The Broken Man: Running In Circles
When we run, it’s typically for a good reason. You might be exercising, trying to get somewhere quickly or participating in a sport. Running can be exhilarating. It gives us a feeling of accomplishment, expended energy and a sense of satisfaction. However, there are also moments when we are unprepared and still attempt to run a race. We failed to properly train our body, mind and spirit. Many times, we find ourselves in similar circumstances through the races of life. The starting gun goes off and we’re sprinting around that 400-meter track of existence with a late start. Never do we stop to consider that we may have begun to run a race with no end in sight. Before we know it, our mind becomes tired, exhausted and confused. The pain in our legs has set in and we find ourselves too weak to run ... too weak to finish a race toward unknown expectations. In my life, this was the moment that I finally realized that this particular race was over for me.
For over 20 years, I ran the unprepared race of marriage and fatherhood. I used the typical excuses we fall into by default. My first rationalization was even starting the race, with the motivation that it was the “right thing to do”. I found myself in an unplanned situation mired in overconfidence and pride. I was convinced that this race had to start for me. Looking back, I can see that I was very wrong. I had no plan or preparation for this race and was doomed to fail. As the days went by, I was sure that I was making progress. But looking back now, I can clearly see that I was spending all of my energy running in circles. The race did finish; although it was not the final lap that I had envisioned in the beginning. I have been blessed with four beautiful children, but my marriage was a race I could not win.
I’m approaching the two-year anniversary of asking my ex-wife if she wanted a divorce. To be honest, I had no idea that she would actually answer ‘yes’. It was just another step in my race, an ongoing pattern of manipulation, that led me to confront her with that question. I knew that she had been done with our marriage for several years, but I never imagined that she would have the courage to actually end it. We had grown codependent and angry. I didn’t want to be married to her either, but I was willing to say and do anything because I was afraid to be alone. I had never lived by myself, nor experienced the self-discovery and vulnerability necessary to build a healthy relationship with another person. That process of self-discovery and understanding is the foundation for healthy decisions in the most important races of your life, like your marriage.
For so many years, it was obvious that both she and I were content to move in perfectly toxic circles. When life threw curve balls, I just snatched them up quickly and made sure they fit into the circumference of lies, denial and pretending that I had built. I was intent on putting out the perfect facade as the world’s greatest husband and father. Well, I wasn’t. Now, I’m not a terrible person; I’m fairly empathetic, selfless and caring in my efforts to build great relationships with others. The person that I didn’t care much for, was myself. I wasn’t happy with the race I was running and who I had become in the midst of a broken and wounded relationship. I kept running away from facing the truth. I found other things to keep me busy, to validate my worth outside of our marriage. I was buried in coaching soccer, playing video games and hanging with friends. I refused to recognize the slow deterioration of that deeply valued perfect image.
So, two years later where am I now? Well, I’m learning to accept in life that you can’t run from the truth and you can’t fake happiness. Eventually, reality will catch you when you are least expecting it. It doesn’t care about our desire for perfection. And rarely do we get to control the timing of our life. In the past, I ran from the real-life consequences of a failed marriage that were continually chasing me. I refused to share my pain in a healthy manner, instead I allowed those feelings to morph into anger, resentment and contempt for my ex-wife and myself. Since my divorce, I’ve learned to share my concerns and stand up when I feel boundaries and red lines are being tested. People typically take actions based on what they are incentivized to do. I’ve discovered the undeniable strength in listening, vulnerability and openness.
When I first heard that she did want a divorce, I was shocked. Initially, I tried my best to recover the pieces of who I could be and what I wanted in life. However, I learned over time that I had to let it all go. I could not rebuild with old pieces or half-dreams; I had to embrace an entirely new life and new dreams. As difficult as it may be, I realized that moving forward meant freedom from the old constraints of perfection. But this was not an easy or quick process. It required strength and courage.
My strength came directly from my faithful relationship with God. I take peace in knowing that no matter my past or present faults, He loves me. And His love is an unconditional acceptance of my weaknesses and shortcomings. God’s love is so great that it forgives me of my sins through the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ, who died for us so we could be with them in Heaven. This relationship with Christ has allowed me the strength to forgive myself and others for the brokenness that I’ve experienced. I have the deepest appreciation and love for this great gift, and I thank Him daily for His grace that continues to support me.
Through this process of rediscovery, I have begun to recognize my traumatic responses to events in my life. The same events that conditioned me to build toxic systems of self-defense. I’ve begun to realize that I was projecting poisonous cycles of damage and self-neglect. With God’s grace, I am strengthened to intentionally respond instead of being emotionally impulsive. When I feel the urge to internalize my thoughts… now I share them. When I want to run away… now I let my heart guide me back. When I feel shame coming on… now I flood my spirit with positivity. When I have doubts … now I trust God to point the way.
In the end, I know that I was created to run a race with a clear finish line. A race where I make decisions based on truth and honesty, not based on fears, doubts, guilt or shame. I trust that my heart knows the peace I seek; if I have the courage to follow it. So, I listen to my heart now… more than ever. I’ve finally found that running isn’t a sure way to accomplish anything if you don’t know what you’re running towards. My mind’s work rate may be that of an athlete, but I’m beginning to allow my heart to see the goal and set the pace. I’m on the homestretch towards the finish line… no longer am I running in circles.
“You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.” ― Benjamin Mee , We Bought a Zoo