Last week I wrote about bringing love into the will by discerning what the most loving thing to do is, even if it is difficult. I received feedback from a reader who was concerned about what I had written on marriage. I said that staying in an untrue marriage for the sake of the children may not be the most loving decision for them. I feel it kinder to the children if the parents, after exhausting every possible but authentic means of staying together and still failing, decide to honor truth instead, even if it means separating.
The letter-writer said that separation should be the last resort, and only because of extreme cases, such as when violence is involved. Of course I agree. But I also have to qualify that there are many kinds of violence, not just physical. There is violence to the soul and spirit. Any lie is an attack to both. People who refuse to live in truth, even if their family life is hanging in the balance, are attacking the soul and spiritual health of every member of that family. We do not react to it the way we do people who are beaten up, because the wounds are not apparent. But wounds inflicted on the soul and spirit are the deepest, most painful kind. Lies affect the future health of everyone. They affect our ability to be in honest, transparent relationships later on. They alter and damage our sense of truth and authenticity—both very highly spiritual aspects of human life.
What bothered me most about the letter was its simplistic view of separation. I agree that there are those who make marriage and separation a habit, but I am quite sure that most people will do everything they can to save their marriages first, especially if there are children involved. I do not know of anyone who did not suffer through a separation. Everybody does. No one takes that road lightly.
But I rail against the thought that marriage—in any state—ought to be preserved, especially when there are children involved. Sure, it is generally accepted that one ought to separate if there is physical violence towards a spouse and children, but our concept of violence these days is shallow and one-sided. What of the inner, soul-spiritual health of individuals? What are we really doing to stop the violence in that realm?
When you are a parent, one of the things you must hold dear, is the moral development of your child. You are responsible for that. Children do not need to see their father stumbling home reeking of alcohol and women, to know that it is happening. They are not conscious of it, so they are unable to process it like we do. Instead, they imbibe it. That is why some children grow into adults who often propagate the transgressions of their parents. They do it because they are exposed to it on a very deep soul level as children, but are completely unaware of its roots. The morality of the parents becomes the morality of the children.
If you were a parent, would you want your children to grow up morally flawed and wounded? I do not think any parent would, but we rarely acknowledge that what is inside us mostly defines how our children will be. Often, one parent will not have the inner strength and resolve to let go of their lower nature and will refuse to change. What do you do then? Stay and pray fervently that your children do not inherit it, even if every continuing transgression is a rotating saber through your insides? What do the children learn then? Martyrdom, for one. Moral weakness, for another. They will also learn the coarse art of condoning wrong.
I do not think staying together at all costs is loving for anyone. Children need to learn that first and foremost, human beings must strive for truth, uprightness and authenticity. That is more important than preserving any morally rotten institution. Why hang on to something hollow and pestilent? Children must learn that we need to work on ourselves; that the best offering we can give people we love is the conscious inner striving to be truthful in our thoughts, words and deeds, because we know this affects their inner life profoundly. That is worth saving at any cost.
If you have somehow failed to give your children a sound sense of morality, it is imperative that you give them truth. I believe that as long as we value truth, we can navigate any crisis of any scale. It will be the light that will guide us across the roughest roads. As long as we can see the clear picture that only truth can give, we will be able to make informed decisions. That, in itself, is a mighty weapon against moral decline.
In our culture, people who are separated are looked upon as immoral, but this is because our view of morality has become so narrow. If you choose to stay in a marriage that is empty of integrity, is that moral? If you are condoning lying, cheating, even stealing, is that moral? Just because you stayed together does not mean you gave your children the best life, if you compromised their chance of blossoming into the very best they can be—not just physically and mentally, but in their inner life. Staying in an untruthful situation may not be the kind of sacrifice worthy of a child. I do not see how it teaches them love.
You do not leave your husband because he is boring. You do not leave your wife because she is fat. But if one, through her actions, is depriving another of a life of truth, I say it is time for a shakedown. It is time for serious change. If the parties cannot or refuse to change, then I think separation is called for. Many do not have enough inner strength to give up personal comfort or habit for the sake of those they love. Staying with such people and giving them leeway to bring untruth into your life does not seem to be the most loving thing to do for them.
When we choose integrity, we give others the space to look at themselves more clearly. Maybe that will be their first step towards change. Staying in a union devoid of authentic, living spiritual content does not serve anyone, but striving for that substance does, whether together or apart.
I used to think that tremendous loss changes a person automatically, but it is not necessarily so. It may hurt and scar a person deeply, but unless that person is strong enough inside, she may choose to wallow in the hurt but still remain the same. It happens. Some people use the pain to stay the way they are. That also serves no one.
It would help to stop viewing morality as structure and begin looking at it as substance. The church is only as moral as the inner condition of its members. It is not a pillar of morality just because it is a church. It is the same with other institutions: government, schools, and families. What is inside ultimately creates what is outside. What is outside influences what is inside, so we need to be inwardly clear and strong so that we are not simply going with the flow.
Birthing a conscious morality is the challenge of our times. It is a morality that springs from one’s inner striving — to live and uphold love in its truest sense—love that is grounded in clear thinking, feeling and deed. This can only happen if we are willing to let truth—the seeking and living of it—be our guide. The days of relying on outer societal structures to define morality are over. It is time we acknowledge that these institutions are only as strong as the inner uprightness of the people who serve them.