I have a beef with the editors of Modern Love, and it’s not just about their polite refusal of my recent submission. It concerns a recent episode of their podcast, a reading of a column published almost seven years ago written by a woman who “saved” her marriage by refusing to suffer her husband’s rejection. By refusing to suffer, period.

The author of the piece, Laura Munson, recounts her husband’s mid-life crisis that spawned this rejection, and the announcement he made that he was leaving her and their children. What follows would read to many as an inspirational tale of inner strength and non-retaliation. I’d beg to differ. Munson’s story is covered by the fingerprints of self-justification; to me, it reads like an unwitting expose of how we seek to establish our identities with our own righteousness, our own effort, and the keeping of our own sad renditions of the law.

To wit, Munson describes how her husband’s pronouncement ran afoul of a pact she’d made:

You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.

Once Munson remembers that she’s sworn off suffering, she’s able to “duck” her husband’s words; then she heads to Google to come up with a list of ways to enact a “responsible separation.” Her husband spends the summer abusing the freedom she’s granted him, so she must explain to the reader why she’s not a pushover–and she does this with another list:

I load 1,500-pound horses into trailers and gallop through the high country of Montana all summer. I went through Pitocin-induced natural childbirth. And a Caesarean section without follow-up drugs. I am handy with a chainsaw.

At this point in the retelling, as a listener and reader, I’m torn every which way. I recognize myself in Munson’s reliance on her list of accomplishments; I admire her commitment to a marriage that forces her to endure what must be exquisite emotional pain; but mostly? As a recent grace addict, I’m raging against the machine of her self-sufficiency, her philosophical solutions to what can only be answered divinely, her replacement of cosmic mystery with self-chosen certainty.

Mostly, I’m sad for her. And for the person I was when I would have read this as an inspirational tale of inner strength.

If my summer were to have a theme (besides urine), it would be intensity. As a recent interloper from the ranks of working-mom to those of staying-at-home, my boys and I are experiencing a glut of togetherness that carries moments of utter sweetness and (more often) episodes of screaming, frustration, and chaos. I have come face-to-face with my own sin and anxiety on a minute-by-minute basis. My older son is finally potty-training, which for him looks like lots of accidents and for me looks like lots of laundry and trying not to take it personally as I trudge back to the washing machine with a comforter or pile of underwear.

Lately I’ve been waking every night around 3 am with fears that seem to have been forming to full shape during an already-fitful sleep: paranoia about my children’s safety compounded by projections of all the horrible things that could ever happen–terrorism, gorilla pits, alligator attacks. I know I’ve seen too much cable news: the world at home is tiring, but the world beyond our front door is terrifying. Bowed by the suffering and misery, I want to hide in our family room, but when I do I drive myself and my kids crazy.

Perhaps I should refuse to suffer?

Sorry, not an option. To me, this is the very definition of insanity: making an agreement that I know will never hold; and in the shaking of those virtual hands, dishonoring what has, it turns out, actually wrought so much of my own story for good.

A few weeks ago I took my older son–the Mad Pisser–to get his tongue clipped under general anesthesia. It says something about our journey with him thus far that this was an appointment I nearly forgot about because of its small-potatoes status compared to the other surgeries he’s had. As we sat in the waiting room, I recognized an unfamiliar feeling when it comes to his medical history: boredom. I had the luxury of being bored rather than afraid. Which is not a good reason to hoe a tough path with your child–and is certainly not evidence that all suffering has a point we can see from this side of eternity–but it ain’t nothing, either. The cuts these days literally aren’t as deep, and there’s something to be said for the gratitude that that reality spawns, which lies alongside both the pain and the trust forged by the deeper cuts–the death and life of it all in one place.

All of which is to say that self-reliance has proved to be a massive failure. It’s a bit of a theme, you might say, a lesson learned and relearned as I fight to make 2 Corinthians 12:9 and Philippians 4:13 mean something they don’t. See, I had always subverted these divine truths into self-help: if I’m weak, I’m actually strong; God gives me strength to get out there and kick ass! My prayers for strength, I came to understand (yesterday, I think) were actually self-formulated pacts that I made with suffering, not God, to gain from him what would then allow me to operate independently of him. I was asking for raw materials so I could do the work only his spirit can.

The Christian life is not about the weak becoming strong; it is about the self-sufficient assenting to their own weakness. How horrible! How freeing.

Which takes me back to the podcast in question and what bothers me most about Munson’s story. She says that she was able to “duck” her husband’s words as a mother would duck her tantruming child’s fists (a comparison to which I can intimately relate). As I listened to this self-described act of strength, I considered a Savior who did just the opposite: he didn’t duck my sin–doesn’t duck my anger, ingratitude, profanity around small children–but took it all on the chin. In his hands. To the cross. Into the weakest of positions.

Conventional wisdom tells us that suffering can either make us better or bitter. I don’t think it’s that simple. I think suffering makes us more. More of all the feelings; more of who we’re meant to be; more aware of our own weakness and, hopefully, the source of real strength, who doesn’t leave us to our own devices but carries us.

When I hear death described as “God needing another angel” or a special-needs parent heralded as being “chosen because they can handle it” I have to gag on the way we must transform suffering from a mystery into a lesson. My friend whose child was born deaf during a divorce? My other friend whose child was born with a syndrome that impacts daily life and will for years and surgeries to come? Me? We aren’t supernatural sprinters; we never would have signed up for this shit. And even more importantly, we aren’t divinely drafted into a Self-Improvement Class with God’s name slapped onto it. God isn’t a heavenly CEO running low on angels or supplies; he is love.

Munson’s article ends thusly: “But I ducked. And I waited. And it worked.” Listen to the podcast version, though, and a postscript gives the full ending: she and her husband eventually divorced. She didn’t “save” her marriage after all. Likewise, I will not save mine, or my children, or myself. Praise be to a God who gently (or not) disposes of our efforts at self-salvation and eternally refuses to duck.