The Christian Divorce – Saying Yes to Divorce

IMG_7932IMG_1217 The Reality of the “Yes.”

Surely someone has breezily accepted a marriage proposal without thinking and then divorced with just as little thought. At least once or twice I’ve read a newspaper report about celebrities doing that – Vegas, right?  But what if they were hurting from the reality of their situation just as much as the rest of us?Among the hundreds of people I’ve spoken with as they divorced, no one ever breezily dismissed their marriage, no matter how brief. Spouses may grieve in different ways, but the internal pain is often quite similar.  For some, they will, really, never recover from the divorce. Children’s lives are broken in ways that will never heal.  The reality of saying “yes” to divorce. can be harsh indeed.

Loss on multiple levels, feelings of failure, grief – these are just some of the rites of passage through divorce.  The tearing asunder seems endless some days.  One day, when I was going through a very difficult time more than a year after my divorce, I asked a wiser, older woman in charge of the divorce recovery program at my former church when she thought the pain might end.  ”I’d guess it takes three years for every year you were married,” she replied.  I stared.  22 years x 3 = 66.  66 years????? How can that be? Slowly the light dawned.  Oh…I’ll never get over it. She was right.

With so much healing needed, and with circumstances taking curves you can’t foresee and spouses hurting each other in ways once unimaginable, it’s not uncommon for deep seated fears to surface.  ”What if the kids….?,” “How will I…?” “What if I lose…?” This often leads to, “I need to do this.”  ”I don’t have a choice.”  ”I have to for the kids.”  Sin stealthily slips in to steal and destroy just when we are most vulnerable.  At its worst, divorce tears at the souls of good people, people who never wanted a divorce and despite their best efforts, find themselves faced with their greatest fears.

Another harsh reality about saying yes to divorce is that we’ll be accountable before God for the call we make.  Our children, also, have every right to question our decision.  Daunting.  Simply daunting.  It still is for me, because my responsibility doesn’t end just because it’s in the past.  I continue to believe I made the right call, but I’ve had to examine my motives, my steps to fix the marriage, my reasons for calling it quits, how I handled the divorce and then how I handled being single.

I’ve gone over the details and the debris so many times that I amaze myself at how many perspectives I can have on any given day!  Clearly, I think way too much, but I know I will do this until I die because time and experience keep bringing more insights to ponder.  I also have a healthy fear of God, which continues to keep me open to owning my mistakes and seeing if I’m ignoring sin in my life.  I figure I’d rather do this today instead of dying unexpectedly and finding it’s too late!

Not all the realities of divorce are harsh, however.  For many, divorce is a cold winter of  tearing asunder that leads to a spring of healing.  Getting away from the adultery, abuse, addictions, or any pattern of sin that has developed within a marriage, can bring us to a place where we breathe freely again for the first time in years.  Fragile and barely able to move forward, God promises,”He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. Finally he will cause justice to be victorious.”  “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, ” Jesus said, “and I will give you rest,”  Stumbling, crawling under burdens you were never meant to carry alone, whatever it takes to get out, it’s worth it to begin to heal. Even for the children, or perhaps, in some very hurtful homes, especially for the children.

Consider, however, one more truth – that no one leaves a marriage without some responsibility for what happened within it.  Each spouse bears some of the responsibility and surely some of the guilt.  However, holding on to guilt will do you no good. The Bible says that God removes the guilt of our sin.  His forgiveness is complete, even if your spouses’s isn’t.  Ask your spouse for forgiveness anyway, because you have surely hurt them, perhaps through your blatant sin, or perhaps by enabling theirs.

Is healing harder if we’ve made the majority of mistakes?  Not necessarily.  Key to healing is the ability to have hope.  We may not have hope for our spouse anymore, but – and this is important – if we own up to our own mistakes, hope for a better future with a better outcome is possible.  Consider that God promised, of all things, hope to those who had turned their backs on him.  He said, “For I know the plans that I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. “

How does that happen?  Hope comes in many forms.  In fact, it comes in so many forms and is so, well…hopeful, that it would be a great topic for another post.  For now, I’ll start with the hope most familiar one to me – the one I lived. Strangely, hope came when I owned up to the full impact of my own mistakes.  It was time to grow up, to step up, and own up.  It had been easy to point a self-righteous finger at my spouse because he blatantly erred.  In my anger and victim mentality it felt good to think he was responsible for the demise of our marriage.  My self-righteousness became a heavy stick I carried for a long time.   Yet, despite how “right” I thought I was I still found myself hitting bottom.  Splitting asunder due to divorce brings a physical, emotional and spiritual agony that defies words.  Imagine my shock when the only face staring back at me in the agony and darkness of my situation was my own.

I took a long, hard look at that face.  It held no answers.  ”Dig down,” I urged myself. Where my motto had once been the old “you gotta pull yourself up by your bootstraps” I found that really, “I got nothin’.”  That was pretty scary.  For all my determination and anger, I still had “nothin’.”

Acknowledging the darkness of my own soul helped me see that I was just as tormented and lacking as the one I was blaming for the divorce.  I needed help and healing just as much as he did.

I began to own my own junk.  And what do you know?  In the harsh reality of owning our own mistakes God comes with our future laid out before us.  We need help.  We find we are same person we were before we married.  We have the same fears, some bad habits, same lessons to learn.  And therein lies the work ahead.  The more honest we are about this, the more we ask for help in addressing these things, the more baby steps we  will be able to take forward.  Hope begins to grow as we see that change begins within, with God’s help.  Small wins become confidence builders that inspire better choices. Little by little, the future unfolds with hope.

