My sister is a potter. Well, really she is an artist and one of the ways she expresses all the pent-up artistic ability she carries around is through pottery. I get pictures texted to me at random times of vases, pots, sculptures, and platters, all thrown and carved, showing exquisite care and intricate detail. Often, these are pictures of the raw clay item waiting to be glazed and fired in the kiln.
I will text a few days later, “Have you fired that vase? Send me a pic of it.” Sometimes I get back a glorious picture of shining glazes and mixed colors. Other times I get a text that says, “Broke in the kiln.”
What I have learned over the years is that the heat of the kiln is both friend and enemy to the potter. It can produce the most wonderful blend of colors and textures, or it can take a pot that required many hours of careful artistry and crack it wide open, leaving fragments of potential on the floor of the kiln.
Facing a personal and relationship crisis like sexual betrayal and entering the recovery process is like being put into the kiln. This type of crisis puts life as you know it on the line. And when that happens, the outcome can go either way. It can crack you into a hundred bitter, angry, walled-off, isolated, sharp-edged pieces. Or it can transform you into something new—stronger and more beautiful than ever.
The critical question is what makes the difference. What helps a person who feels fractured by betrayal trauma go through the fire without shattering?
In the Bible, there is a story about three men who refuse to bow down to a golden image as their king has demanded. When confronted by the king, they tell him they will not sacrifice their belief in God to worship his golden idol. They tell the king that if he so chooses he can throw them into the furnace and their God will save them.
And then they say the most interesting thing. They say, “But if not, we will still not serve your gods or your statue.” With their “but if not” statement, the three men tell the king that even if God does not rescue them, they will stay true to their larger purpose and to what they believe. (Spoiler alert: They are thrown into the furnace and come out unscathed).
Flash forward to World War II. In May 1940, German soldiers advanced into France and trapped Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. For the Allies, this was an epic disaster. Almost. To save the day the British people answered the call and set sail, guiding their fishing and pleasure boats across the English Channel to France to go get the troops off the beach. Braving heavy air and ground fire, British civilians rescued over 330,000 British, French, Dutch and Belgian soldiers in one of the most miraculous and heroic military rescues of all time.
Here is what is most interesting to me. In the middle of this near-disaster, Churchill sent a three-word message to the war command. “But if not.” At the time, people were much more up on their Bible stories, and Churchill’s message was immediately recognized as a reference to the three men, the golden image, and the fiery furnace. By sending those three words, Churchill was essentially saying, “We are going to stay the course and attempt the impossible because it is better to risk and fail than not to risk. It is better to stay true to our purpose than to abandon hope.”
This is the strength that makes a difference in any crisis. This is what brings one through the fire. It is the ability to believe there is a larger purpose, something bigger than just the circumstances right in front of you. It is the willingness to risk it all to achieve that larger purpose. It is the commitment to maintain hope in the face of more than daunting odds.
For you, “But if not” could mean, “Maybe our marriage won’t make it, but I still commit myself to the process of recovery and healing.”
For you, “But if not” could mean that even if you get hurt again, you are committed to risking love.
For you, “But if not” could signify a ground level commitment to learn from what life brings, and to allow even the hardest circumstances to be part of your growth and development as a person.
For you, “But if not” could be the simple recognition that without the willingness to risk, you cannot gain.
Whatever “But if not” means for you, my hope is that you will stay connected to the larger purpose and story that is unfolding in your life. Whatever the crisis, there is more going on than just the situation in front of you and believing and staying connected to that great truth is key to going through the fire and coming out the other side not only whole but thoroughly alive.