a close friend called crying early this morning and we talked for a little over an hour about her marriage and its problems. what we talked about beyond that isn't important except to note the issue isn't the sort of thing you might normally expect from people married less than a decade but is exactly the sort of thing you might expect from 2 good people trying to make their life together work.
what is important for the purposes of this post is something she repeated several times over the course of our conversation, and that is that she couldn't talk with her local friends about it "because they're, you know, they're xian and they talk about how they're blessed because they've married their best friends and they'd say 'just swallow it and say "thanks," because your life could be so much worse.' and I know that, and then they'd say 'you need to talk with god and see what he wants you to do,' and then they'd say, 'we'll pray for you,' and while I think that's worth something, I don't think that's what I need to hear."
she's become more serious about her xianity since her marriage but this could easily describe religious friends of any faith, and not only the abrahamics. assertions like these come easily to the lips of our buddhist friends, our pagan friends, our hindu friends, even our uu friends. our friends have found their answers in a belief or worship system or a certain way of thinking and are sure that anyone else's issues can be addressed using the same methods or questions they use. but if that were true there'd be a single faith which answered every need, and the fact that millenia of seeking just such a faith has led to greater diversity rather than uniformity suggests there really isn't one.
my friend also contacted the pastor who married her for advice, but he was out of town. to his credit, she's pretty certain his response wouldn't be anything like that of her xian friends', even those who are also his congregants. I like to think we learn in seminary that there's great complexity when coming to grips with the problems people bring to us. I like to think most xian pastors, most imams, most rabbis, most priests, most healers, most religious counselors of any stripe give suggestions beyond "ask god."
I like to think we realize often there aren't answers we can provide, even when the answers seem so obvious. for instance, while she and I talked divorce (and she and her husband have as well) I don't think that's the solution to her issue (and I don't think she does either): she's very conscious this issue isn't something that would only happen in this single relationship and if she could only get loose of him she'd solve it. in the best of times our greatest obligation is to be what I've heard called "the nonanxious presence," the person who simply sits there and listens and makes a few observations and whose primary responsibility is to say "you aren't crazy and you aren't alone." in the end, that's the best and most honest we can say to anyone.