Recently I read an article about how churches deal with divorce. Or don’t, that is. Mainly its point was that if you get divorced your children will be less religious than their peers from intact homes as a result. The theory was that churches used to speak against divorce but don’t anymore and more marriages are failing (and souls leaving the church) because of it.
I’m writing this on what should be my 9th anniversary.
(Pottery, in case you’re interested.)
Almost a decade.
At this point, really, that’s often all that hurts anymore. That sad little twinge that reminds me I almost accomplished something. I nearly made it to a milestone that would have mattered. The day passes as a silent screaming reminder of promises made and broken, lives created and subsequently demolished.
But then I read things like this article and I just think, you have no idea.
How could you? You’ve never been through it. And if you know anyone who has you have managed to discuss every other topic under the sun with them but this one. Because what is there to say? What’s ok to ask? What opinions are ok to give?
How much hurt is ok to share? What kind of consequences are ok to soothe?
Those of us who have been divorced know better than anyone why God says he hates it. Guess what? So do we. We’ve seen (and felt) its black thread weaving through every aspect of our lives, in ways we had no idea to anticipate. Beyond the obvious hurts of losing a long time relationship and trying to explain to the innocent faces you tuck into bed each night why mommy and daddy can’t live together, it taints daily activities with memories of when you used to do those things with a partner and irreparably shifts friendships (the ones you manage to hold on to, that is).
And makes going to church really awkward.
I remember, as a child, when people I knew would get divorced. “It’s a pity when people just give up like that” the whispers would start. “That’s why it’s so important to have a Christian household”.
Because things like this don’t happen in Christian households.
Out of many certainties I carried out of my childhood, that was one of the most prevalent (and most constant): Christians don’t get divorced. Christians fight it out. Christians mean it when they say “til death do us part”.
We’re not heathens. We can keep our promises.
It never occurred to me when I heard those whispers about other people that maybe what we were witnessing wasn’t two people who got bored or lazy or decided that the commitment they had made no longer mattered.
Until the whispers were about me. Until people who had no idea how hard I had fought (or with what measure of blood, sweat, and tears) for the previous 5 years started urging me to “please not give up on [my] marriage”. Until people who have never, like I have, stood toe to toe with the beasts of addiction and infidelity and stared them down as they threatened to dismantle home and family started reminding me that God hates divorce and that “marriage is hard and takes work”.
None of those things are untrue. But that doesn’t always mean they’re the right thing to be said.
Sometimes the right thing to be said is, “I don’t know your situation, but please know I’m praying for the pain you’re going through” (odds are, if you’re not close enough to know the situation you’re not really in possession of enough information to judge it).
Sometimes the right thing to be said is, “Can I help in any way?” (When the burden of divorce is accompanied with sudden single parenthood, financial difficulties, and all the problems that always come with finding and moving into a new house, opportunities for tangible help are plentiful.)
I promise you, I have spent more time than you can fathom wrestling with the implications of my marriage’s end. What that means for my future (both earthly and eternal). What long term consequences I might be facing because of its failure. The level of pain and lifelong struggle this places in the path of my two small miracles who can’t understand why their lives just fell apart and who feel so ragefully, sadly, wildly out of control.
Strangely, for all the pain felt during my divorce (especially one I worked really hard for a really long time to avoid), it turned out there was still room for more. Any time I was given advice from a well meaning but uninformed stranger that made it clear I just needed to get right with Jesus in order to save my marriage, any time I wasn’t asked how I was handling everything because that would be like condoning the sin of my divorce, there was room for just a little bit more hurt on top of all that was already brewing.
In a way, I’m lucky. I wouldn’t say this has been my entire (or even the majority of my) experience with the church regarding my divorce. I’ve found a lot of support in my close friendships (mainly because they knew the story well enough to understand that no one was as disappointed in my marriage’s failure as I was). But it happened. It happened frequently. And I can’t help thinking of all the people out there who didn’t have the benefit I did of a community to love and support me through it, who only heard the preaching and the judgment and received none of the comfort.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15)
When in doubt, don’t leave them to weep alone.