Black, White, and Mistress

Sugarland-stay

I recently attended a Sugarland concert in Kansas City. My favorite song of theirs is Stay. Before the concert, I had watched the music video for Stay, which is done very old school. The entire thing is just a close up on Jennifer Nettles as she sings and cries through her pain. It feels very real and very raw (you can view the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_xevk4d4eQ). Again, at the concert, one couldn’t help but notice the intense emotion she shows whilst singing Stay. So I became curious about where the inspiration for the song came from. I know nothing about her personal life, and naturally assumed that Jennifer Nettles’ husband had cheated on her or something like that.

In researching the answer to this question I found the song Stay is about a mistress-not a betrayed wife (had I listened closer to the lyrics, I probably would have discovered this on my own). Apparently, Jennifer Nettles had heard Reba McEntire’s song, “Whoever’s in New England,” which tells the story of infidelity and betrayal from the wife’s perspective and decided to write the song from the mistress’ perspective.

My first reaction after learning this new information was to hate the song. When I imagined the song from the wife’s perspective, I felt it was a very poignant depiction of the agony a betrayed wife goes through, and a beautiful portrayal of a woman discovering that she is strong enough to be on her own, and worth more than her husband is offering her. When I realized that the song was about a man’s mistress I felt antagonistic towards her and the turmoil she had caused in another woman’s marriage. How could I like a song that empathized with the “homewrecker.”

However, after the instinctive feelings of animosity and judgment washed over me, they were replaced with new emotions. I found myself feeling grieved, compassionate, and maternal towards the woman who begged for her married lover to stay with her rather than his wife. I think so often we are tempted to see things in black and white, but they seldom are so. It may be that this woman lured a man from his wife. Or it may be that she didn’t know he was married at first and when she discovered it he told her he was leaving his wife soon anyway. Or it could be that she and her affair partner crossed boundaries they never meant to cross and don’t know how to go back to the way things used to be between them.

Regardless of the exact mechanics of how this woman got into this adulterous relationship, the fact remains that she is a person who was looking to be loved and cared for. From the song, it is clear she is in much agony, as I’m sure the man’s wife is or will be. Sometimes we rationalize in our heads that we “deserve” to be loved and if the only way to do that is by crossing boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed, well, then that’s just what we have to do. In the end, it almost always turns out that crossing such boundaries hurts us more than if we had trusted that God has something good for us that will come in His timing.

So don’t hear what I’m not saying. I am not saying that it’s okay to be someone’s mistress, or have an affair. Many people today think “it’s your right to be happy, do whatever it takes! if it makes someone else miserable, so what? you can only worry about your own life.” This type of thinking is selfish and poisonous. I am also not saying it is always easy to forgive people who have hurt you or your loved ones. I know someone right now who has interfered in the marriage of people I love and the last thing I want to do is show him compassion- the first thing I want to do is punch him in the face. With brass knuckles.

What I am saying is that the woman in this story – you, me – got lost in the gray areas of life. And when we flail our desperate arms in the overwhelming grayness, we need to struggle free and repent to each other, to God. But we also need grace, and we need to show grace to each other when we have made damaging decisions looking for love, acceptance, or a filler for the deep well in the holes of our hearts.

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