asked Marlin to please send back a short reply if he received my letter. No response. We looked him up on the internet, and it showed he was still alive, living at his same old address. Later, on his birthday, a decade celebration, we sent him a card, as did my sister and an aunt and uncle. No replies.
These days, with cancel culture and with a growing trend for people to dissociate from people who they disagree with or find difficult (ridding their lives of “toxic” people), some are cutting ties over minor issues, with minimal attempts at bridging divides. This is certainly not true with our attitude toward Marlin.
Over many years, we have prayed for this situation frequently and reached out as described above. We have felt great pain at the loss of Marlin’s friendship. We believe that in light of his divorce, the estrangement of his children and some significant health issues, he is afraid that if he disagrees with Agatha on deleting us from their lives, she will abandon him, as she has threatened, and he will be truly alone as his health worsens.
In Acts 13, Paul had to eventually tell the Jews who refused to listen that he would offer Christ’s message of hope to others and not invest more time in preaching to them. Though a Jew himself, with a deep love for the Jewish people, he turned his attention to the Gentiles.
A friend had a husband who abused her consistently over years in every way except by using physical force. Despite multiple attempts at psychological counseling, many prayers, a two-month separation, a month-long alcohol rehab program and repeated promises to improve, his behaviors did not change—and those behaviors threatened the welfare of our friend and the children. Repeatedly, Christian advisors told her that as she didn’t have iron-clad proof of infidelity (though this was highly likely,) she had no grounds for divorce and breaking up the family would be her fault and a sin. Fortunately, she eventually realized that she had to protect herself and the children by divorcing him. Life has not been easy for her or the children since then, but we all recognize this was necessary and biblically and ethically correct. She had and still has a responsibility before God to protect the children and herself from real physical and psychological damage. We pray for the family daily.
We also pray for Marlin and Agatha often (Luke 6:27-29), but we also realize that if they are to change, it will be because the Holy Spirit is working in them, and they have chosen to change. Until this happens, we need to focus our emotional energy on others who have not made it exceedingly clear that they don’t want to maintain our friendship. The likelihood that we will be able to change any other person is vanishingly small, but we can change our attitude and response to them. Alternatively, if we leave this in God’s hands, Matthew 19:26b tells us, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (NIV).
And we are not without hope. We continue to pray as Paul did, in Romans 15:13, that the God of hope will fill us with joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may abound in hope.
*Not their real names.