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.
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.
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.”