I sat with my teenaged son last Wednesday afternoon and watched (South Carolina governor) Mark Sanford’s press conference. Patrick would have preferred to have been watching the first 15 minutes of the landmark U.S.-Spain soccer game. But I had a hunch that the governor would say something worthwhile. He certainly provided plenty of fodder for conversation. Patrick left to cheer the U.S. and I sat, listened and was moved to tears as I considered the pain that man is inflicting on his family.
It was Jenny Sanford who ultimately spoke words worth printing and pondering. Rare is the family whose painful drama is played out on the national stage the way the Sanford family’s will be, but all too common is the experience of living and loving and having to forgive something which at first seems unforgivable. Jenny Sanford took an opportunity to rise above her pain and set an example for all of us who endeavor to love our families the way Christ loves us.
“I believe wholeheartedly,” she said, “in the sanctity, dignity and importance of the institution of marriage. I believe that has been consistently reflected in my actions. When I found out about my husband’s infidelity I worked immediately to first seek reconciliation through forgiveness, and then to work diligently to repair our marriage. We reached a point where I felt it was important to look my sons in the eyes and maintain my dignity, self-respect, and my basic sense of right and wrong. I therefore asked my husband to leave two weeks ago.
“I believe enduring love is primarily a commitment and an act of will, and for a marriage to be successful, that commitment must be reciprocal. I believe Mark has earned a chance to resurrect our marriage.
“Psalm 127 states that sons are a gift from the Lord and children a reward from Him. I will continue to pour my energy into raising our sons to be honorable young men. I remain willing to forgive Mark completely for his indiscretions and to welcome him back, in time, if he continues to work toward reconciliation with a true spirit of humility and repentance.”
Jenny Sanford is a leader in the truest sense of the word. In a society where relationships are cast aside just as soon as they require work, she is ready to roll up her sleeves and act as if “love” is a verb — a messy, scrappy, tough, working-class verb. All husbands and wives and, indeed, all parents and children, can read the statement above and know that chances are good there will come a time in the life of a family to be reminded that “love is primarily a commitment and an act of will.”
Almost as soon as Gov. Sanford spoke, the cry went out that this is not how a Christian man behaves. In one particularly convoluted “discussion,” I heard conservative pundits saying that he should at least have the decency to leave his wife and allow her to start fresh. Seems to me that would be the easy road.
True, as people of God, we are called to a higher moral code. We’re not supposed to sin. By definition, though, Christians are sinners in need of a Savior. We are broken. We need healing. We need the Great Physician. We need Christ. And we need to be Christ to one another.
We will disappoint each other. Husbands will disappoint their wives and wives will disappoint their husbands. Children will hurt their parents by the choices they make. And parents, too, will never be perfect. We are fallen people surrounded by fallen people and if we keep at this long enough, like Jenny Sanford, chances are good that we will find ourselves in a place where we “seek the wisdom of Solomon, the strength and patience of Job and the grace of God in helping to heal (a) family.” Thank God we can seek those things in prayer and be assured that our Lord will provide them.