For the record, I hate divorce. Yet, there are clear grounds for divorce in the Bible. The Bible also gives many teachings on what a good marriage should look like.  Only you, your spouse and God really know the intimate details of what is good and what is bad within your marriage.  Many a marriage can survive adultery, abuse or addictions. Many cannot.  If you’ve decided to divorce, I pray that you will reach out to Jesus in the midst of the harsh darkness that you may be in.  His Word – the Bible – may it be a light to your path as you examine your choices.  May God give you the wisdom to know what to do and how to do it when you have no hope that things will ever work out for you.  May your fears not take root, but be rooted out.  May hope be felt in your heart again, very, very soon.

P.S.  If your marriage is in need of prayer, please feel free to contact me privately through this blog.   Sometimes I’m contacted through a “comment” below – and I respond privately and never make the comment public.   You may also email me at cottageofcontent@hotmail.com.

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The Christian Divorce – Should I or Shouldn’t I?

The words “Christian divorce” always sound like an oxymoron to me.  Though I know Christian couples are just as likely to divorce as non-Christian, there’s still something inside me that says, “wrong.”  I keep thinking Christians should know better how to avoid mistakes (sin), know better how to heal, forgive, and love really, really well.  But no.  I should know, for I’m both a Christian and I went through a divorce.  Though it’s been 11 years since mine was finalized, and I’m nine years into my second marriage, I’m still struck by the incongruity of divorce within a Christian relationship.  I’ve shared before how “The Cottage of Content” represents my driving passion to create a loving, safe place for all whose paths cross mine. Divorce shattered that original hope, and learning to hope again, regardless of my marital status, is an ongoing lesson for me.  Yet here I am, as passionate about it as ever.

Because I found so little support online during my most painful years, I thought I’d begin to share some insights I’ve learned along the way, not just on my own journey, but as others have shared their journeys with me, as well.

For those who have time, as in your spouse hasn’t asked for a divorce, the journey usually starts with indecision.

Indecision

Is this really the right person for me?  A tough season in marriage can make us question ourselves and consider things we never thought we would.  We wonder what happened to our judgment and “why didn’t my spouse tell me about that?”  Our spouses do this, too.  This forces us to look for answers.  It stretches us beyond what we thought we were capable of, good and bad, and we are not who we were when we started.  We change, the marriage changes.

But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the realizations that come when your marriage has been cracked to the core.  When sin enters into the sacredness of your vows and destroys trust and your sense of safety. You begin weighing back and forth all the details of your lives and see the enormity of all that hangs in the balance.  Your life, their life, the kid’s lives, the extended families, where you live, your work, the pets, the stuff, the money, the insurances, your relationship with God, what the Bible says, everything, everything, everything is weighing on you. You try counseling. You pray for wisdom and healing for your marriage. You read books, you try harder, you try anything. You try to distract yourself for a moment or a day or a week or two but the question of whether this will work or not just won’t go away. You may talk to trusted friends, or keep it completely to yourself. You wait for circumstances to play out that may influence your decision. You hear those who say with disdain, “Everyone rushes into divorce these days.  No one is willing to do the hard work that marriage requires.”  They have no clue how hard you’re trying and how difficult your marriage is, but you wonder if it’s true and push yourself even harder.  You give one more chance and pray for a miracle.

And then one day, something changes.

Let’s say that this particular change leads you to the road called, “Not Now.”  

You step onto that road.  

Not Now

It’s been my experience that in really difficult marriages a dedicated spouse will choose this road many, many times. Each time it looks a little different. That book recommended some new things that were sound and reasonable – and hope began to flare again.  Talking with the counselor helped affirm what was good and worth saving.  Attitudes began to change.  One spouse began to fulfill some promises and built trust. Forgiveness was extended and some healing began.

Sometimes it’s not that clear.  Perhaps an emergency within the family forces everything else into the background while you both turn your attention to the demands of the urgent situation.   And, realistically, sometimes it’s more about realizing you need a break from the uncertainty. You can’t take the stress anymore and you’re just not ready to say it’s over. For a while, it’s time to set it aside.

Whatever the reason, and IMHO all the above are valid, the debating within stops. There’s a freedom and release from internal agony that is a relief like none other. Amazingly, you don’t realize it at first, but then you catch yourself laughing again. Your heart isn’t racing for the first time in weeks or months. You begin enjoying things again. You begin to see how indecision was taking its toll.  Indecision is brutal.

Sometimes I wonder how many of these external circumstances or internal changes are a result of God’s intervention.   Years accumulate this way.  People often get through the worst and grow even closer.  Families make it.  “Not Now” might just lead to a very tolerable road named “Til Death Do Us Part”.  

Mandatory Warning – If you’re choosing “Not Now”, I must ask – is abuse involved? If so, please be honest about the cost of your particular choice. Remember there is always a cost to every choice, and those in an abusive relationship pay the highest price.  Who in your life is paying the price?  Protect yourself.  Protect those in your care.  Find the help you need no matter how many times and how many ways you ask. Though you feel weak, consider how strong you really are to have put up with the abuse for any length of time.  The alternatives to staying may not look great, but looking back you may see that you forgot to anticipate the goodness that comes. Our fears tell us only bad things, but good things are possible, too.  Don’t give up hope that the future holds good things, too! Rest if you must but arise stronger and wiser than before!  

Stay tuned for further insights into divorce – When “Not Now” leads to “Now.”